Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 10/29/2004 4:17 AM
Random Thought: Meaning and Purpose of Teaching, II

You know, somewhere inside each of us, buried deep beneath every day concerns, is a dream. Every now and then it surfaces to energize our spirit like nothing else can and then sinks back down beneath the surface. Our dream has a promise that we all too often wave off as crazy and impractical. And yet, the more our real lives, our real work, connect with our dreams, with our vision, with our sense of meaning and purpose, the more our passion, energy, and excitement about your lives and work is released. The key to this emission is to seek out, acquire, listen to, and move toward a deeply reflected and clearly articulated dream, a vision with purpose and meaning. Self-inspiration, then, is fired by the conjoining of who we presently are with who we would like to be, a union with our real selves and ideal selves, a gut-wrenching and honest reaching deep into our gut and a willingness to overcome the seemingly never-ending difficulties of pulling ourselves to the surface. Therein lies the power of a "can-do" faith, of a "there is more" hope. That--is--not--easy--to--do! Trust me, I know.

Let me take you back to October, 1991, when I had my epiphany. For fifteen years before that, I was in a self-consuming and self-devouring 'publish or perish' rut, although at the time I didn't admit I was a rut. But, I was, and it was getting deeper and deeper. I was running from book to book, article to article, grant to grant, conference to conference. There was that rush to be important and that rush from being important. I had become the country's noted authority in my field. I had a longer scholarly resume than the rest of the faculty on my campus combined. And yet, as I look back, there seemed to be less and less importance to being and looking important. The rush was diminishing to a trickle. There was less and less contagious excitement. There was less infectious passion. There was less fulfilling meaning. There was certainly no inspiring vision. I had sacrificed the students in the classroom by saying that I couldn't serve two masters. Yet, as I look back with 20-20 spiritual hindsight, I see that, without confronting the reality of my rut, without being attentive to the habits I had accumulated over the years, I was always finding the explanations, rationales, excuses to defend and confirm my self-image and routine. I had adjusted to a life without meaning and purpose in what I was doing. I was unaware of the truth of how elusive my real self had always been because I had inflated my outer self at the expense of my inner self. I was inattentive to the powerful mind trap I had caught myself in. It was a stand that was not in reality serving my self.

Then, by chance, and with both great intrepidation and effort, I started peeling away the mask of my apparent self and slowly discovered my real self. I slowly and painfully started acquiring a vision of my ideal life; as I wrestled with my values, philosophy, aspirations, weaknesses and strengths, talents and capabilities, as I looked deep inside, I discovered the teacher within. It was like cleaning the foggy mirror I was looking in and getting a clear view of myself. It was like unlocking and opening a door, and stepping into a new world. It was like breathing fresh air and living a new life. I realized how much I truly relished being a teacher. I connected with a purpose I had never known. I was waking up on more and more mornings realizing that teaching could be exciting, meaningful, and fun rather than a routinous drag on my scholarship.

To do such on-going soul-searching requires an intense self-awareness. It demands a challenging reflection on your own life within and on your work without. It means looking at what was, what is, and what might or can be. It means thinking about the people who crossed your path and influenced the paths you walked. It means considering the nature and extent of your personal vision. It means reflecting on your commitment, dedication, and strength of perseverance to "get in" and "stay in." It means articulating a clear and honest picture of the reality of the situation on your campus. Over the years, comparing the real and the ideal has been a discomforting and at times an fearful challenge of Himalayan proportions, but I found that there's no sense in blaming the mountain for being too high. Instead, I had to find a way to climb it. And, as I scaled up the slopes, I discovered so much clarity about what I needed to change and what I need to be to get me and what I do right.

Over the past decade, I've been able to craft a vision of my life and of my role on campus. It has meant engaging in the extremely hard work of unlearning years of learned and practiced habits revolving around and focusing on research, publishing, lecturing, testing, and grading. I had to learn and repeatedly practice new thoughts and actions, surrender the weakening and debilitating fixation on obstacles in front and around me, focus on the powerful and strengthening image of who I want to be. I had to make a lasting commitment beyond a year-end resoluting to a future vision of myself, not only in my work, but in my entire life. My philosophy of both education and of my life is the way I determine my values, what forms my character, what determines my actions, what guides my relationships with others, and what forms the teaching style towards which I gravitate.

As I am about to become the senior faculty member on campus, people increasing ask me when am I going to retire. I ask myself, "Is there enough on campus and in education, in the classroom, in each student to keep me going through the changes and challenges?" More importantly, I ask myself, "Am I still having fun and am I still happy?"

My answer is always--so far--an "I'm still in." I'm in because I now have only holy encounters with a student, because now I see and hear an angel walking in front of each student proclaiming, "Make way! Make way! Make way for someone created in the image of God!" And, I can't help but to love each student. The more you love each student, the more you respect each, the more value you will see in each, the more value you will give to teaching, and the deeper you will be in. The more you leave the dismay and discouragement behind, the more the negatives dissolve into nothing. The more you make room for love, joy, happiness, and accomplishment, the more you will get rid of the mental junk. The more genuine enthusiasm you put into each student, the more real fulfillment you'll get out of teaching and the greater will be your accomplishments.

So, the real challenge in teaching and learning is to love each student as much as, if not more than, yourself. The challenge in teaching and learning is to build relationships, including our relationship with ourselves; the challenge in teaching and learning is to approach each student as if he or she is there, not just for our purposes, our pleasure, or our accomplishment, but for his or her purposes, his or her needs, and his or her achievements. The challenge is to see beauty in each person no less than you would in a rose or a panoramic scene. But, let me tell you, after a student came up to me this morning, there is nothing like the glowing, enveloping beauty of that moment. It's a beauty that's not limited in time or confined to a place. It's an inner beauty that I will be with me wherever I go. In some ways, that moment is enough beauty to last a lifetime. In some ways, it is not, for as the beauty of that moment opened up like a blossoming flower, I knew there would be more blossoms to come, that I could see and feel more. He was, for me, a reminder that for every single thing that may cause me dismay, there are far more reasons for hope; that it's not enough merely to count my blessings. I have to live them with vigor, dedication, commitment, perseverance. And, as I do, there'd be no end to the joy of teaching and reaching out, touching, and transforming. The more moments of beauty I look for, the more moments of beauty I see, the more beautiful is each student, and the more beautiful is teaching.

I have discovered, then, that if I advance confidently in the direction of my dreams, and endeavor to live the life which I have imagined, I will meet with an uncommon success, satisfaction, and fulfillment unexpectedly in the common hours.

         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" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier