Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 10:32:15 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: That Loveable Cowardly Lion

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la..... I'm singing this in the middle of December! I walked out this morning in shorts and a cut shirt. Quickly tore off the shirt and threw it on the lawn after a few steps down the driveway. A confused amarylis stood tall about to bloom. An Azalea blossem peeked through a bush. Several Gallardia are flush from the heat with red blooms. In December? It's supposed to be another 80 degree day today!! I've heard about the glowing warmth of the holiday season, but Mother Nature is taking it literally! It doesn't feel like we're on the right page of the calendar. It's downright immoral that Rudolph's nose should be red from a sun burn on the beach!!

And yet, while "Jingle Bells" seems out of place, "Joy To The World" does not. As I was walking through this unseasonal warm morning, I was warmly thinking about an event of joyful magic in one class a week ago. In fact, there has been lots of visible and vocal magic this semester. It's sort of unusal. Maybe it's the lingering impact of 9/11. Maybe it is just one of those semesters. Maybe it's just this particular gathering of neat people. Maybe I just shouldn't ask. Anyway, about this one piece of enchantment, it was the last day of the semester. It was the time we do closure. We all brought in an object symbolizing what experience each of us got out of the class and are taking with us. We went around the room, each of us standing up, introducing ourselves for the last time, and doing a show-and-tell about the object we brought in and the experience we're taking out.

Then, it came Claire's turn. It's not her real name even though she has given me permission to tell her story.

She stood up, smiling. This was once shy, grim-faced, tight-lipped frightened Claire. She is a non-traditional student, mother, wife, and ed-major. When I greeted her at the classroom door that first day, it was as if she had a line from Dante branded on her spirit: "All hope abandon ye who enter here." I watched her quickly sit in the far back corner of the classroom. I noticed she didn't say anything to the other two students to whom I had introduced her and with whom she sat. I wormed my way though the chairs now scattered by chattering students, sat down next to her, introduced myself once again, and softly asked, "Nervous?"

She nodded her head. We small talked. I let her do all the talking. As I left, I softly and quickly tapped her the hand saying with a smile, "You'll be fine. Smile."

When we went on the day's "Treasure Hunt" to find and introduce ourselves to ten people whom we didn't know in the class to discover ten "unknown treasures," I made sure Clair and I shook hands. When I asked her why she was a treasure, she couldn't answeer. Each day I'd be sure to walk up to her, say hello, and engage in quick and friendly small talk. With a serious joking around, I'd always ask her kindly to smile.

Hesitantly but bravely I saw her take one small arduous, step after another: first standing up and telling us about the object she brought in to symbolize what she wanted us to know about her, then singing solo during class community building, then saying something during open class tidbit discussions, then reading to us from the community's Dr. Seuss Book, then singing again for the Bruce Springstein Project, then donning a wig and costume and acting during the Broadway Project, then.....

I'll just say that I read in her weekly journal and more than one occasion when she came to me to talk heard of her struggle to overcome the hidden blows that left long-lasting welts on her spirit. I read that she knew if she was going to be an elementary teacher she would have to break the mould, to become less shy, not as frightened, more studier and less fragile, more assured, less sad. All semester I had seen a growing twinkle slowly, hesitantly appear in her eyes. Ever more frequently, I noticed the appearance of an unrequested, guarded smile curl her lips and puker her cheeks. All semester I had seen a slow, struggling evolution of attitude, a shift in self-definition, a redefining of normal, a growth in self-confidence, a refocusing of faiths, beliefs, and hopes in and about and for herself.

Now she was doing closure. Standing up, in her hands she held an elongated box with a cellophane face. In the box was the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz on which was sewn a big red heart. Claire explained with a low, resolute tone how all her life she had been like the cowardly lion.

"You people, this class, Dr. Schmier were all my Dorothys," her voice cracked. She hesitated. A tear appeared. She recovered, "I don't believe I am getting so emotional."

Water swelled in my eyes. She nervously went on. "I was like the cowardly lion when I came in here....Like the cowardly lion, I found my heart of courage here."

My hands tightened around the chair's desktop. Sudden everything seemed to slow down and stretch out. She told us she is still scared, still shy, still quiet, but far less then when she first entered the class. She told us that next semester she is going to carry that lion around with her in her backpack to every class so that when she falters it will be there to remind her how much courage she has within her and that she can rise to any challenge and overcome it.

"It'll still be a long walk. But, now on I'm my yellow brick road," she exclaimed with such quiet and triumphant joy. "I was once a scared and silent lamb. Now I know I can be a roaring lion."

For a lengthy moment, it was like the night before Christmas and all through the classroom not a student stirred. Then, the class exploded. Everyone wildly applauded and cheered. More than one or two students rose from their seats.

Later I received a gift from Claire, a letter. I read it. I e-mailed her. We had a long electronic conversation. She agreed to let me share her letter. I do so as a reminder to us all, as I told an e-mail friend, that there's more to each student then "student." There isn't one of these people who isn't worth knowing. There isn't one of these people who isn't important to someone. The class should be less "class" and more important individuals. We should think less of teaching in a classroom and more of the lives in the classroom. It should be less homogenous and more a motely variety, an incredible mixture, as I often say, a gathering of "sacred ones." It should be less a stolid olive drab and more a lively coat of many colors. Here is her letter without the confidential stuff:

"Dr. Schmier,

I know this is not required, but I just wanted to write and let you know some things. I was sitting at my kitchen table Thursday night, thinking about closure in your class earlier. I knew your class had an affect on me, but I didn't realize how much of one until we got into the class. As a new student who hasn't worked or been to school in a long while until I stepped into your room, I never believed for a second at the beginning that I would be able to complete it. I believe it was a real blessing. Thanks to you, not only did I complete it, I overcame a lot of my fears. I was so shy and scared of social situations, and your class was just what I needed to open me up some. I will always remember the first time and the many times after that when you could tell I was on the verge of panic. I never understood how you knew. It was like you had some radar, but I will always remember that you came over again and again to ease my nerves. No else even cared in my family or at this school, but you did. That is really special to me because you didn't have to. And you didn't have to listen when I told you about......... I remember so vividly when you asked how I was I being a model for my children. Boy, did that hit home. It really went deep. Maybe that was when I began to struggle to see what you were seeing."

"Your faith and belief and hope teaches by itself. I see that the essence of education is in your teaching. I had caged my hope a long time ago and had forgotten it even existed. It was painful to live that way; it was even more painful to try not to live that way. You made me realize that I had to breat the pattern for my sake and my children's. I felt myself becoming alive as with your help as I came face to face with my possibilities. I have learned to be proud of myself and to never underestimate myself. I am so glad that I took this class when I did. I believe that your words and teachings have motivated me and given me the confidence to make it through school. I will take so much more with me from this course than just a history lesson. You are a true inspiration to me. I just wanted you to know that I am truly grateful for helping this cowardly lion find her heart of courage that I now see, like the lion, was always there. That loveable cowardly lion is going to be with me all the time. THANK YOU!!!! I can't tell you how much I appreciate being treated like a human being. Thank you for seeing my humanity."

"P.S. You will be seeing me. I'm going to take you up on that offer to be there to listen whenever I have to talk with someone."

That phrase, "seeing my humanity," sums up what our educational sight should be. I recently told an e-mail friend that if we miss the sancity and dignity and humanity of each student, we've failed. If we try to straightjacket each person in the classroom with a single, confining, unhuman image or truth, we've failed. We should create an environment where any student finds possibilities in his or her self, where he or she becomes aware with those unique potentials. We should help soften the moment for each student. We should see every moment as a chance to get in, to catch it, and to change it. If we do whatever it takes to do that, we have done whatever it took for them and for ourselves. Whatever Claire now discovers is hers and as she stays the course she slowly will learn just how wonderously new she and her surroundings have become, can become, and will become.

         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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