Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 11:27:51 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Happy Teaching

Good morning. And, it is a good morning. My walk, that started out as a reluctant trudge ended up as a dance. Let me tell you why. It has meaning for our teaching.

But, I'm going to be a a tad cryptical this morning because the situation is so personal. People often ask me why I am always so happy. My answer is simple, "Because I choose to be happy." I made a lousy choice yesterday. I chose to be unhappy. It was proof that if I choose to find the awful, as I did, I will be cursed; I will be deafened and blinded and paralyze; I will feel powerless and lesser and hopeless; I will sneer and have an awful day. Happiness is largely MY decision to make, no one else's. And, this morning I learned as I journied the dark, cool streets of pre-dawn Valdosta, that the journey is long, hard, and slow. I learned that the journey, in fact, is never over, and that yesterday I hesitated on my journey by building constricting barriers made from the floatsam of self-imposed sadness.

This morning, as I walked, I came upon a large crack in the road. I suddenly realized that I was facing a crack that revealed a yet to be healed crack in my soul, and I tripped over it and had momentarily lost my balance. Yesterday, I had forgotten that I am only as happy as those things or persons which I allow to sadden me. No, no one or one thing was really saddening me. I was making myself unhappy. I own my own emotions, and I was hurting myself. I was being as small and disrespectful OF MYSELF. This morning, that realization dawned on me as dawn approached and shook me out of a subtle dusk that had quickly crept up and that I allowed to envelope me in darkness.

I also relearned a simple truth about happiness. How easy it is to be happy in happy situations, but how meaningful it is to be happy and feel alive in spite of unhappy situations. I have to work at happiness. I have to work to see the sun shining on a dismal and rainy day. Anyone can be unhappy. That takes no courage, no effort as I knew yesterday. It just takes energy draining surrendering of enthusiasm and excitement. I don't think there is anything automatic about happiness. I don't think it just happens as a result of good things happening to us over which we have no control. I find that there is little relationship between the circumstances of a person's life and how happy that person is. True happiness lay in struggling to be happy. That is true in all facets of life including my teaching. So, let me shift my thoughts about happiness to my teaching.

To paraphrase Emerson, I don't believe that any good teaching is achieved without enthusiasm for yourself and people. And enthusiastic teaching doesn't occur without being happy, without being turned on and lit up and getting a kick out of each person and with yourself in that classroom. I think we owe it to ourselves and every person around us to be a happy educator.

I am now even more aware that happy and unhappy teaching are under my control. I decide what and who I like and don't like, what and who I love and don't love. I am a happy teacher because I choose to be happy about each student, no matter what the circumstances. I don't wait for it; I go looking for it. I fight hard, not always successfully as yesterday's momentary lapse indicated, not to let mythologies, games, and/or fixations permanently get hold of me.

How do I fight to stay happy? Glad you asked. First, I am now grateful! Grateful for what I have, who I am, where I am, what I do and can do, and who I can be. I don't think an ungrateful educator, having once been one until eight years ago, can be happy and I don't think complaining educators are happy either. Second, I far more often than not resist the ravages of the "perfect student" syndrome. Third, I don't play the comparison game, comparing myself with anyone else's resume or reputation or salary scale, wondering about a bunch of "could haves" and "would haves" and "should haves." Fourth, I just won't my happiness be sabotaged by fixating on students' imperfections. Fifth, I also realize that happiness is a product of having a purpose. It's energized by a vision. And finally, I find the positive in virtually every situation and every student. I just don't stand there lazily on the side of life's road, idly sticking out my thumb, waiting for happiness to stop and give me a lift.

Sometimes I feel like Long John Silver forever having a nagging parrot on my shoulder as a guiding spirit, an instigator. Yesterday, I temporarily gagged that bird. But, this morning it broke free. That parrot is an internal critic, not a naysayer or a censor, that bullies me along. It's always saying as it said this morning, "Listen Schmier, I have to have a serious talk with you. You're getting too close to being smug and complacent. You're letting things get to you. If you don't want them to get the better of you, this is what you have to do...." This morning I started listening once again. That parrot always wins in the end. It won't let me sit or stand in one place. It won't let me frown for long. It won't let me succumb to the debilitating ravages of either those "perfect student" or "broken tile" syndrome. There is no fighting that feathered pest. That damn bird keeps me restless and excited, forcing me to take what comes, to just close my eyes and take a deep breath and smile, to go walking on with a comforting whistle or tune to ward away any potential sadness. I use that bird of happiness and attach it to the problem of learning and teaching; it motivates me to seek out a new situation to work on; it sharpens my awareness to each person around me, makes me more sensitive to my surroundings, it gives me an alertness and intensity: eyes searching and ears perked and muscle taut. It guides me to see each student each day in each class as something new and mysterious to wonder about and marvel at, and with which to deal. It won't let me stuff myself into some confining categorizing box. It keeps me free-floating. It keeps me loose. It urges me go on to the next problem, the next situation, the next person. It makes me unpredictable in an unpredicatable world and changing in a changing world. It never allows me to catch up with my goals because my goals are changing as each person in that class changes. So, I can't say, "I've been there; I've done it; I've seen it." Simply because I haven't. I go into each class and expect to discover new things; and I do. I go into each class expecting to see new people; and I do. I go into each class expecting a miracle to occur, and it does. Even Thoreau left the bliss of Walden Pond for the same reason he went there: he had new lives to live.

So, once again, I know this to be true: if I choose to find the positive in virtually every student, every day, in every classroom; if I choose to have hope, faith, belief, love in every student, every day will be a happy one of discovery. I will be excited and I will be happy. I will be blessed with joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, and days overflowing with "wows." I will be proud of who I am and what I do. I will not go to bed one night weighted down by one "might have been" or an "if only," feeling ashamed or disappointed or unhappy or burned out. On the other hand, if I choose to find the awful, the negative, the disappointment, the sadness, discouragement, and days overflowing with "yuks" and "ughs;" if I am fearful; if I see each class as something old hat, something routine, something "here we go again;" if I kvetch about student imperfections; if I do not have hope, belief, and faith I will lose my youthful spring, be cursed with boredom, depression, purposelessness, disappointment, discouragement, that may evolve into an anger. I will get kicked around in the classroom rather that getting a kick out being in the classroom. The classroom will be stormy instead of sunlit. I won't give it all I have; I will give it just enough to get it over. That choice is mine and mine alone. There is no one or anything else to blame. Nothing and no one makes me decide whether to be happy or unhappy, lit up or burnt out.

Now some of you may say I am idealistic. Maybe. But, after yesterday, I'm glad I am walking this cheery road once again with a smile on my face and an excitement in my spirit. I look at all those people in each class and it is almost like seeing a stain glass in motion, It's beautiful, uplifing, fulfilling. Believe me it beats the dismay, swampy alternative that I trudged through yesterday.

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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