Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1998 07:09:18 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: "Leopards can change their spots"

Good morning. Today, is the morning after the day before. Has nothing to do with wild revelry or hangovers. Well, that's not quite true. Today, is what we call in my family, "the morning after cheese cake" during which we experienced a caloric hangover. Yesterday, was All Saints' Day. In the Middle Ages, it was the most religious day on the Western Christian calendar. It was my birthday. All of western Christendom was celebrating my birth 58 years ago even though my angelic Susan often questions my sainthood. She thinks I was born six hours too late because when my impishness and playful "nudging" are at its heights--she always brings out the childlike devil in me--she isn't sure if I was a trick or treat. Anyway, I love that day because it is the only day of the year on which my Susan now serves up one her magnificant cheese cakes. It takes her two slavish days of fussin' and cussin'. But, you haven't tasted cheese cake until you've have one of her sinfully rich culinery delights. You don't eat her cheesecake; you just let it flow at a glacial pace passing each applauding tastebud with savoring tintulations. Yummy!

This morning, I was also thinking about a birthday card an old--really old--student, Page Lassiter, had sent me. It wasn't really a birthday card. He certainly didn't intend it to be one since he didn't know it was my birthday, but I took it that way. Page was a student way back when, fifteen years ago, when the university, then a college, was about a third its present size; when, I now see and admit, I was the talkaholic, aloof professor type except to those very few who fit the image of the "perfect student" syndrome with which too many of us are afflicted. I certainly was back in those days. Page lives around the corner from me and we talk teaching a lot. He's a loving high school history/social studies teacher teaching in a nearby county school system.

The message came from out of the blue me. It had the subject hearding, "leopards can change their spots." I don't know why Page chose this particular day to send me this message. I'll have to ask him. Something is on his heart and mind. This is what he wrote:

I'm certainly glad that today's students have found a "kinder, gentler" Louis. Not that the gruff, antagonistic,arrogant and ego squashing Louis was all that bad. I knew bullshit when I heard it and was not bothered by your verbal attacks. Hell, you must have done somethingright because that world history class 15 years ago helped push me into a job that I love dearly....Students now flock to the Master when they once avoided Him like an ebola strain. Keep it up, Louis"

I answered him, in a couple of sentences, what I now believe is the essence of the nature of my transformation that began nine years ago: the secret formulae for going from one of the least loved professors to one of the most loved teachers--if that is what others say I am--is that you have first have to fall in love with yourself and then only can you fall in love with each student. Only if you love them will you lovingly engage with them, and will they reciprocate. As a result, where once I saw failure in the word, professor, I now find that there is no word that I revere more than "teacher." My heart now sings when someone calls me his or her teacher, and it always will.

As I sit here, after a delightful four mile walk, with a delicious smelling cup of freshly brewed coffee at my side, a piece of cherry-capped cheese cake the size of which that rivals Everest at my other, a flow of tidbits about what I think are some, only some, of the character istics of the truly loving teacher are pouring out. They're just random "here and there's." Besides, I can't think straight when one eye is on that plate that has all the dimensions of a roman orgie:

1. it is an illusion to assume that high grades or GPAs is goodness; we shouldn't confuse the good grade with the person who makes the grade any more than we should confuse a mistake with the person who makes a mistake

2. There are subtle differences to the waves rolling onto the beach. No two waves are alike, just like snowflakes--and students.

3. you know, it is not obligatory for a "good" class to have honors students

4. Every student is a somebody; each student is very special and worth fighting for.

5. We can respect a student more if we can see beyond his/her image into her future potential, if we understand that each student is a seed of tomorrow's yet-to-seen flower. But, you won't know that unless you're looking for it and reach through doing what is "company approved."

6. We can make majors, but the important thing is to help in the process of becoming better human beings

7. It is tragic that one student who has the capacity should be allowed to fail. The second we don't have the time for that one student is the time when we have to make available twice the time, for every moment we spend now will earn untold years in the future. And when you believe the benefits are worth the effort and risk, you put the risks behind you and focus on the benefits.

8. We cannot suppose that some have a right to be educated and some do not

9. My heart is the student's real classroom

10. Einstein was right when he said that the supreme art of a teacher is not the transmission of information but the awakening of joy in creative expression

11. Imagine the wonders we would discover if we entered the classroom as excited seeders and enthusiastic feeders and optimistic cultivators rather than as stern weeders and grim reapers.

12. Hug a student, don't tug at him or her. Tug is a sign of contention, conflict, friction, disdain, disrespect; hug is a sign of embrace, partnership, community, commonality, understanding, sharing, love.

13. You always must ask you to ask yourself: if you truly do not care whether these students love you why do you obviously care if they dislike you? If you don't want to be in community with them, why should they be with you?

14. Look around in those eyes, faces, hearts. Let's stop abstracting, generalizing, theorizing; let's stop drawing up impersonal diagrams, dehumanizing charts, and statistics. Who are the untouchables? Who are the unteachables? Who are the unreachables? Who are the hopeless? Who are the too dumb to learn? Who are the too stubborn to learn? Who should we lose? Tell me, who? Are they really real people except in the superficial, cold heart, distance stand, and blind eye of the beholder? Are they the result of our failures as teachers rather than their failures as students?

15. Leopards can change their spots. We are not captives of "reality." We are not slaves of "system." We are not imprisoned with the locked cells of "that's not me" or "I'm not comfortable with that...." or "I can't change the way I....." We have choices. We make choices. Even when we choose not to choose, that is our choice. We always have the option of seeing truth, no matter how blind and prejudiced we may be; we always have the option of changing, no matter how uncomfortable and even painful that may be; we always have the option of moving on, no matter how tied up we may be.

These are not just pithy catchphrases or trite sayings for me. They are the way I now struggle, not always successfully, to live, to learn, and to teach. Someone once asked me if I practice good-feeling teaching and learning. Doggone right I do. There is unimagined strength and accomplishment in the power of positive learning and teaching.

Gotta run for another piece.

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
912-333-5947                       /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
                                  /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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