Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 2/17/2004 5:22 AM
Random Thought: Alphabet of Teaching

There is now resting among my sacred objects of teaching a Valentine's card handed to me by a first year student last Friday. It read: "You smile every day. You love your students. You make school fun. In other words, you are one terrific teacher." Needless to say, it made my weekend. But, what really got to me and got me to thinking is what she said as she handed it to me. "Dr. Schmier, you sure know your ABCs and are a very literate teacher who can read us."

"You sure know your ABCs." "Are a very literate teacher." I wonder if Ashlee realizes how profound she spoke. I mean, what would it be like if we couldn't read a menu in a restaurant, a sign on the road, a story to your child? We'd be lost in a dim and shallow world. Like a lot of illiterates we'd struggle to compensate for and cover up the void. The Sufis would say that everything inside and outside each of us, inside and outside each of others, inside and outside the classroom is a letter to be read. Without knowing our ABCs of education and teaching, we'd miss those signs of that "something more" that is possible in our mission and in each student.

Sign tracking involves seeing and reading, as well as listening for and hearing the many and varied signs in the classroom as a tracker reads and hears the signs in the forest. Students are constantly speaking to us. There is never a sound or movement that doesn't tell us something about each of them. Sometimes there are subtlies and whispers; sometimes there are the obvious and shouts. Sometimes it is gestured; sometimes it is written; sometimes it is spoken; sometimes what is there to read is what is not there.

Every student has his or own own interior, own self, own mystery. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else. Too many of us never learn that alphabet with which to read each of them, especially that which are moving deeply and powerfully behind the scenes and beneath the surface. I have never met one student, not one student, who doesn't want to be seen, heard, noticed, respected, valued. Not one who doesn't want to be recognized and acknowledge as a noble and sacred and radiant "I am." Not one!! That bears repeating. Not one!!! And, by doing what students want, we transcend ourselves; we give ourselves over to them; we do something sacred; we become servant to something greater than ourselves. Then inconvenience, discomfort, disruption dissipate and disappear. That's when we are transformed.

Sadly, too many of us look at a student, but don't experience a person's presence. Our thoughts, intellect, methodology, technology, information so often cut us off. So often, too often, we spend too much time in our heads, on methods and technology and information. As Coach Dean Smith of UNC would say, however, "There's more to the game than X's and O's." Sadly, too many of us don't spend enough time in the rest of us where real perception and appreciation reside. We all possess quietness, alertness, perceptiveness, and aliveness. We all possess sympathy and empathy. We all possess faith, hope, and love. Too many of us just don't practice them and allow them to unfold on campus.

You have to know your ABC's, use them, and live them--everyday. I have found that I need a daily-ness. You don't do them occasionally and go about the rest of your time. They're not a line item on a "To Do" list. It's not an unexamined routine in our hectic lives. It's not an obligation as taking out the garbage, bringing in the mail, flossing our teeth, or walking the dog. It's a broad, encompassing, and unending path we experience and travel that attends to every moment. As the Zen masters say, how you do anything is how you do everything. I find that the way I walk down the hall is as important as being in the classroom. It's no different from telling a religious person that how he or she acts at work on Monday is as significant as his or her attendance at synagogue or church on Saturday or Sunday. The ABCs must be constant, center, focused, concentrated in my daily practice of my mission. You need, at least I need, what I call the "Alphabet for Good Teaching" in order to be educationally literate, to keep my inner eye open and unclouded, to want and to be able to discern, decypher, and read each student in the classroom, to be awakened and enlightened, to catch intimations of the extraordinary in the mundane, to appreciate the magic moments that occur each day, to avoid landing in the fat, mediocre, average of the bell curve. .

I'm not going to explain and define each word. I have not listed them so that they're grammatically parallel. I'm going to leave them veiled, subtle, mysterious, and cryptic. Some of you will lift an eyebrow, wrinkle a nose, furrow a forehead, tighten a lip, pucker a cheek; some of you will smile, snicker, twinkle, or sneer; some of you will feel irked, shocked, satisfied, soothed, or astonished; some of you will agree; some of you will disagree; some of you will raise a question mark, an exclamation point, a period. I don't intend to be obscure. I leave it to you to delve into their meanings by the means that you can and are willing to muster to seek out the plain, obvious, hidden, literal, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual hints, insights, reminders, and calls. I have discovered that, unlike a dictionary with fixed meaning, in my dictionary the meanings become clear, meaningful, and effective in my teaching only when I ferret them out for myself; when I am expressing and living them; when I'm using my imaginations, being creative, going through a transformation, confronting the shadow, coming to a sense of my true self, and following through on my deepest yearnings. For me, these words are bells that alert me, that wake me up and keep my eyes open to the many beautiful, mysterious, and sacred things that happen all around me every day on campus. They are the language of practicing attention, cherishing connection, soul stretching, thought provoking, asking questions, seeing around with awe, listening with wonder, and weaving together a tapestry of meaning. From attention and Beauty, through Imagination and Play, to Yearning and Zeal, these are my practices and well as "prescriptions" for living a richer, fuller, and deeper life, for appreciating the daily magic moments of grace in the classroom, for learning the art of listening and seeing. Over the past decade, as I struggled to live these words, my teaching has become easier, more purposeful, and much more meaningful. It seems almost magic. Ashlee was right. I smile everyday. Love each student every day. Make learning fun everyday. Everyday, I feel like I'm floating on air. Everyday, I realize how very good and very special teaching is. The more I realize, the more life I give in and give to my possibilities, the more I celebrate teaching's goodness, and the more that goodness floods the classroom.

It's not easy. There are the pull of distractions. There is the resistance. There is the rejection. There is the consensual thinking. But, I have found that if I can think and live free, if I can practice thinking and feeling and living these words, to paraphrase the Bard from AS YOU LIKE IT, I'll find tongues, books, and sermons in the classroom.

And so my Alphabet of Teaching:

A is for attentive, awareness, authentic, adventurous,
         accepting, adaptable, available, accessible, approachable,
B is for believing, beauty, blessing, bold, blossoming, blissful
C is for creative, challenge, curious, communicative,
	 compassionate, caring, cheerful, changing, community,
	 celebration, commitment, courage, childlike, connecting,
	 confidence, conviction
D is for desire, discover, doubt, devotion, daring, dedication, dream,
	 development, daily, delight, dancing, devotion
E is for enthusiasm, energy, enjoyment, encouragement, empathy,
	 emotional, excited, explore, effort, embracing
F is for fairness, freshness, friendship, forgiving, faith, fun,
         fulfillment. focus, foolish
G is for genuine, gentleness, growth, greatness, go, gratitude
H is for happy, hope, humor, humanity, hear, honor, heart, hospitable
I is for integrity, imaginative, inspiring, interaction, itch, interested,
	 involved, intrigued, information, impromtu, including,
	 improve, invest
J is for journeying, joyful
K is for knowledge, kindness
L is for love, laughter, learning, listen, look
M is for motivate, mistake, mission, meaningful, mindful,
         marvelous, miracle, method, magic
N is for newness, naive, notice, nurture, newness, nourish
O is for openness, optimistic, oneness
P is for patience, potential, persistence, perseverance, personable,
	 playful, practice, peopleness, power, purposeful, presence
Q is for quick, quiet, question, quest, query, quixotic
R is for risk, read, reverent, rapport, relax, restlessness, reach
S is for sympathy, support, seed, sensitive, skill, smile, stimulating,
	 self-confidence, self-esteem, see, sympathetic, self-awareness,
	 sacredness, spirituality, sincerity, silence, soulful,
	 surprise, serenity, silly, service, self-control
T is for trust, time, truth, talent, technique, transforming, touch,
	 transparent, thankful
U is for understanding, unique, unpredictable
V is for vision, vitality, vim, venture, vigor, valuable
W is for wow, welcome, wonder, why, wholeness, work
X is for "x-tasy," xenophilia
Y is for you, yes, yearning
Z is for zeal

         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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