Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 5/28/2004 4:23 AM
Random Thought: How Do You Teach?

I was sitting on the stoop this morning. I must have been about 4:30. Couldn't sleep. Just thinking about a lot of stuff. That's all I am allowed to do. The unexpected prospect of surgery to correct a hernia that suddenly popped out--pun intended--from nowhere isn't sitting well with me. And that's almost all I'm doing, sitting. My angelic boss has grounded me from all heavy lifting and power walking until I see the doctor next week. It has taken me almost two months to get back to walking five miles after being knocked for a loop and kept off the streets for three months by powerful antibiotics. Now, I'm down again for a while. Luckily, however, I've done all the heavy building stuff Susan's screened-in back porch. All I have left is light stuff: putting up the screening, the fan, and some trim.

So, having to stoop to meditating on the stoop this morning, I was thinking about a conversation I had with a professor shortly after I had just presented a session dealing with forging a classroom community at a management conference a few weeks ago. The professor, who had not attended the session, came up to me and started talking. He had read my conference paper. In the course of our conversation in which he probed me, he asked, "How do you teach?"

My answer was simple, but not the one he was looking for, "To make a difference in someone's life."

"No," he parried, seeking his answer. "What do you do? What techniques do you apply."

"My primary method is to be spiritual."

He kept pressing, "That doesn't answer my question."

"Sure I did."

"What's your pedagogy."

There was that god-awful word. "I just told you. We each are what we feel and how we perceive, and everything we do flows from those feeling and perceptions. To me, being spiritual is not about knowing a lot about my discipline or knowing and using as lot of teaching techniques. It's about caring a lot. That's what gives me purpose, meaning and guidance: to show the trust and respect I have for each student, to offer my presence, be there to help each student help him- or herself, to be kind, to be supportive, to be encouraging, to be understanding, to believe."

I paused and deliberately continued at a slower pace for emphasis. "That way I can make a difference in ...."

"Difference?" he interrupted. "Come on, do you really think you can make a difference, a real difference?"

"Yes," I answered.

"How can you say that?"

"Because I am difference. Because I feel it. Because I know it. Because I do it. If you know that your one and only life will-- not just can, will--make a difference in someone else's life, you will become that difference. Your effort is your attitude."

He looked at me a bit incredulously as I went on. "You will do whatever it takes to make a difference," I explained, "and you will make a difference to someone in some way at some time. That I guarantee."

"Just you? What kind of difference can just you make?" There was a tragic defensive disbelief in his voice and on his face.

"A lot." I told him that the rabbis teach us that when Moses tapped the shore of the Red Sea with his staff, the waters did not roll back. And when he tapped the water with his staff, nothing happened. And when he held his hands aloft, nothing happened. But when the first newly-freed Hebrew, filled with overflowing faith, walked into the swirling waters, then the Red Sea parted and Israel was saved. The miracle of the Red Sea, the rabbis say, was not the parting of the water, but the faith of that first Hebrew who walked in. Only then did the others follow. That first Hebrew had faith and he became that faith, and he gave that faith to all around him.

"I've read a ton of student journals and evaluations, and I've had students come up to me, a virtual stranger, to talk of the most personal things. I can only conclude what lives in me thrives around me. The primary root of my determination to make a difference is in me," I explained. "I am my feelings."

I told him that I won't be cynicism, annoyance, despondence or resignation incarnate. I won't open my doors and windows to anything but fresh air. "My most powerful technique is an everyday loving heart for each and every student. That's the only way I can I can prevent myself from being numb, distant, and cold to their needs, their fears, their vulnerabilities, all of which have an impact on their attitudes and performances. Unless I'm spiritual, I have no reason to look, much less see; to hear, much less listen, to understand, much less be understanding. Unless I am respectful and accepting, what need would I have to nurture?"

I went on to tell him that we teachers must be about something greater than ourselves. We can't be self-centered. We must see the miracle in each student. Then, and only then, can we be who we exist to be: makers of difference, workers of miracles, and transformers. If we can value ourselves and each student, if we can accept sincerely, if we can understand kindly, if we can whisper softly, if we can encourage gently, if we can smile supportingly, if we can soften our hearts, if we can walk peacefully, we'll make each student, if not the whole campus, better as we go. And, then, we'll each make a difference by helping that other person help him/herself become the person he or she is capable of becoming.

"To help each student believe and become that belief. That's how I teach."

         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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