Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date:Fri, 14 Nov 1997 07:13:40 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: The Bad, Good, And Great

It's soggy and muggy outside. No walking in this morning sponge. I haven't walked in a week. A bad leg cramp and threatening pronouncements from my angelic Susan will do that. But, I have been thinking about an unexpectedly profound discussion I had with a student whom I'll call Elmer yesterday morning. Haven't stopped thinking about it.

It was miserably rainy and muggy yesterday morning. I was walking from the University Center to my office on Main Campus right after my 8:00 a.m. class ended to prepared for my 10:00 a.m. class. I don't have back-to-back courses. I need time to meditate in preparation for each class. Anyway, I was splashing along, twisting my unbrella as I started to feel a Gene Kelly urge, when a voice from the past rang out behind me.

"Hey, doc, you got a Tootsie Pop and room under that umbrella?"

I remember thinking that voice was both strange and familiar. I stopped and turned around. It was Elmer. He had been in a first year class with me about a year ago. I almost didn't recognized him. A strength in his voice had replaced what was last year at best a hidden, muted whisper. Like the waters of a life-giving river, a confident smile nourished the scenery of his once arid face. His eyes no longer receded into reclusiveness. As I beckoned him with my head to share my protection from the sky's watery confetti, I saw that a strong, erect "here I am" pace had replaced his once "please don't see me" hunched, slither. With the quick smoothness and uncanny accuracy of a western gunslinger, I pulled an ever-present Tootsie Pop out from behind my ear and tossed it to him. When he came up to me, I grabbed both his shoulders. "Elmer! Is this you? Man have you changed," I said in a tone of joyful pride."

"Yeah, I guess I have," he answered as he stood a little straighter. "I'm surprised you noticed. No, I shouldn't be. You're still getting to me. I guess I'm finding that handsomeness of my spirit."

"What a beautiful way to put it," I quietly added. "Thank you. You've just got the sun to cut through the clouds and shine on my day. I'm proud for you. But," I added with deliberate hesitation, " you know who really is getting to you?"

He hesitated for a few seconds and smiled, "Me."

"And don't ever forget that! Let's walk."

As we headed for the main campus, sucking on our morning Tootsie Pops, Elmer started talking. "You know, doc, I've been here for almost two years. I think I've figured out the difference between bad, good, and the great teachers."

"You've got one on me. Tell me. What do you think is a bad teacher?"

He described a bad teacher as, in his words, "one who isn't really a teacher at all." He went on to say that a bad teacher is one who isn't liked by the students."

"Why wouldn't the students like a teacher?" I interrupted.

"Because deep down he really doesn't like them no matter what he says. He isn't in the classroom with them. He's there but he's not there and doesn't believe most of us belong here. The one I'm going to now said that. He doesn't think being there is the most important thing he does . His mind is on some other stuff he's doing. He's told us that, too" Elmer went on to say that the students don't care for a teacher because he or she really doesn't care about the students or believe in them, "though he'll say differently, but the students know otherwise whether they know it or not....You know a teacher is bad," he ended his description, "even though he may know a lot when you hear the students say, 'I hate this subject,' 'I'm not good at this subject,' 'I don't like going to that class.' 'Boy, I'm glad that's over.'"

"And a good teacher?" I asked.

Elmer described the good teacher as one whom the students like and who likes the students. But, he's not sure the teacher really believes in or trusts the students. He still tells them what is important and what he wants them to do.

"And, what do students say about the good teacher," I prodded.

"You'll hear most students say about him things like 'I loved that course,' 'He gave us great lectures,' 'He or she taught me a lot.'

Then, Elmer hit me with the bombshell that still has me in shock when I asked him how he described the great teacher

"You know doc, I learned that a great teacher is not just liked by the students." "No? How do the students feel about him?"

"He's loved by them."

I turned my head towards him so fast I thought for a moment that my arthritic neck would snapped off. And, I almost walked into a tree. But, Elmer didn't notice, "That's because the great teacher doesn't just like the students. He loves them." Elmer went on to reveal an insight and wisdom far beyond his years. He sounded like a combined Lao-Tzu. Parker Palmer, and Kahlil Gibran. Elmer explained that he decided a great teacher believes in the students. "He listens a lot to them and not much to himself. He really sort of tricks them into seeing that they can learn by themselves and about themselves and gets them to listen to themselves.

"And what do the students say of a great teacher?"

Elmer replied without missing a beat, "They talk more about themselves then about him. Maybe not in words. They say, 'Wow, I didn't know I had it in me' or 'I didn't think I could do that.' 'Gee, I did it myself.' And you know something? They are surprised and even scared by that--I was. But the great teacher isn't."

As we approached the main campus, Elmer finished our conversation by saying something like--I scribbled down his words on some scrap paper after he left--"That's important because, like you used to tell us over and over, when we get out of here that there won't be a teacher around to tell us what is important and to ask what we should do. We have to learn to figure that out by ourselves. Kinda be our own teacher. I guess that is what an education really is."

The only words I could muster was an amazed, "You should learned a hell of a lot in your short stay here."

"Had a hell of a teacher," he smiled back.

Before I could say another word, he shook my hand, and ran off towards the science building with a departing, "See ya. Gotta get to class. Be by for another Tootsie Pop."

I stood there momentarily in the rain awe-struck. Elmer had already prepared me for my next class.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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