Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 7/19/2004 4:43 AM
Random Thought: Hobby: Another Word for my Dictionay of Good Teaching.

I am soaring. Beautiful Jacqueline Danielle Schmier arrived on the morning of Friday, July 16, at 10:16 am: 7 lbs. 12 oz., 20 3/4", ten fingers and ten toes. In some ways and for very personal reasons that reach deep into my soul, she's a very special arrival. I'll just say that she has transform a curse I shouted out at the top of my lungs in anger years ago into a tearful, whispered, and humble "thank you."

Not even a message from a professor at an oversea university could bring me down from my high however he tried.

"You're soupy. You talk of teaching as if it's little for than fun hobby to you," he accused me.

"You bet it is," I answered with a nolo contendere plea as we engaged in a running conversation that spanned a continent and an ocean. "And, best of all, I get paid for it. Aren't I lucky."

"Then," thinking he caught me, "you admit that you are an unprofessional dabbler."

"A dabbler? Unprofessional? Me? Hell, no! I answered. "I admit that I am an 'enthusiast!' Do I have to go into a garage or a basement or a workshop or a garden or onto a golf course or tennis court to discover life's little pleasures when they're there in front of me in a classroom? Why can't teaching be both serious and fun? Why can't it be both professional and hobby? Is there something unprofessional about having fun"

That started a series of staccato, one sentence messages bouncing back and forth.

"You can't be serious."

"Sure I am."

"You're dealing with the cold facts of your discipline."

"Can't I warm up them, me, and each student?"

"Nonsense. A hobby is a retreat from the drudgery of work."

"That doesn't make sense. Why Why can't our teaching be a retreat? Why can't a hobby be a part of your work rather than always apart from it? Why can't our teaching be work and hobby? Then, teaching is never boring. It's always interesting. It always gives you a sense of being productive."

"That's silly."

"Thank you."

"Thank you?"

"Yes, I'm grateful."


"Because the word "silly" derives from the Greek "selig" meaning "blessed, happy, fun." So, I guess there's something sacred in being able to be silly."

"It's ridiculous to behave as if something so serious and so professional is so recreational."

"Al Unser, Jr., one of the most successful drivers in that highly professional and dangerous sport of car racing, announced his retirement by saying that the passion for driving has gone and that he was no longer having fun on the race track. You know, I've been teaching for nearly forty years. People ask me when am I going to retire. My answer is always like Al Unser's, 'When it stops being fun and I've lost the passion for each student." Passion! Fun! You're building backwards. What if we reversed it?

"Reverse what?"

"Maybe there something innately "unprofessional" about NOT having fun and being passionate about teaching? Maybe there is something innately superfluous about NOT feeling good when you go into and come out from a classroom. Maybe there is something wrong if you aren't enveloped by an authentic happiness."

And on we went.

What did I mean? Well, a hobby to most people like this professor, is something that we don't take as serious as our work. Yet, so many of us get greater joy, fulfillment, accomplishment, and satisfaction from our hobby than our work. That's crazy. That's sad. So, why is it silly or superfluous if I say I am getting the same feelings working in the classroom as I have working in my garden or having the same feeling being with students as I have with dancing among the flowers? Why is it unprofessional to glow in a classroom as I do in my garden? Why is it silly for the classroom to be no less a spiritual spa where I get my soul massaged as is my garden? Why can't I take my "hobby-ing" to and from campus, to and from home, to and from the garden? Why can't I have my rewarding "aaaahs" in both places?

You know, in my youth I was an avid HO model railroader. Now, I am an equally if not more avid gardener. Have you ever met a hobbyist who uses the word "dull," "drudgery," "burnt out," "rut" when referring to his/her hobby? I haven't. Have you ever seen a true hobbyist who doesn't smile and laugh, who doesn't have happy written all over his or her face? I haven't. Have you ever seen or heard a sincere hobbyist who doesn't light up when he or she talks about his or her hobby? I haven't. Instead, you'll hear from his or her lips and read in his or her body language: "fun," "fulfilling," "passion," "satisfying," "enjoyable," "relaxing," "love to do," "interesting." How many of us can say the same things about what we do in the classroom? What if we worked our teaching with the attitude of a hobby? That's what I do. My most avid hobby is my teaching. Why are teaching and pleasure antonyms? For me, teaching is not a "get away from life;" it's a getting into life; it's a way of life. No, it's a love of life. For me hobby and teaching, then, are synonyms.

That was brought home Friday night. At VSU, we have been invaded by a horde of Governor Honors Program students, what we call "GHPers." In our University statement we say that this creme-de-la-creme of high school students, the "intellectually gifted" and "artistically talented" will spend six weeks engaged in what we describe as "challenging and enriching educational opportunities not usually available during the regular school year." About twenty or thirty of them, mostly non-Jewish, have been attending Friday night services at the synagogue to learn something about Judaism. Not being on campus this summer, it's the only time I have to chat with them. This past Friday, after services, I was asking them, as the program was about to come to an end, how they felt about it. One student's comment floored me.

"We're doing serious stuff, but it's interesting and exciting. It's not like that feeling of being hobbled and stressed out that we have in regular school," she said with an insight I'm not sure she was aware of. "It's more like fun and having a hobby of learning! It's got me thinking why regular school can't be like this."

Wow! Double wow!! Out from the mouths of babes. She just summed up what education should be for each and every student and teacher: "Hobble-ing" of learning transformed into a "hobby-ing" of learning.

So, what do I mean about a need to unhobble education by "hobby-ing" it? I certainly don't mean to make it a mere passing pastime. I am not talking about "dumbing down" or "watering down" or making things easier. I don't mean relaxing, leisurely, amateurish. And I don't mean empty pleasure. What I am talking about is something more complex than it sounds. I'm talking about a truly powerful and positive force. I'm talking about work that is not work. When I say we need to "hobby" education, I mean transforming education into a favorite pursuit, something done with fun and joy. I mean converting slaving away into a labor of love. I mean well-being. I mean being loose rather than tighter. I mean being up rather than down. I mean being in the mood rather than moody. I mean being inspired rather than expired. I mean transforming from a tense, tied down "hobble-ing" "fear of learning" and "fear of teaching" into an enjoyable, tension free, unstressed "hobby-ing" "love of learning" and "love of teaching."

Too many of us academic don't understand that people--and that includes each of us--are not motivated unless they are interested in what they are doing, enjoy what they are doing, have fun at what they are doing, see a purpose in what they're doing, have a sense of adventure, have a sense of exploring new ideas and new approaches, are respected, are off autopilot, are fascinated, are not on the treadmill, when they feel free, are initiators, are encouraged to be original, feel what they're doing is meaningful, and have time to do what they're doing.

These attitudes, I assure you from experience, are vital. Being "hobby-ed" instead of "hobbled" is the ultimate fuel for informing, performing, and especially transforming.

I've got to write Kenny about this new word in our dictionary.

         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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