Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Sat, 08 Dec 2001 05:20:13 -0500 (EST)
A very early good morning to you. They say joy to the world at this time of the year. I say, you got to be kidding. This is not a time for St. Nick. It's the end of the semester. I have been gathering my strength this week upcoming challenge. No, I'm not talking about mountain climbing or off-trail biking or hiking in the wilderness or white water rafting. No, it's final grades time! It is the most uneducational time of the year. Yuk! Double yuk!! For a good week, starting last Thursday for me, I will be sitting on the floor of my office, reading and re-reading almost 200 semester-long journals, pondering and repondering almost 200 detailed student evaluations of themselves and members of their communities, pouring and repouring over reams of my comments and notations, going over and over and over about sixty community portfolios filled with project stuff, thinking about, reflecting on, pondering, cursing, blessing, remembering, sneering, smiling, weighing, judging, wishing, juggling, agonizing, deciding, entering, and in more than some cases doing it all over again. No quick, get-'m-in-and-get-'m-out cold mathematical grade computation for me. My head will ache; my eyes will hurt; my muscles will stiffen. And, I don't even give those meaningless final exams!
There is, however, salvation from these unseasonal educational Scrooges. I have Latanya's words. Thanks goodness for Latanya. She's like Dickens's ghosts.
Remember Latanya? She was the graduating student, the aspiring elementary school teacher, who almost two months ago had asked me to "bless" her. Friday morning I had another chance meeting with her. I was walking away from the Student Union, passing the Library, towards my office. I was trying to coordinate the rhythm of my steps with movements of my arms so I could simultaneously walk, sip from a cup of coffee, and munch on a doughnut without toppling over. It was a balancing act worthy of the center ring.
There she was, book ladened, sitting on a bench by the fountain in front of the Library. She was taking in this early, unseasonal, summer-like, 80 degree December day.
"Dr Schmier," she waved to me. "Come sit by me."
"Not in the Library studying for finals next week?" I mischievously asked.
I walked over and almost before I could set my butt on the wood of the bench, she gave me a stern face. With a serious tone in her voice, an ever so slight smile revealing her feigned annoyance, "How can I? It's all your fault. That was one strange blessing you gave me a while back. Do you know how you gave me and a bunch of people fits. Even my ed teachers didn't think highly of it. I almost started hatin' you."
"Too negative for you?"
"I thought so at first. Not what I had been expecting. 'Not exactly uplifting and encouraging,' I said to myself as I walked away. But, coming from you, I knew better. I knew you had to have had a reason and that there was a hidden meaning somewhere. You know, a method to your madness as you always say. I kept asking, 'Why for the life of me did this man throw so much negative stuff in my way?' I talked about it with my room mates. They thought you were mean. Even my ed teachers didn't think highly of it."
"Me? Mean?" I asked with a playful smile. Maybe it was too playful.
Just as I was taking a sip, she gave me my "playful" back. I got a hard hit in my shoulder that sent splashes of steaming coffee across my face. I lurched to protect my lap and let the hot coffee drip harmlessly to the concrete. I think she deliberately timed her punch that way. "Serves you right," she laughed. "You're so maddening sometimes. Dang, you got me to thinking so much my head hurt, and I almost couldn't study. Thinking about that blessing seemed at times to be so much more important than finishing a boring assignment. It got into my skin. That's all I wanted to do. It was dang uncomfortable and troublesome. Then, I took it as a challange to figure you out. You know, it became exciting. I wanted to talk about it. My roomies almost threw me out 'cause I was annoying them so much. None of the teachers would say anything. The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw that you got me doin' the blessing!"
"Still think it was negative?"
"No, I don't think it was negative, although a lot of people would look at it that way. They'd think you were cursing me. It's how you look at things."
I smiled. "What way do you look at it?"
"Well, you left me a question mark instead of a period. If I knew what you meant, I wouldn't have thought about it so deep and have learned so much from all that thinking."
"What did you learn?"
"If I feel something is easy, I'll believe I know how to do it. If I believe I know how to do it all, I'll take it for granted and won't be learning and growing much from doing it. It's like what you said in the syllabus, can't learn to climb mountains by practicing on mole hills. If I did otherwise, I'd be taking it easy, just be lazing around munching on a couch and getting fat. I won't be bouncing up and about and staying in shape. If it isn't uncomfortable or a struggle, I'm not doing anything. I won't be on the edge. I'll be dead! It's exercising my abilities and getting muscled up. That's what you meant when you always told me that 'it's being hard is what makes it important.' Right?"
"Well, I figured you wanted me to see that if I'm afraid of making mistakes, how can I let the students go off on their own and try stuff. Making mistakes is part of learning. I should've known that right off. It's what our class was all about, stretching tight beliefs about ourselves to get loose. If I don't do that, I won't try anything new and make room for new stuff. I just can't be afraid of screwing up. I just have to believe in myself and have faith. But, I remember you saying that every day of every class is something new even if the title is the same. So, I got to try not to be afraid of trying changing around what I do to deal with every new situation and person. I just can't stay with what the book and professor says to do with all the students all the time. That's part of the struggling. How am I doing?"
"So far, so good," I quietly answered as I thought to myself, "Pearls," and furiously struggled to burn every word she was saying so eloquently into my memory banks.
"I'm gonna make mistakes. I ain't perfect. I learned that in my short life. But, you helped me to see that I shouldn't cry over it. Fallin' down don't mean I can't walk. If I screw up doesn't mean I'm a no good screw up. I shouldn't let it get to me. I can't let it stop me. Nothing wrong with messin' up unless I don't learn from the errors of my ways and get better. It's like teaching myself to explore new ways and new ideas. I use them to keep myself fired up and excited and interested, not get bored and stale. I shouldn't breakdown and cry about them. Done that too much already. I should use them to breakthrough my fears and see more of myself and what I can do and needs doing. You want me to buckle down and buckle up because teaching is one big adventure full of surprises that I shouldn't be afraid of. How am I doin'?"
"Say all that again," I asked her as I struggled to memorize her words, making sure she noticed the admiration in both the tone of my words and my body language. She did. "Couldn't have said it better."
She looked at me and smiled.
"Guess I turned out to be a good student in spite of it all like you said I would."
"You turned out to be a good person because you lived that blessing and didn't know it until now. That's more important. And as you live what you just said, you'll also be a hell of a teacher, and a blessing to each of your students."
We both had tears in our eyes. We hugged. Wished each other season's blessing. She left, climbed the steps to the library, and I sat there furious writing on whatever I happened to have in my pockets.
It 'tis the season to be jolly. In the quiet chaos of my office, with Latanya's help I won't let the grinch of grades steal that spirit. The second I feel the chill of this green grump's joyless unchristmas-like, unchanukah-like, unramadan-like, unkawansa-like approach, I'll read Latanya's words. I will read them as if I was carefully unwrapping a precious gift. Then, all will be calm, all will be bright.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____