Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon, 7 Jun 1999 08:35:08 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: PLAY: My Fifth Word in My Dictionary For Good Teaching

Yesterday was hot, hot, hot, hot. Like either a mad dog or an Englishman, with the sun beating on my bent back, I was on my knees edging a flower bed in my front yard. The sun was beating on my bent back. The sweat pouring off my face so fast that I knew I wouldn't have to water the flowers that night. I could hear the mosquitos, Georgia's state bird, laughing above my head at the insect repellent that oiled my skin. I was fearful of breathing, knowing each inhale would suck up a high-protein mouthful of gnats. Those gnats, they whiffed at my whiffing.

Just then, as I swore under my breath at a bite from a scouting piss ant, a car slowly drove up and stopped. I stopped. Got up and walked over, trowel in hand, rubbing the little appearing welt on my thumb, thinking they were lost and needed directions. A woman lowered the window letting out a refreshing blast of cool air-conditioned wind. "Your yard is so beautiful that we just had to stop and take a look. You surely love to 'play' in your garden, don't you."

"Yes, ma'am," I appreciatively answered. "Thank you."

We chatted for a few minutes. With more than a little pride, I answered her questions and identified flowers blooming and yet to bloom.

As she drove away, I went back to my edging and useless swatting and fruitless whiffing, and constant dripping. It wasn't long before I stopped, learned back, placed my hands on my haunches, and thought of that one word that woman had said, "play." "Neat word," I whispered to myself. Yeah." And, I thought about it as I continued to play in my garden for the rest of the day.

That stranger unintentionally had hit the nail on the head. She had given me my fifth word for Kenny. You see, I hadn't finished his assignment by semester's end and he graciously gave my an "incomplete" grade on the promise that I would e-mail him the completion of his assignment.

When I e-mail him today, I will ask him, "When you awaken, will you say to yourself, It's playtime?'" "When you go to school, do you say to yourself, 'let's Play?'" When you are walking to the classroom, will you get yourself into a playful mood. When you are in the classroom, will you play?" I'll tell Kenny that I want him to play with that word: PLAY. It **is** a neat. It's an essential word. It's, as the students say, "a deep" word. It's something superfluous to be relegated to the sandbox or jungle jim or seesaw. It's a word that gets you up each morning with an enthusiastic and joyous "yes." It lifts you out of bed and out of the doldrums. It place you above the mundane. It doesn't let you sleep while you're awake. Teaching can be a dream, but you have to be awake to live it and appreciate it.

So, I'll tell him that the good teacher has some fun each day in in his or her classroom. I'll tell him to let his teaching become more playful and enjoyable, and the students' learning more playful and enjoyable. In playfulness and enjoyment there **is** deep play when altered states are more likely to happen. Every day be sure to play in the classroom. But, don't play at it. Play is not a goofing off word; it's not a superperfluous word; it's serious stuff. Play is a paradox. Good teaching takes long hours, hard work, and risk-taking. To be sure, teaching is serious business, but it's rarely deadly serious--literally life and death serious--like some people think and act. And yet, they're uptight, somber, and some seem to approach their teaching so often as if it is a literal life-or-death struggle. I wonder if when entering their classes their students are reminded of those horrible days when they were met at the door by their prom date's father.

I have found that dour and sour will get you less than smiling and sweet laughing. Makes sense. I think playfulness is itself a creative, emancipating state. Play makes you freer of the risk with a less risky "what-the-hell;" the time passes faster, the work goes smoother if you take it lightly. You almost trick yourself into working hard and the students into learning hard.

Play is an essential nutrient. It doesn't just feed. It nourishes your spirit with inner satisfaction. It sustains imagination, creativity, innovation. It evokes that urge to tinker, to explore new ways or different ways of doing things.

Play kinda greases the wheels, it kinda disarms the inner fears and makes things enjoyable. It makes the hard things soft, the harsh things gentle, the stressful things pleasant. It includes when you want to exclude; it shortens distances; and it embraces. Play will lead to another charming word: enjoy----being in joy. If you work at play and play at your work, you'll enjoy your classroom each day whatever the challenges may be; you will enjoy yourself; you'll find joy in each and every person; you'll enjoy spending time with students, "good" and "bad. Playful enjoyment will keep you upbeat, will accenuate the positive and eliminate the negative as the 1940s song says, and will sew a silver lining on just about everything.

Live joy, give joy, receive joy, you'll have a ball. Lose that playfulness and you may as well pack it in. Keep it, and....ah....there is that perennial inner and outer smile.

And you know that you can't sneer or jeer with a smile. Like I just said, you can't be sour with a sweetened smile. You can't be a "yukker" with a smile. You can't just plod along with a smile. Those powerful little muscles on our faces that are able to lift the heaviest of hearts and feet; they are spotlights that can lighten up the darkest of places. A smile is a flashlight that lights up spirits; it plays like a symphony. A smile is compelling, healing, soothing, encouraging, calming, loving, and above all, infectious. A smile is a gift. It's the beginning of peace and hope and belief, and faith, and optimism. Can't measure the physical, emotional, and spiritual power of a smile. The best thing to wear into a classroom is a smile, not a tie or suit or dress. Try it. Go into a classroom laughing. Leave it with a smile. The more you smile, and have fun, and play, the better you feel and the more you will enjoy teaching, and the more students will enjoy learning--and the more they will learn. And if you tell me a smile doesn't work, I'll just smile back. When you exercise those muscles on your face, you are building up your body, your spirit, your emotion, and everything you do.

That single word--PLAY--is a loud, applauding high five that stirs the inner embers, sets you on fire, and creates altered states.

Make it a good day. 


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

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