Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 29 May 2002 09:59:16 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: My Seventh Word in My Dictionary of Good Teaching

Well, the day after Memorial Day, yesterday, unexpectedly turned out to be memorable. When I wasn't looking, I found another another word to send to Kenny: righteousnes. It's a word you don't hear in the intellectual halls of ivied academia. Nevertheless, it fits.

It all started yesterday morning as I was working in my front yard, feeding the grass with a nourishing and natural liquid concoction of cheap--very cheap--beer, ammonia, and sugar. A car stopped. The driver's door opened. My garden is beginning to feel like that fountain at the University! To my surprise, out jumped Karl (not his real name). It was four years ago that he was in one of my first year history survey classes. Many was the wall he drove me up. Fought me tooth and nail. Could never get through to him to believe--so I thought at the time.

"Hey, Dr. Schmier. Haven't seen you in a long while. Guess what? I graduated?

"Congratulations! "Knew you could do it, but I wasn't sure you would."

He came over. I stopped intoxicating the grass. We sat down and small talked. Parts of our conversation went something like this. It's very close to verbatim.

"Now what's in store for you?"

He didn't answer my question at first. It was as if he was building up the suspense before he hit me with a broadside.

"Hold on to your draws. I'm going to be an elementary school teacher!"

"You've got to be kidding."

"Nope. It's true."

"Damn, that's nice to hear."


"Yep. No, not really. Are you?"

"Kinda. Would have been when I was in your class. Not now, really. No, still am. It's all your fault. Remember how I used to write all that dark stuff in my journal about myself being warty and pimply because of all that shit I went through? .....I want you to know that even though I wasn't very nice to you, you helped me start getting pass all that I believed about me being ugly. So, yeah, I'm kinda surprised. I didn't think I had it in me, but something you said really got to me and got me going. Bet you don't remember what you said."

"That you were beautiful inside and you had the cure to your warts and pimples if you kept asking yourself the same four hard questions I had asked myself after my epiphany to get rid of my....?"

"You remember! You called it the 'acne on your soul.' That started me going. I was just too angry inside at you at the D in the course to tell you. That grade and what you said really ate at me that summer. So--and I never told anyone until today. Now, I want to tell the world--the next semester, I started to see that if I could breakthrough that ugly crust and find what you said you saw. Don't know why. Maybe, I was just tired of being nothing and figured I had nothing to lose to see if I was something like you said I was. So, I started hoping that I might have it in me and asking me those questions. Yeah, you got me to start looking."

"Asking the questions was hard?"

"Hell, no. It was coming up with the answers that was tough."

"Just the answers?"

"The honest answers."

"Just the honest answers?"

"Well, it was really tough honestly acting on those honest answers. It was like I found a real spiritual 'clearsil' that started cleaning up that acne on my soul. Then, I found that beautiful something, sort of got what you would say was a clear spiritual complexion. You know, I never knew how heavy all that baggage that I was carrying was until I started to stop carrying it. Thanks."

"What you just said was nice, real nice. Better than I could. Thank you. I really appreciate it. You made my day. Remember, though, before you thank me, it was you who did the looking. You asked yourself all the hard questions of yourself. You got to the tough answers. You did all the breakthroughing. You made it happen. All I did was ask you to have both the belief in yourself and the guts to search. You took the chance. You took on change. You opened and squeezed your own tube of spiritual 'clearsil' and kept applying it. So, thank yourself first. Remember what you just said, help your students to start opening and applying their own tubes, and you'll be a fine teacher. No, you'll be a great teacher."

We talked some more, and then he asked, "So, tell me. Help me some more. What's the most important thing you can tell me that I need to be a teacher?"

"You just said it yourself."

"What did I say?"

Suddenly that word rolled off my tongue as if it was sucked out by an unseen vacuum. I don't know why. I never thought about it before.

"Righteousness. You have to become a righteous teacher. Unless you struggle to become a righteous teacher, you'll always be trying to start a fire inside someone--and yourself--with a wet match."

"I said that? I didn't say anything about I gotta go to church to be a good teacher."

"No, you didn't. Wouldn't hurt you though. No, the righteousness I am thinking about means to go beyond yourself, to do good, to make a difference, to make the world a better place. Being a righteous teacher to me means the most important thing I can do as a teacher is to teach for a purpose more important than myself. It will give you one great benefit like it gave me."

"What's that?"

"Struggling to become a righteous teacher will help you overcome your greatest weakness as it helped me overcome mine."

"And what's that?"

"A lack of faith in yourself. It's that ugly 'it's not me" and 'oh, I can't do that' and 'what will others say' and "I'm warty and pimply' stuff. In the ole days, until about eleven years ago, it was so easy to let myself be pessimistic and easily distracted and side-tracked and way-laid by all that negative stuff. It's like everything else. Reality isn't what happens; it's what you perceive happens; it's the meaning you give to what happens. You get what you want to see. Whatever you truly believe, you'll be determined to make it so. When you decide that something is truly true for you, you'll do everything in your power to make it come true. If you are a righteous teacher, you will believe that you have the ability to truly make a positive difference in the world, you'll go out to make a difference. Finding and following a positive purpose, I found wasn't easy. It took work and focusing. Still does. A lot of it can be unexciting. But, the results will be exciting as nothing else can, and your eyes will open to see what you otherwise would have missed. You've discovered that."

"It's that 'if you want to do it, it can be done; and if it can be done, you'll do whatever it takes to do it' stuff you always told us--and especially me--in class."

"You've got it. When you believe in something, you'll have a sense of justice in your beliefs and will try to make decisions which are morally right. Being a righteous teacher has nothing to do with words and appearances. It's all about doing with an earnestness, committment, and authenticity.

And we talked some more. Then, he asked, "So, what's your purpose?"

"What I said. You! To be righteous. Wherever I am, I want to be that person who helps another person help him- or herself become whomever and whatever he or she is capable of becoming. I want to make a difference in somebody's life. I want to make a difference in this world. As a teacher, I ask what is it to be a human being. How does what I do help move me and others into a place where we all become more beautiful as human beings? That's the teaching I really want to do and try to do. If you treat people as if they were what they ought to be, beautiful, if you are a beautiful person and make the world around you beautiful, you'll have a better chance of helping them help themselves to become what they are capable of being. Like you. You know, a lot of teachers have ability. They have information and know methods. The great teachers have more. They're optimistic searchers. They have the desire to search for and have the ability to recognize the hidden ability in others and help them see it as well. That search motivates me, drives me, pushes me, pulls me, inspires me. Read your Matthew. Thirst and hunger after righteousness when you're in the classroom, and you'll have times when you'll fly so high that you'll think you can't or won't get any higher."

We talked some more about stuff. Then, after a while we got up. We hugged. He left and I went back to giving the thirsty grass a nourishing libation. I had a warm, inebriating glow inside myself. I knew what Matthew meant. Yeah, "righteousness" is a very good word.

         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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