Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1999 09:24:10 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: A View of Life and Teaching

Ah, me, summer has just about leapt out of my hands. I just returned from the high of my son's wedding two miles high in the Colorado Rockies that seemed to be so distant a year ago. It was, like its surroundings simple, elegant, majestic. Nine days in the cool heights of America's "purple mountains." Being home, as I've already told some people, I'm not sure if it's better to suffocate in the cool, rarified of a Colorado high or drown in the hot, wet, heavy air of a South Georgia low.

The Fall semester starts in two weeks. I'm starting to anticipate its beginning and itching to meet the students. I miss the students so much, not having taught this summer. Ah, me, where does the time go? Coming to think of it, where does it come from?

I don't know why, but as I lightly danced on my tip-toes along the heated street that threatened to roast my soles and and breathed in the super-heated, heavy, steamy air that threatened to roast my soul, I started thinking about a succinct presentation a graduate student made to an opening session of a teaching conference in Manitoba many years ago. She merely said to us, "Please be real. Respect us enough to do that." That was it. And as that word, Real---there's another good word for my dictionary of good teaching--with all of its synonyms, bounced around me head, I vaguely remembered my Hawthorne. I think it was in the Scarlet Letter that he wrote no one can be a person to himself and another to others without ultimately becoming confused about which is the true person.

I think both that wise graduate student and Hawthorne were right. How can my view of life NOT show up in my teaching? It is how we understand and accept all that IS. Teaching is a part of my life and not apart from it, as is everything I do or think or feel. My beliefs, my morals, my values, my experiences, my joys, my sorrows, my heights, my valleys, my loves and my hates create my view of life. All this determines who and how I am, regardless of whether I am a teacher or not. I cannot deny it. I cannot be coldly objective. I cannot leave it at the edge of the campus or at the threshold. It will seep out in some form whether it is implicit in how I act or direct in what I say, whether I want it to or not, whether I like it or not, whether I try to hide it or not. My view of life IS in the classroom. For, wherever I am and the student is, the both of us are there. So, I must struggle to figure out how to live my life the best I can and make teaching the best I can.

So, this morning I was thinking about the long, hard struggle I have been engaged in this past decade to heed that student's plea, of being real, of the inseparable union of life and teaching.

I think my view of life shows up in ways I will never realize and sometimes in ways I realize all too well. So many ways my view of life is shown in my teaching, so many ways my view of teaching is shown in my life. Isn't that how it should be, to be the same, true, person to yourself and to others at all times? To be what that graduate student and all students beg for, to be real? To be without masks, costumes, uniforms, false appearance, pretensions to yourself and to others? Really!

Like when I delight in the simple joy of just being among the students; when I never pretend who I am not, at least struggle hard not to be; when I enter the classroom with the ecstatic feeling as if fresh air and the wind are in my face; when I see a class, as I have often said, as a gathering of "sacred ones"; when I run to greet the students each day; when I enter the classroom or engage students outside the classroom believing learning and teaching is best constructed without threat; when I joke with a student and he or she with me; when every day in the classroom is a joyride, running, romping, jumping, laughing, wagging my body, and playing; when I am inspired with and inspire creativity; when I allow a student to share a story and when I share a story; when I scribble "words of the day" on the blackboard and we discuss them; when I play music at the beginning to each class and have an eyes-closed reflective moment to let the music soak in and create a mood; when I give students choices, trust them and give them their rein, let students stretch the limits of an assignment; when I respect each student and am loyal to each of them; when I prepare the food for knowledge and serve it with gusto and enthusiasm; when I show them what a love of learning looks like; when I tell people who ask me that I teach "student," and when they ask again, I continue, "that each is capable of being his or her own discoverer and learner;" when I love each of them unconditionally and show them what that love looks like; when I listen to their voices; when I don't listen to a student's negative and challenge him or her knowing he or she can do more and I expect that; when I offer each of them a sealed letter from a student in last semester's class about me and the class; when I greet students walking down the hall with a smile and hello' when I tell a somber student to smile, greet students as they enter class that first day with an "hello, I'm Louis Schmier. Glad to have you here. Do you know....." and introduce them to another person; when I listen to their voices some more, love them a little more; when I notice a student is confused and afraid to say anything for fear it will impact his or her grade; when I have coffee and doughnuts with a student and get an "assignment" from him or her; when I tell the students anything they want to know about me; when I spend the first two weeks creating a class community and a sense of family in the class to insure that no one is a stranger to anyone in the class; when I struggle to understand each of them; when I give a hopeful touch on a student's shoulder; when I offer an an encouraging laugh; when I listen to their voices even more; when I sit in chair somewhere in the room at eye level or even on the floor; when I give a believing soft tap on a student's head; when I never stand in front of the classroom, often sit at eye-level with the students and sometimes on the floor; when I hand a student an encouraging or uplifting Tootsie Pop; when I publically notice improvements; when I pick up the pencil a student drops when I charge t a student a late-to-class fee of 25 cents for the food kitchen, charge a student a negative comment fee of 50 cents for the food kitchen; when I give a soft answer when I don't allow a student to accept his or her own restricting perceptions of him/herself and his or her potential; when I won't accept anything less than their admitted best and tell them to do a project again, and again, and even again; when I give a tough answer and won't buy an excuse; when I never laugh at a student or allow a student to laugh at anyone else, especially him/herself; when I never tear down a student with a negative, always see a positive on which to build; when I give a hug or allow him or her to hug me; when I show them a thumbs up; when I laugh some more; when I admit my mistakes; when I admit when I am down and ask their help to pick me up; when I maintain a positive attitude; when I see each student as a sacred person; when I share a little more of my life with my students so they know I'm human; when I don't let a student hide in a shadow or get lost or go unnoticed or be forgotten; when I learn more than each student's name; when get to know each student; when I find the time for each of them and listen; when I apologize when I am are wrong,; when Ihave the class sing Happy Birthday; when I struggle to understand; when I listen some more, give another hopeful touch, laugh encouragingly some more; when I understand that outside personal life impacts on their classroom performance; when I let students know it's okay to have a bad day; when a student is having a bad day, I silently sit near-by, and touch him or her gently or say nothing and am just near-by; when I let students touch me; when I don't bite when a growl will do, avoid a growl when a stern look will do, avoid a stern face when a demanding smile will do; when I let a coughing student to go get water; when I let a knock-kneed one hit the bathroom; when I offer a gesundheit to a student that sneezes; when I "kick" a student out of class who is sick and miserable and offer them my home-made remedy; when I struggle to gladden the heart of a student; when I choose to be happy, offer more encouragement, understand some more, gladden the heart of a student again; when I toubleshoot for a student with a faculty member or administrator; when I cut red tape for a student, ask a faculty member for help with a student at, ask advice about a student with an administrator friend; when I attend a student's recital or stage performance; when I think first of a student, appreciate each student, am kind and gentle and firm, laugh a little more, laugh still a little more; when I give a hopeful touch still once again, give an encouraging laugh still once again, gladden the heart of a student still once again and again and again and again; and when I choose to believe that each student is a "little story" in which is hidden piercing truths, take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of each student,

If I have the courage and can bring into the classroom a whole person, a real person, and if I can help a student get the courage and bring into the classroom a whole person, a real person, things will be a whole lot better and there will be a whole lot of love, faith, hope, and belief--and a whole lot of achievement.

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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