Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 09 Feb 2002 08:05:01 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: "It's No Secret"

Why do things seem to happen when I'm munching on my doughnut? This time, the other day, I was sitting out by the fountain in front of the library in the crisp sunlit air, sipping a cup of coffee and nibbling at a sinfully sticky glazed doughnut to get a sugar kick. After my second literally sleepless night tending my deathly sick Susan who was stricken with a bad case of the "crud," I was gathering my strength and meditating for my upcoming class to get a spirit kick. As I sat there, this this shadow came over me. I slowly looked up and there was Cathy (not her real name).

As this smiling human eclipse hovered over me, she said, "Hey, Dr. Schmier, just the guy I was looking for. I'm trying to find the secret to being a great teacher. I want to write my English essay on it. How about it? Got a few minutes?"

"Sure," knowing it never takes a few minutes. "Sit down," I invited her by patting the cold concrete of the foundtain wall.

"Good," she exclaimed as she sat down next to me. "So, what do think is the secret to being a great teacher?"

I hesitated. "First, tell me, you're an ed major. Do you want to be a great teacher."

"I knew it! You always do that!" she screamed at me with feigned frustration. "I'm the one who is supposed to ask the questions."

"Well," I smiled impishly, "if you answer me, I'll answer you. Do you want to be a great teacher?"

"Boy, do I! I want to so bad."

"How bad?"

"I can taste it."


"Why? Well, I want everyone to be proud of me. You know from my journal that I'm the first in my family to go to college and I would be the first to be a professional like a teacher. You know, I can be someone they can be proud of and can brag on and have other people look up to. It was always expected of me by my family."

"What do you want?"

"I just told you."

"You probably won't make it" I calmly stated.

She looked at me with a wounded and surprised look. "Why?"

"Wrong 'why.'"


"It's not your 'why.'"

"Whose 'why' is it, then?"

"Someone else's."

"It's my 'why,' too."

"That's not what you just said. Be careful that you're sure of that. It's got to be your true 'I want to be.' You can't be something someone else wants for you. You can't be someone else expects you to be. You can't be someone you borrow from someone else. You can't live a life following someone else's map or walk someone else's road. You can't live someone else's life, do what others expect, and be what they think is important. You just can't. You sincerely have got to walk your own road according to your own true map wherever it takes you. I know all about that."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not you. You're enslaving yourself."

"To who?"

"To someone else's dream. If you try to follow someone else's dream, you're not likely to reach for it or reach it. It's not your goal. It's not in your soul. Deep down you're going to be frustrated and discouraged and maybe even come to dislike what you're doing and you'll get distracted and you'll complain and you'll start feeling sorry for yourself and find reasons to feel sorry for yourself and feel sorrier and trudge around and you'll dam yourself up with "do I really want to" doubts and you'll go into a rut. Working for someone's expectations instead of your own means you won't put yourself on the line, you won't really be happy, you won't really have fun, you won't really stick to it, you'll be easily distracted and won't focus, you won't teach with 'wit'."

"Wit? You mean with smarts?"

"WIT. W....I....T. You want to be a great teacher? I mean you have to do 'whatever--it--takes,' W....I....T, WIT, not just to try, not just to "do my best." I mean you have to teach with a no excuse 'whatever--it--takes.' And for you to do that, it has to come from deep inside you."

"What has to come from inside me?"

"You do. That powerful voice you listen to, that empowering burning desire, that intense focus, that pushing hunger, that insatiable taste, that driving need to be a great teacher. It has to be your voice, not someone else's."

"Did you have all that stuff of yours inside you when you started teaching? Did you have your own voice?"

"Not at first, or second, or third, not for thirty some odd years, not until a decade ago. If I did, all I heard and listened to was the echo of others' voices. I was always trying to get their attention and approval. I screwed up in college trying to be what others expected of me, becoming a doctor, an M.D. type of doctor. I always had a sense of failure that I didn't, and I had a sense of having disappointed them because I fell back and became 'only' a Ph.D. doctor. But, I convinced myself otherwise. I used to put a lot of effort into making believe I liked what I was doing and spent a lot of energy keeping up appearances at looking happy and looking like I was a success. It was the most loveless thing I could do to myself. But deep down...."

"No! For real?"

"For real. Teaching wasn't something I really got the taste for, something that started burning in my gut, something I started needing, something that was important, something that was a top priority, something I was willing to pay the price for until a little over a decade ago."

"Bet that was what made the difference between what you thought was possible and what you thought wasn't."

"Well, holding back doesn't get you ahead.

"Where did this desire come fron?"

"I didn't find it in some secret book, or a special class, or in some fix-it-all-up weekend workshop, some cure-all conference session, some magical technology, some special formula. Some people like to think that things like that exists. They don't."

"Well, where did you find it?"

"In me. Hidden deep inside me. Just it has to be for you."

"Well, what was it that started burning and tasting that everyone knows you have today for us students?"

"Don't know. I know when, but I don't know why. Maybe it was a need to do something important instead of wanting to be important. Maybe it was a need to make a real difference. Maybe I had hit the combustion point when I just couldn't do it anymore and didn't realize it until I just found myself letting it all hang out. That's that mysterious and lucky part that I don't try to explain except that I found I already had the skills to become a great teacher. Just like you do."

"You did? I do?"

"Sure. All of us do. You can dream; you can learn; you can be teachable; you can think; you can question; you can reflect; you can dare; you can adapt; you can adopt; you can imagine; you can create; you can discover; you can choose; you can decide; you can change; you can do. You just really have to believe you have them and have the courage to continually learn to use them."

"Can't be that easy. I bet it's that 'just' stuff, that 'now what am I doing to do about it,' stuff that isn't easy. If it was, everyone around here would be great teachers, and they sure ain't."

"You got it. It's not easy. "Teaching" and "easy" aren't ham'n eggs platefellows. You know I really admire the K-12 teachers and all they have to go through to train to teach and to keep on teaching. I think too many of us college profs think that there's nothing to teaching, that there is really nothing you have to learn about it to do, that it's a piece of cake, that all you have to do is to know your subject and talk about it, that anyone can do it, that you can do it in your sleep."

"Some surely do that, sleeptalk I mean."

"Well, you will find, like I did, that the road to becoming a great teacher is long and rocky and steep. Easy answers and getting solutions without work won't get you where you want to be. All you have to do is immerse yourself, put in the time, always have the constant energy, constantly make the commitment, and always have the enthusiasm. They come as you constantly dig deep into the ore of your desire, mine it, smelt it, refine it, shape it, and use it."

"That's a lot of "all you have to do."

"Well, you're not going to do it all at once. You have to give yourself time. You have to be patient with yourself. And, you have to work at it. You just have to take a small step every day. It's not how fast you go, it's the direction in which you're going. Besides, I just think even if you take a small step, you're moving ahead and you're doing great things."

"That's hard."

"Patience is a strength. If you want it to be easy, you don't have much confidence in yourself, you don't have much faith in yourself, you're disrespecting yourself, you're slapping yourself in the face, and you're giving yourself the greatest insult you can. If becoming a great teacher is really what you want to do, the hard work becomes as exciting and fulfilling as you can imagine. You know, what's really, really great about the challenges that so many others avoid and miss when they treat teaching as 'a piece of cake' or something 'anyone can do?"

"What's that?"

"You'll bump into all the magnificent opportunities. You'll wondering at all those neat people around you. You'll feel the surprise as all the possibilities that begin to appear. You'll find all that priceless magic of your own that you see you can make. You'll see how much is really inside you. You'll gain such confidence in yourself. You'll release all that enormous potential inside you for your own special greatness."

"That sounds nice, but what are you talking about?"

"I'm saying that if you patiently take that hard journey and don't avoid the challenges and persevere, you'll will bring out stuff you never dreamed was inside you. Believe me; I know."

"Look, I didn't think it would take this long although with you I should've know better. I've got to go to class."


As she got up, she grabbed my arm. "Hey, I answered your questions. You didn't answer mine. You didn't tell me the secret to being a great teacher."

"Sure I did," I smiled.

"When? All we did was talk about me."

I didn't say a word. I cracked a slight grin. She looked at me, puzzled and slightly annoyed wrinkles appeared, crunching her face, slowly making her look like a Pug. And, then a twinkle appeared, the wrinkles straightened out, a smile came on her face...

"It's me! The secret is me, isn't it! I'm my own secret to being a great teacher! That's no big secret!"

I broke into a big smile. "Who said there was a secret."

She walked off. And, I, with a spirit kick, pulled a piece paper out from my pocket and started scribbling.

         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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