Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 10/11/2002 7:04 AM
Random Thought: Worth It?

Yesterday, I was on the way to class carrying a heavy box full of weekly journals. Mac (not his real name) was coming towards me down the hall. He saw me, sped up, and opened the glass doors. Chivalry still prevails. As I went lumbered through the doorway with a "thanks," he turned and walked with me for a few yards.

"Doc, I've been thinking about you. I've decided I want to become a college teacher. Think it's worth it?"

"You're asking that question?"

"Well, if it's worth it, what do you make?"

I deliberately hesitated as if I had to think about it. Then, I shot back, "A difference!"

"I know, but....."

I cut him off. "No 'buts.' Go to class." I mischievously smirked as I baited the hook and turned into the stairwell and lumbered up the stairs.

I was hoping it wasn't the end of our conversation. It wasn't. He took the bait. A couple of hours later, as he came into my office, he shot at me, "Your answer is not what I meant."

"It's what I meant."

"I want to be a success, too."

"Be significant first."

"What's the difference?"

I spread out my right hand. "My painted pinky nail, and Kim's letter in my wallet, is the difference." Then, I picked up an envelope from my landfill of a desk. "See this letter? I got it Monday from a student. I've read the ink off of it. And, I my eyes tear up every time. It's going up there on that wall of my 'sacred objects of my teaching.'"

We talked.

"Now, I'm going to keep you up all night with a question or two. This is your assignment. Which is the best measure of having made a difference and being a significance, trophies or testimonials? Is it being important or doing what is important whether anyone knows or recognizes it or not? Is it a long resume listing your degrees, titles, positions, publications, awards, grants, and presentations; or is it a collection of poems, paintings, letters, and objects from grateful and affectionate students testifying to the difference you have made in their lives?"

"All this sounds too simple and easy."

"You've got it. It is never simple and easy even if it sounds that way. The 'simple' is always complicated and the 'easy' is always challenging. It's always a conflict between being successful and being significant. Believe me, I know. That conflict is almost inevitable. And far too many people succumb to the pressures to win at almost any cost. You see it in todays headlines in athletics, business, and you see it in academia. You have to always stay on the edge; you always have to be alert; and you never can get complacent. Otherwise, you'll loose the battle. And, if you do cede defeat, you'll become preoccupied with getting those trophies as any cost. They will become the most important things in your life, and your educational integrity--not to mention students--will be sacrificed. You want to remain the captain of your ship. Being a teacher is too important to be merely a passenger."

"Why can't you be both a success and significant."

"You can. It's easy for people to proclaim they have; it's something else to actually do it. The ones that have done it are rare. I know and know of a few of those humble people who have put their money where their mouth is. They have been able to reconcile the time- and energy-demanding pressure and desire to be a professorial winner with the heavy and equally demanding teaching responsibilities of helping people. They are able to remember, always remember, which is first and foremost no matter what anyone else thinks or says. When I was tutoring the UNC basketball team, I saw how Dean Smith never let records and championships go to his head. For him, it was far more about developing life skills and character than it was merely about winning basketball games. For him it was always about people instead of basketball players. He saw his players as sacred individuals, not just tall, hunks of meat. His players saw him as a coach, father, friend to each of them, even the ones who warmed the bench."

"Damn, Dr. Schmier, you're a dreamer. Be real!"

"I am real. I'm a real dreamer. Don't ever underestimate the power of a dream! A dream is the Draino that keeps your spirit free of clogging sludge. Someone once said that one positive dream is more powerful than a hundred realities. If you don't dream, if you don't have a vision, you'll find that it will be so easy to drift off course from wanting to make a lasting difference and be significant to accepting passing and quickly forgotten success. You will live on and having significance beyond the classroom in the lives and memories of people, not in resumes."

We talked some more.

I hope Mac didn't sleep much last night.

         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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