Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 11:03:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: Teaching IS Love

Cold. Cold. Cold. Brrrrrr! It is, however, a civilized cold. Only 23 degrees, not like in Baltimore where I was Friday and the wind chill was a savage and windy 25 degrees below zero! Though bundled up in walking grubbies that doubled my weight, the real protecting antifreeze this morning were very warm thoughts about a very rewarding conference of the community college teachers in Maryland which I attended at the end of last week and where I gave the conference's keynote address, "The Humanity of Teaching." It was one of those unexpectedly fulfilling conferences where several hundred community college faculty had enthusiastically gathered for a two day "teach-in" about teaching. None I met had come to promote themselves or merely to add a line to their professional resume. These dedicated people, persevering in the face of administrative and political and budgetary obstacles I at times found hard to imagine here at VSU, take their teaching seriously. Most importantly, they appreciate and value their students. They were focused, energetic, resolved to better themselves so that their students would be better educated to have productive careers and live noble lives. In workshops, they gathered to teach, to listen, to exchange, to ask, to answer, to learn. In clusters and pairs, meandering around halls, sitting at tables and snacking, standing around and sipping coffee, they quietly shared their ideas and experiences and travails. They didn't talk research and publications, they talked people. They didn't flaunt their resumes, they broadcasted their the joy and satisfaction that they receive from generously being committed to their students. You could easily sense the hunger and thirst to seize opportunities to talk with colleagues from around the state about teaching. You could see their flexibility and how they were on the watch for opportunities for improvement; how so many had the courage to risk something new, having faith in their capabilities to bring it off with success. All the people I met and with whom I talked were authentic and demanded nothing less of me. I've never been at a conference where the participants laid a trap for me that I unknowingly walked into--or for anyone else for that matter-- to see if there was a contradiction between my espoused values and my behavior. "We just wanted to check out if you were really real," one of them laughed. When it comes to "walking" that all important mission of teaching in higher education, of being dedicated to students, of giving generously themselves, most of these good people could teach us in the colleges and universities more than a thing or two. It was one of those rare conferences from which I think I received more than I gave. I wish I could thank them all, each one of them, for graciously welcoming me and taking me into their fold, for I know that I left a better teacher and person.
It was during one of these coffee and danish clutches that a professor from Chesapeake Community College asked me what I thought was the first principle of teaching. "I don't know what THE first principle of teaching is," I told him, "but I know what mine is and where to find it." I went on to say that my first principle of teaching is so deceptively simple and yet so mysterious. You won't find it in a textbook of any discipline or in a laboratory test tube or on a library shelf or in a computer program. You'll only find it within each of ourselves, where it should be since teaching begins from within.
I told him, and later others, that my first principle of teaching is: Teaching is love. Those three words have been profoundly transforming on my self-perception, my perception of others, my sense of the value of teaching, my understanding of my craft's mission, and my actions. During the last six years, as love appeared on my list of teaching principles and as it climbed up that list and went into the top ten and finally has emerged as number one, I increasingly saw myself with teary-eyed surprise. It has opened my eyes, unlocked my heart, fired my energy, raised my spirits, freed my soul--first about myself and then about others-- and warmed the classroom. It now drives me to be whomever I am supposed to be and do whatever I must do.
Love is not something to snicker about or dismiss, or even to be uncomfortable with. When you strip away all the opaque layers of educational varnish and academic paint of methodology, pedagogy, technology, philosophy, test scores, class grades, GPAs, lesson plans, administrative memos, chains of command, politics, budgets, and at times theology, and get down to the bare wood of teaching, the plain and natural grain of love shines forth in all of its wonder and beauty.
Now, when I say, "teaching is love," I don't mean ardently embracing my subject or tightly hugging to my cheek the stuff in print or having a passion to be in the classroom or having a fire for learning or having an excitement for ideas or having a fervent commitment to a particular method, technology, and philosophy. When I say "teaching is love," I mean the kind of habit of the heart that intoxicates me with students; I mean the habit of the spirit that holds up every individual student before me as a unique, miraculous, and sacred creation; I mean the habit of mind that proclaims that every student is important and valuable. When I say "teaching is love," I'm talking about the wellspring of my respect for, valuing of, caring about, and concern for each student so that I enter each classroom each day as a practioner of inclusion rather than exclusion.
To say that teaching is love is to believe in the best of people, in their unique potential, and to never stop finding ways to get each of them to believe. To inseparably connect teaching and love is to insure that every moment I teach is a moment, that teaching a sensation rather than a performance. To talk of love is to get fired up about people and get them to light the fires within themselves. To talk of love requires that I respect each student, that I assume a responsibility for the well-being and success of each student, that I value each student--and I never want to lose something of value. Love will not allow me to give up the fight for each studentūs right to succeed. It gives me strength to help students discover their strengths. It rushes me into illumination, struggling to turn what is too often a darkening, foreboding, painful, boring dungeon of a classroom into a lighted, enjoyable, exciting, uplifting cathedral of the spirit. To talk of love in the same breath with teaching is to make the classroom into an inviting oasis where I welcome--and at time, lure--all to come to nourish their souls, spirits, and minds. To talk of love in the same breath as teaching is to talk of constant newness, daily discovery and creation, with all of its dazzling color and splendor.
To be sure, I am an academician. I am an educator. I am an intellectual. I am a scholar. I am a man of books and ideas. I make no apologies for that. But, if I am not first and lastly a person who loves other people, if I am not a standard-bearer holding high the banner for humanity, I am nothing and what I do matters little. To say that teaching is love requires I look at each student with awe and wonder and never lets me stop for any reason to get all students to awe and wonder about themselves; it requires that I never let any student go nameless, faceless, hide in the shadows, be alone in the crowd; it demands I dream about each student and never let's anything stop me from trying to get each of them to dream about themselves; love is believing that each student is a treasure chest of breathtaking "yeses!" and awesome"wows!" and incredible "ooohs" and amazing "aaahs", and doing whatever it takes to help them unlock that chest, lift open the lid, peer into the rich contents, and reach into to grab hold of that prize cache.
I find that love is the cause of more miracles than is method and technology; it is the source of more successes than grades and test scores and honors; it is more infectious than is the intellect. It, rushes into the lungs, flows in the veins, gets down into the bones, enters lives, and touches the soul. When we truly live love--not just mouth it--as the first principle of teaching in the classroom, the chance of what we say and do has a better chance of taking root and staying; when we truly live love as the first principle in the classroom the chance of what we touch has a better chance of sticking.
As the letters from Patrick and Trudy--and Sandra now that I think about it--show, the power of love doesn't abate; it's influence never stops. Like the pink Ever-ready bunny, it keeps going on and on and on and on. It keeps echoing and reverberating in students' hearts--it keeps shouting an awakening "Boo" in their souls and minds--long after the sounds of a lecture have died away and the print on test scores has faded out.
Teaching IS love. Without it my classroom would be as cold and stiffening as those icebox outside--as it once was. It is that simple. And yet, it is not that plain. Like the beautiful grain of exposed wood, it is that humanly magnificent and that humanly complex.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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