Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 01 Sep 2001 10:26:09 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Feedback

On this first day of the Labor Day Weekend, my walk was laborious. After two hot and rainless weeks, plants all along my route were raising their leaves in hosannas after last night's torrential downpour. Nevertheless, this morning's misty air was anything but airy. It was solid sogginess as the fallen waters were returning to the heavens in wispy, heavy pillars of steam.

As I sailed in and out of patches of superheated oceanic fog, I was thinking clearly about yesterday's class. Community portfolios were due. The Communities introduced themselves by presenting their portfolios bedecked with their Community name, logo, and motto. For some people, it was a challenged to stand up there. They probably would have preferred bungie jumping to talking in front of the class. The first Community, after it presented its portfolio, decided each member would say a few words about him- or herself. That wasn't required. They just decided to do it, and all the other Communities followed suit. That never happened before in any class. It was neat because everyone had to say a few words.

One student whom I'll call Sammy was a bundle of nerves. She was not happy being up there much less having to say something. She was closing her eyes and taking deep breaths and figeting as the other members of her Community discussed the portfolio and then introduced themselves. Her voice shook and cracked. She hesitated. "You don't know how scared I am. I'm so shy. I just want to turn around and talk to the wall. This is so stupid. I'm so dumb. And, I want to be a teacher." Tears were forming in her eyes.

"That's okay," I calmly assured her as I immediately thought of Claire in the other class. "It's not stupid and you're not dumb. It's okay to be nervous. You're already talking to us, and you're saying courageous things. No one is pressing you. Just look at the 'Words for the Day' and decide what you want to do."

The "Words For The Day," just happened to be ten powerful two-lettered words: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

She stared at them. She read them, read them for what seemed like a long while. The class was quiet. I saw one student mouth, "come on, you can do it." And then Sammy turned turned back to her classmates and ran through a few sentences describing herself.

She raced back to her chair as if she was running the final leg of a 440. Her seat happened to be in front of where I was sitting. I leaned over, lovingly tapped her on her head with my index finger, and said, "You did it. First step to being a great teacher." The rest of the class was applauding. She turned around with a beaming smile and caught me off-guard with a whisper. "Well, Dr. Schmier, if you could apologize to the class I decided I could do this. Step one to being a voice instead of an echo."

Her comment took me back to the previous Friday. Fall semester classes had been in session a week, but most of the students were still in summer mode. The hot August days didn't help to dissuade them.

I knew there would be absences on that first Friday as first year, late teenage students struggled to cut the home town umbilical cord. Actually, only about five of 43 weren't there. I don't know why, but I decided to preach to the choir about responsibility and commitment. Maybe I was convinced, afraid would be a better term, that the upcoming Labor Day Weekend would decimate Friday class and add to already cancelled class the following Labor Day Monday.

I wasn't loud. I wasn't agitated. I wasn't sneering. I wasn't wildly gyrating. I thought I was firm but assuring and supporting and encouraging. And yet......As I was talking I thought I heard a whisper inside trying to interrupt, saying to me, "you don't trust the ones who are here." And, as I was putting a muzzle on that inner voice, it became a ventriloquist. From the back of the room came Melody's interrupting voice, "Why are you so cynical? We're here. Don't you trust us?"

Ah, but, I side stepped her comment with a knee jerk defensive reply, "I'm not being cynical. Sure, I trust you. I just want you to help me with those missing in action and I don't want you to do things that would disrespect yourself."

"What makes you think we would?"

"Nothing. Just heading things off at the pass."

Truth was that I was being cynical and that I didn't trust them. I was being negative. Melody won the game of pin the tail on the prof. Her words gnawed at me all weekend. I had discussions, conversations, and arguements with myself on walks and by the fishpond. At times, I felt like a pondering Spencer Tracey standing on his patio in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. Her unrequested feedback was not tasty, but oh did it prove to be nutritious

Sunday night I swallowed Melody's medicine, without any sugar to make it go down. I finally said to myself, "Louis, you're stupid. If you hadn't forgotten how powerful your thoughts and words are, you would never have been negative."

I wrote myself a note on the roll pad Monday morning, "Cynical. Don't ignore. Apologize."

First thing I did Monday, after we did our opening minute meditation to the rhythms of Barry White, I publically admitted to Melody that she was right, that she was right to nail me. I apologized to the class. I thanked Melody for her candor.

That is why we all have to be honestly open to good honest criticism, evaluation, assessment, feedback, or whatever you want to call it. Our outward behavior is the truth, our inner perception of our behavior is our emotionally self-satisfying and self-serving, "how could they say that" illusion. We have to listen and hear because many of our patterns, idiosyncracies, quirks are really invisible to us. We're not conscious of them. We don't think about them. They are not operating in the realm of the aware. That's why, we have to ask. We have to follow that fundamental dictum: ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find. To ask with a true open openness leads to education; to ask with a closed openness results in continued ignorance. I once read the acronym that to ask is to "a"lways "s"eek out "k"nowledge, to get ideas, insights, information, approaches. We need to ask in order to be informed, inspired, and energized; to generate a rich inner dialogue and thoughtful reflection. And so, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said, "we all need an education in the obvious." Then, there will be a yield of unimaginable rewards and unbelievable miracles.

Boy, did Sammy bring all that home!

         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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