Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 02 Mar 2002 14:00:49 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: It's Supposed To Be Hard

It was one of those off-the-scale Richter 9+ seismic weeks. Even the weather had it's tidal ups and downs. Walking one warm morning when we were talking about air conditioning the roach hotels. The next morning we're installing heat in them, deicing mosquito wings, and picking peach melba off the trees. Freezing and overcast one day, sunny and delightful brisk the next, rainy and stormy the third.

So, how do I describe one of those proverbial weeks "that was." The Olympics! We just finished watching the Olympics. I especially like the speed skaters and figure skaters. and ice dancers. They were something to behold. So gracefully melodic and flowing, gliding along over the ice making every thing look so deceiving easy. As Susan and I watched them, we wondered if it was as easy as it looked, why isn't everyone a speed or figure skater. Of course, the answer is easy. It isn't easy. It's hard. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of effort, many long hours, lots of trial and error, to look easy.

Deep down we all know that. That's why we appreciate them and other atheletes at their level. And yet, so many of us in the classroom don't want to know that. We decieve ourselves saying and thinking, "That looks easy. It must is easy. All we have to do is put on a pair shoes to which are attached glorified razor blades, don our ice tutus or skin suits, and gracefully skate on the rinks of the classroom and come out with gold every time." Well, looks are deceiving and so many of us deceive ourselves. And, then we wonder why their medals prove to be made out of pyrite.

Well, those practioners of easy teaching wouldn't have lasted a minute last week. Until ten years ago, having been one of them, I know I wouldn't have. I would have run away with a "I don't need or want this." Yeah, it was a week of highs as the communities sung their Bruce Springsteen Project and worked on sculpting the new forthcoming Rodin Project. If it was a high week of ecstacy, it was also a low week of agony. It was also a week which reminded me, as someone once said, that just because you bury things deep inside you, it doesn't mean they decompose. I can't and won't say much more than this past week students dug up a lot of that stuff in themselves. It was a week of early morning and late night calls at home and long conversations after class and between classes. It was like taking a one-a-day crisi pill. Was the full moon out this week?It seemed so. It was a week of a lot of sitting by the fish pond meditating, sipping wine, being held by my Susan. It was a week of tears and heavy breaths, deep thoughts, and long sighs. It was a hard week, a heart-wrenching week, a "took a lot of effort" week. In the end, however, I got an e-mail message and a telephone call that said it was a high value week, and, above all, one hell of a worth it week.

For me it was a reminder that "hard," "effort," "value," and "worth it" go hand in hand. When it comes to research and preparing conference papers and publication we all would agree. When it comes to teaching, however, I'm not sure the same unanimity is there. Too many of us want a life of easy teaching. The practioners of easy teaching are too quick with their "it's not my job," "I don't want to know about the studnets," "I'm not priest or parent or councilor." Maybe they wish upon the easy star so they can devote more time, energy, and effort to their "more important" scholarship. Nevertheless, when it comes to teaching, they violate what I assert are the three distinct but inseprable natural laws governing achievement that they studiously obey in pursuing their scholarship. The first is the Law of Hard. The second is the Law of Effort. The last is the Law of Value.

You know why so many k-12 teachers are treated as amateurs instead of the hard-working professionals most of them are? You know why teaching is placed at the back of the bus on higher education campuses? It is the prevailing false assumption that teaching easy. It is the delusion that everyone does it and anyone can do it. Expect teaching to be easy, you'll look for ease and you'll do easy. Believe that teaching is effortless, you'll put in little real effort. Believe that the ability to teach is common as pebbles, you'll not see the gems and you'll treat it as valueless. Since nothing that is valuable is easy to create much less to do, to think that teaching is easy and that anyone can, therefore, do it, is to devalue and deprecitate teaching and those who engage in it. And so, k-12 teachers who "only" teach are so often unappreciated and maligned by so many "know-it-alls." We higher education academics, however, are "lucky" enough to have an outlet and be able to engage in respectable and appreciated research and publication, and identify ourselves as professors and scholars.

To think that teaching is easy is succumbing to a seductive Lola. You hear her whispers and you are convinced you can turn lead into gold like some alchemist; you think you can get something for nothing; you think you create something timeless by putting in little time; you think you can train with little if any training; you think you can teach without having been taught; you think you can do a lot with little preparation; you think teaching one of these "all you have to do" snap of the fingers; you think all you need are some lines in a resume or some letters before and after your name; you think all you have to do is walk into a room, stare blankly from a detached distance, talk--and poof in a cloud of mystical smoke, you're teaching.

Not this week, or any other week for that matter. But, especially this week.

There is a difference between appearing to do it and actually doing it. Easy teaching is mouthing; hard teaching is putting your money there. Easy teaching is going through the motions and being a distanced animated piece of technology; hard teaching is being human and humane. Easy teaching is being deaf and blind; hard teaching is seeing and listening. Easy teaching is tight control; hard teaching is providing freedom to students. Easy doesn't come from the heart and it hardens your heart; hard does come from the heart and it softens your heart.

If teaching, like anything else, is worth what you put into it, then easy teaching makes it all seems so worthless; if teaching is fulfilling by what you pour into it, then easy teachimg seems all so empty. You teach easy only if you're doing just enough; it's hard if that is not enough. Teaching is easy if you're a hamburger-flipping fast food cook, it's hard if you want to be a five star chef. Teaching is easy only if you're accepting average; it's hard if you want to excel. Easy teaching is almost like conditional commitment to do only to what is convenient and comfortable. In one place, never-moving teaching is easy; traveling from here to there teaching is hard. Most of us in higher education were just thrown into the classroom without have to do anything to get there. Little wonder collegiate teachers are unappreciated and teaching at colleges and universities is depreciated. Going into the classroom, not getting involved with the students, presenting a lecture, leaving the classroom, giving computer generated tests is not teaching. It does, however, make room for that all important scholarship.

"On our campus," someone recently told me as we discuss the tenuring criteria of his institution, "teaching is separate but equal to research and publication." Separate but equal. Where have I heard that before.

Want to know a secret? Easy teaching is hard on those who think teaching is easy. I have yet to see anyone who thinks teaching is easy really think teaching is truly worthwhile and worth it, much less worth their time and effort. Teaching is for them joyless, empty, meaningless, valueless, purposeless, visionless. To them it's a job, routine, dull, inanimate. For them it really doesn't make a difference; it's ho-hum; it's drudgery. Maybe it's an absence of sincerety and commitment. They probably won't admit it, but their eyes, body language, and vocal tones speak otherwise. They chronically moan and groan, rant and rave, accuse and blame, and envelop themselves in dark mists of doom and gloom when they come face to face with the challenges of teaching. They degrade those who don't make the grade, lower their lights because the students aren't the brightest, judge people they so often misjudge, and dishonor anyone who doesn't have honors. They laugh at others' dreams to rationalize their own nightmares.

It's not that the teachers who know teaching is hard have any fewer disappointments or frustrations or distractions or interruptions than anyone else. They don't. Maybe more because it hurts only when you care and are involved. The difference is that they expect teaching to be hard. They are perseverers; they are overcomers; they are excuse busters. They know those downs sides are going to come their way, but they aren't going to slide all the way down them. They know, however, those frustrations don't make teaching any less magnificent. To the contrary, they don't lose the lesson of the moment when they "lose." They know that the value of teaching, like anything, is based directly on the effort it takes to do it. What good is teaching without true effort? It's of no value. The value of teaching is in the effort to do it. To have value without effort is impossible because the effort is the value. It's like trying to get to a summit without training for the climb much less making the climb, and being unwilling to endure both the rigors of the training and of the arduousness of the trek. It's tht journey thing/

Easy teaching, hard teaching, are far more a matter of attitude than of skill and knowledge. It's a matter of choosing to be unwillingness or willingness to do whatever is necessary to be in a position to help. It's easy to slide the down side; it's takes effort to soar up the upside. Of course there are obstacles, problems, challenges. It's easy to bounce off of them and be stopped. It's hard to find and decide which to use of the countless ways around those obstacles, to solve those problems, to meet and overcome those challenges. Easy or hard: discouragement can discourage; it also can encourage. Easy or hard: setbacks can set you back; they also can set you on your way. Easy or hard: things can go wrong, but there are the possibilies in them that they can set them rigtht. Easy or hard: be boxed in the safe box or step out of the comfortable box. Most easy answers are traps that demand serious compromises, disengagements, retreats, and surrenders. Now, easy may be okay over the short run. The problem with that is that the run is short.

The Laws of Hard, Value, and Effort say that the more you teach, the harder it is; the harder it is, the more effort is required; the more effort you put it, the more value you get out; and the more value you get out the more important it is. These laws say judge your success by what you had to give up and put in in order to get it. Violate any of those laws, ignore or deny any of them, and paradoxically teaching will be weightier. No secret; no technological contraption, no cleaverly designed pedagogy. Just hard work and lots of effort. Hard means it's important to you. It means you care. Hard can hurt; you will stretch. It can be painful; you will grow. It can be uncomfortable; you will change. It can demand some sacrifice; you will be transformed. It you're not growing, you're not teaching hard. You just stuck in the mud and atrophying.

Too big a price to pay? Well, you don't get quality in bargain basements. If there was little or no price to pay, where is teaching's value? I find, especially having gone through a week such as this last, it's worth whatever price. If you take the difficulties as they come, build on that by seeing past the pain of the difficulty, you'll see the affirmation of purpose and beauty teaching can bring. A lot of hard work--and that include faith, belief, hope, and love-- goes in between the planting of seed and the reaping of a rich havest, between the first putting on of skates and competing at Olympic levels. It's the working harder and putting in more effort that makes it look easier. No, different with teaching. We all should expect and demand of ourselves and others that teaching should be no different.

I just don't think value is determined by salary or title or renown. It's not determined by a promotion or granting of tenure, both of which usually don't have much to do with quality of teaching anyway. What's the reward? Well, I don't think teaching is about taking. Teaching is about giving. I don't think teaching is about myself. Teaching is about something larger and beyond myself. It is in the giving to something beyond myself that I create the value from which to reap. Teaching is about making a difference in someone's life. The real and lasting wealth of teaching comes from enriching the lives of others, from making the world better place because you are around whether anyone realizes it or not. This week it came home that the more I can make a difference, the more I can create joy and confidence and beauty, the more I can comfort and provide meaning to others, the more joy and beauty and meaning there is in what I do and in my life, professionally, personally, materially, and spiritually. Now, that is hard teaching, effort teaching, value teaching.

You want teaching to be valuable? Obey the laws. Look for ways to make a difference. Bring some grace into the world. Look for ways to give. Act on them. Then, the obstacles aren't monumental. Heck, they aren't even obstacles. They become the moments that stay with you and live in you. They will last deep inside you where it really matters. They will be an affirmation that though teaching maybe hard and demand effort is very much worth teaching.

         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,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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