Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 8/31/2004 11:45 AM
Random Thought: Reverence, another word for My Dictionary of Good Teaching

I was sweeping the patio when Susan came out with the telephone receiver in her hand, "It's a student."

"Why would a student call me on a Saturday afternoon?" I whispered.

She shrugged her shoulders as I put the receiver to my ear. I wasn't ready for what I was about to hear.

"Dr. Schmier, do you remember me? It's Meko (not her real name)"

I hadn't heard or seen her in about two years. "Meko," I exclaimed.

I couldn't get the next word in. "I am in New York now. I live in Astoria in Queens....I wanted to come to you before I left Valdosta and say thank you, but I never did....When I came to New York, I didn't know anyone here. It is hard here. I am all alone.....I couldn't get work on Wall Street....I was soon wondering to myself why I did not stay in Valdosta where I have friends or go back to my family in Japan. I was very depressed and sitting around and crying, but then I thought of you and your belief in me. I never told you how important you are to me."

As she talked, I put the broom down and went over to sit on the steps of the deck. I have to admit that my hands were clammy and my feet had a tinge of numbness. "You were so patient with me when I first came. You helped me with my English. Remember? you had me tell my class mates to be patient with me and to ask for help. I said I was scared. You said I was very brave. They did help me and I made some strong friends. We are still friends today....You always encouraged me. You never let me say that I can't....I remember that you always tell me that if I say I cannot do something, I would be right and would not do it; and if I always tell me that if I say to myself that I can do it, I would be right and I would do it. I remembered you told me that I will be the choices I make. I want you to know that always when I had to make a choice, I thought of you. I cried because I forgot you. When I thought of you, I started to believe again, got up, and found a job, and am getting ready to go to graduate business school next year. I wanted to call you and tell you, 'Thank you.'"

I guess the best way to describe my reaction is stunned, speechless, and deeply humble. At first, all I could say was a whispered, "Thank you. Do don't know what your words mean to me."

"I wanted to tell you that your class was like a Japanese garden. It was living art. It was a path into myself and let me see my spirit. You believe every one is important....You don't just say it, you feel it and you do it. You never forget to reach out to touch each student. You are always there. You are never afraid to appreciate and honor the beauty of life. You do everything in your power to create miracles. Sometimes I did not understand. I do now. You are always in the present moment. You are truly alive. Everything you do or touch is a miracle. Like me. It was a reflection of your spirit of your reverence for each of us. I just wanted you to tell you."

I stammered, "You're so kind. Thank you again."

I recovered my composure. We talked for a long while, especially about her courage to venture out into New York. With each word, I could feel something warm and serene enveloping me. I told her that there was a soft shoulder and a listening ear down here anytime she needed one. When Meko hung up, I got up and turned around, went over to the fishpond, just sat silently staring at the graceful sweeps of the koi and listening to the mesmerizing and soothing sounds of the waterfalls, feeling what Meko had said.

"....reflection of your spirit of your reverence for each of us." That phrase has been echoing inside me. It sounds almost like Albert Schweitzer's universal ethic: "Reverence for life." Reverence.

There's something extreme about reverence. Everything about it feels radical. There's an "inseparableness" about it. It has an selfless "otherness" about it. It's so unconditional. It's so enveloping. It's so welcoming. It's so embracing. In the classroom, it's message is to honor each and every student. There is no second class; there is no "don't belong;" there is no unimportant; there is no insignificant; there is no weed; there is no valueless; there is no superior or inferior. Everyone is unique. Everyone is sacred. Everyone is priceless. Reverence. That's a good word for MY DICTIONARY OF GOOD TEACHING.

Now, some of you may think this word belongs anywhere but on an academic campus. I believe it belongs everywhere, especially on an academic campus. How am I defining reverence? It's simple. Well, it's not really. I'm certainly not confining reverence to something ecclesiastical, liturgical, or prayerful. It's one of those nurturing spring wells of thinking and feeling from which flows all the saying and doing. It's an attitude filled with riches. It's a deep feeling of deep respect. It's an appreciation. It's patience. It's dignified attention. It's wholehearted welcome. It's accorded dignity. It's care with and for everyone entrusted to you. It's awareness of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the "inner are" in ourselves and others. It's being in the presence of the sacred. It's significance. It's love. It's being in the present moment. It's the path that leads us to the threshold of surprise. It's a feeling colored by amazement, awe, and wonder.

I firmly believe that when we appreciate and honor the beauty in each student, when we are aware of each student's pains, frustrations, fears, pressures, struggles, we can't help but be compassionate and understanding, and will do everything in our power to find ways to nurture each of them.

Reverential thinking and acting is essential in a teacher. If you're reverent, you can't be indifferent. You can't be distant. You can't be disengaged. You can't be cold and clinical. You can't be self-centered. To the contrary, you must be involved. You must live beyond yourself. You must serve. You must be intently mindful. Everyone in that classroom is just too precious to be otherwise. Now that is not as easy as it sounds. You have to devote yourself to any person who needs your help. In self-forgetting concentration, you have to concentrate. You have to focus. You have to size up the person so that you could adjust yourself to that person's level of comprehension and extent of need. This is a task that demands great mental effort and carries with it a fear with which to deal. A fear of hurting someone's feelings, afraid of misunderstanding a person, of unwittingly causing harm; afraid of not being able to help, of not fulfilling a responsibility; afraid of not living up to expectations; afraid of failing a student. That fear, nevertheless, banishes the cavalier; it prevents routine; it heightens your awareness and sensitivity. It forces you to reflect and gauge and adapt.

Trust me, it's worth it. When you're reverent, every day overflows with undreamed treasures; every moment is a golden opportunity. And, you'll discover that what's in the best interest of each student is even better for you. When you see beauty, you become beautiful; when you see riches, you will become enriched. It all will flood into every nook and cranny within you and will flow out from you to surround and envelop you and others. Simply put, you can't snarl while you're smiling; you can't dismiss while you embrace; you can't be cold when you're warm; you can't disdain while you love; you can't be artificial while you are authentic; you can't be careless or care-free while you deeply care.

We do need reverence in academe. We do need to practice the art of reverence in the classroom and everywhere on campus. My good, can you imagine the magnificence that can emerge from merging the spirituality of reverence with the intellectual? Now, some of you may say that's "warm and fuzzy" stuff. Well, it is warm, but for me there's nothing fuzzy about it. It's clear as a bell. Meko has told me that.

         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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