Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 08:22:51 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: My Teaching Credo, II

There's a nip in the air this morning. My budding roses are are rosy-petaled. I guess March hasn't really decided whether to go out a proverbial baa or roar. That chill, however, isn't just coming from the weather. Over the past week, I've received a barrage of icy scoffs from I guess what would be called sceptics because of what one professor at an eastern community college called my "extravagant ambition" and another called my "relentless but unreachable idealism." A third accused me of being commited to students instead of my discipline. On that charge, I admit that I am a people person. I am a student junkie. I am not edgy about being involved with students because students for me are not "edgy" people who are sitting on the edge of my academic profession. I do not believe that teaching is an "unfamous" endeavor dealing the the "unfamous."

If there is one principle I have come to honor in the past decade, it is that education is not a world of impersonal forces, theories, principles, statistics, test scores, and subject matter. Drawing on my Emerson, I'll take a stand and say that is no learning, no teaching, no subject, no education. There is only biography. If that makes me a target, so be it. If there is any--any--relevant insight I have gained in the past decade since my epiphany, it is that the individual, that magical and mysterious human being--student or teacher--in the classroom profoundly matters. I am slowly seeing that the more we are preoccupied with the mechanics, with the technology, with the pedagogy, with assessment, the less we will see the person of the student as well as the person of ourselves. The more we will be trapped by blind spots.

God, all that was brought home this week. What a week it has been. It was one of those "what else can happend" weeks. And, it seemed that all those "elses" happened. I can't tell you how many hats I had to wear. It started at the end of last week, ran into the weekend, and continued unabated. And, maybe I'm more sensitive, more aware, because of the week it has so far been. It has been a seismic week. It has been a week of tears and sneers. I've experienced the proverbial agonizing depths of "no" and the exhuberant heights of "yes." It has been emotioning draining. It has been a risk-taking time. It has been a time I drooped my head and soul in sorrow for a student or two and a time I raised my hands and spirits in their triumph. There was a moment a day or two ago I faltered. I didn't want to take anymore. I e-mailed a disraught student with a sighful and tired two word: "Why me." She immediately replied with a humbling and splash-in-the-face three word: "No one else." It has been an awesome time. It has been a sad time. It has been a mysterious time. It has been a magical time. What a time.

It has been a time to remember. I just have to say without revealing confidences that I have been reminded this week just how much every class is fraught with an eclectic mix of individuals who come in a variety of sizes, ages, colors, sounds, shapes, experiences, backgrounds, cultures, trials and tribulations, other lives, memories, fears, interests, expectations, tastes, talents, abilities, potentials, and personalities. There is a serendipitousness that assures me that I never know what I am going to find on any given day. I have to be constantly on the alert. No, I have to be constantly aware. I have to listen, see, feel, smell. I can't stand around flat-footed; I have to be on my toes. I have to be a master at impromptu. Each place, each day, each person is a place of challenge, discovery, surprise where the promise of the unknown beckons from every seat every day. Teaching makes me very aware of the potential of each person, where that person currently is, and where that person can be. The power of care, faith, hope, belief, and love can be challenging. It can be draining. It can, I assure you, more so can be awesome. They are signposts in my heart and mind which I pass time and time again for direction each day as I set forth afresh on new adventures.

I'm not sure most people understand the power of a credo, of constructing a vision, dream, goal, and then believing that it can be accomplished because it ought to be. I have to teach boldly. I believe that whatever ought to be done, can be done; and if it can be done, "all" I have to do is do whatever it takes to get it done. For others that may be extravagant ambition or unreachable idealism or irrational touchy-feely. And, that's okay. I just don't believe we can recruit students, work to retain them, give them dreams, and then walk away. I believe if we recruit students it is because we believe in them, and if we believe in them we have a responsibility for their success. For me that credo generates power, generates energy, generates actions, generates stamina, generates the capacity to reach.

You don't get those same feelings where the subject is the focus and every student is treated as the same. You don't have a shot at unleashing the full potential of each individual, harnessing the energy and spirit of each student, unlocking the power of each individual.

To paraphrase Goethe, teaching boldly has genius, power, and magic in it.

         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,   \ /^\
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