Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2001 12:06:19 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: What's Your Secret Magic?

Second day of class. Like each of the students, Claire came into the classroom, went over to the blackboard, and completed the sentence, "I am...." Soon as each of us--myself included--come into the classroom we go to the blackboard and complete the sentence with a true expression of how we feel. It allows me and the others to get a growing awareness of each other and of themselves. I noticed that Clare quietly wrote, "I am feeling really, really nervous."

It was the day each student brought in an object that symbolizes what he or she wants to us to know about him or her. Each student will have to stand up, introduce him or herself, and talk with us about the object and him- or herself. It's one of the beginning exercises that helps us to start breaking barriers among each other, building bridges to each other, forging a a supportive and encouraging and cooperative classroom community.

I meandered towards her, sat down leisurely in an empty seat, and slouched in a relaxed, non-chalant position.

"Nervous?" I quietly asked? And, I smiled.

With an almost imperceptible quiver that screamed out, "discovered," she looked at me. Her eyes said it all: "I'm not good enough;" "I'm not really sure I belong her;" "I'm not sure I can do this;" "The others are better than me...."

She shook her head nervously. "I don't like to talk in front of people....I get real scared when people are looking at me."

"What's your major?"

"Education." Then, she immediately said, "Kinda silly, isn't it?" There was no conviction in either her words or look or movements as she struggled to defend herself.

"No." Silence. Supportive smile.

"I don't want to look stupid again." No smile.

I picked up on that gnawing word. "Again?" Silence. Caring smile.

"I'm always saying stupid things. Teachers always done told me that."

"When we introduced ourselves during the 'Treasure Hunt,' what did I say as we shook hands."

"I don't remember." No smile.

"I do." Silence. Smile.

"You do? How could you. You met a whole bunch of people. Why would you remember me. I'm so plain. You're just saying that"

"You told me that you were married, hadn't been in school for a long while, was raising four kids, and had a job. Remember what I said?"

"No. You remember shaking my hand and what I said? You said that it takes courage to do what I'm trying to do..."

"So," I said slowly hoping she would finish this sentence, "if you're nervous about standing up in front of people...."

"I gotta somehow," she interrupted, "use some of that courage you said I have. I'm so nervous I'm shaking."

"That's okay. I get nervous before I talk with people, even before I come into class."

"No! You do. You're just telling me that."

"It's true. Believe you have the strength?" Silence. Smiling.

"I don't know."

"Who do you want to listen to, those teachers in your head who poor-mouthed you or this one in front of you who sees your courage? If you had listened to them, you wouldn't be here talking with me." Silence. Smiling.

"I don't know." No smile.

"Whom do you want to believe: them, you or me?"

"I don't know."

"Don't you? I do. That doesn't matter. You've got to. Just think about what got you here."

"I'll try."

"Read the 'Words for the Day.'"

She looked at the side blackboard: "There is no 'try,' only 'do.' Do not try, do."--Yoda.

We looked at each other. Her smiled at me. Actually, she was smiling at herself and didn't know it. And with that, I winked an eye, slowly got up and walked to the back of the room and asked the students to close their eyes for a few seconds while they listened to the embracing melody from "Crouching Tiger."

I made sure she was not among the first to present and could see the encouraging laughter and hear the supportive applause. She could see that others were nervous and no one was embarrassed. When it came her turn, Claire nervously arose. She nervously showed the picture of her family. She told about returning to school, being a mom and wife and secretary. She hear the quiet and admiringly "oohs" and "aahs" and "wows." She sat down to applause knowing she had done it.

She quickly looked at me. I smiled, gave a nod, and did a thumb's up. She smiled back. A connection. As she left the classroom, she came over and said, "I was so nervous."

"Congratulations, You did it. That's a step, the first step. Think the next one might be slightly easier."

"Yes. Thanks for taking the time to notice."

"You're worth it. See you Friday."

The student who is shadowing me was watching and listening. Later she said, "What's your secret magic?"

Magic? Secret? No magic; no secret.

"What do you think?" I answered her with a question.

"It's how you look at each student?"

"It's what you see in at each student that helps them to see!"

Some people look at students--if they bother to look--and see only a slum of ramshackle structures. Even if they see one or two glorious edifices, they condemn the rest as run-down tenements. Certainly, aren't worth their time and effort rennovating. I look at a class and see an imposing city of individual magnificent edifices. There's the magic. That's the secret. It's attitude; it's what's in your heart. It's one word: connectIng. You have to work hard at it everyday to make it work. There's always going to be stuff that gets in the way. Others may get in the way temporarily; you may get in your was temporarily; only you can do it permanently. So, the magic starts when you do; it continues as long as you do; and it stops when you do. But, if you can do it, it will make what you do enjoyable, enhancing, fulfilling, satisfying, meaningful for each student. If you can't do that, you can't enhance a student's life, stay away from his or her life.

I went on to tell her that there are teachers, in spite of what they say, who are magnificent demolition experts. They act as if students, with a few exceptions, were good-for-nothing. They think nothing of walking hand-in-hand with negatives. They are what I call "downers." They don't think twice of putting students down and of tearing student down, of being hurtful, of associating students with negatives, of making fun of them, of ridiculing them, of what I call "bloopering" them, and of spreading their disease. "Oh, it's nothing," they might say. Oh, yes it is. Tell Claire that. "Oh, I didn't mean anything by it." Oh, yes you did. Tell Claire that. The words we say to ourselves and others are indicative of what we do and what we believe. Negatives in whatever form are so contagious. They are never as dormant or as harmless they may seem. Once they infect, they effect the thinking and vision and action and speech of even unwilling listeners ever so subtly.

Magic? Secret? No magic, no secret.

For the past decade, I have been changing my vocabulary. I have found that if I change my vocabulary, I can help the Claire's change theirs. If I can start changing their vocabulary, they will start changing theirs and what they believe and what they do. Positives can be just as contagious as a negative. The only difference is that you can build with positives; you positivly can't with negatives. Everyone needs a sense of self-worth. I have never met a student who is a good-for-nothing. Everyone one of them is good-for-something. Each of them, each of us, needs the support and encouragement of a "you're worth it" and a "you can do it."

My mission as a teacher is to lift each student such as Claire up a little bit in his or her own estimation. The secret is never to listen to a negative, never to converse with a negative, never agree with a negative. It's easy to be negative. The secret is to lift each student up long enough until he or feels uplifted enough to lift him- or herself up. Magic happens when you have strong enough faith and belief and hope and love long and deep enough for long enough that students get them for themselves.

It's all in building caring relationships; its in making those supportive connections. It's about caring more about each student than yourself; it's about thinking more about each student and about yourself less. I can't enhance or uplift from a distance. I can't uplift with positives if I am weighted down by negatives. I can't connect if I am disconnected. I can't be involved if I am disengaged. If I can make a connection, I have a chance of establishing trust; if I can establish trust, maybe I can gain entry into a student's heart; if I can enter a student's heart, I may help him or her find both the constricting nightmare and the freeing dream; if I can help them start finding and building the dream and dissipating the nightmare, I can be a catalyst for commitment; if I can help them commit; I can help them achieve. Those are the steps I have learned to take in the last decade.

Magic? Secret? No magic, no secret.

Don't connect, don't establish relationships, not much will happen. So, I enter a classroom, walk down the halls, meander across campus with the idea of doing the important little things needed to establish relationships and make connections.

Magic? Secret? No magic, no secret.

Don't just sit back and see teaching as a calling, do whatever it takes with that calling. Don't just feel teaching is a mission, be a missionary on a mission.

Want the magic? Want to unlock the secret? Be on a high with each student. Then, you'll have high commitments. Have deep faith in each student. Then, you 'll have deep commitments. Be moved by what my friend, Margo, calls the power of potential. Then, you'll have powerful commitments, powerful enough to help each student harness that power and become empowered.

That's the secret. There's the magic.

         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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