Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun 5/1/2005 5:55 AM
Random Thought: Everyday Mitzvahs

As this semester comes to an end and I face a summer hiatus from teaching, I have to admit that I will miss it all. I love being on my campus. I love walking it. I love the students. I love to chit chat with the cleaning crews, maintenance people, grounds keepers, campus police, secretaries, whomever. I love what I do and am doing what I love. I mean that literally. I am really lucky. I wake up with an expectant “yes,” walk the little more than a block to campus from my house with an excited “yes,” and go to sleep with a contented “yes.”

So, what is it that I love? What is it that every day takes me to some place where I’ve never been before? What is teaching? To me, it’s more than merely transmitting information. It’s more than merely preparing students to take some state-wide or national exam. It’s more than helping them get some professional credentials to earn a supposed good living. All these are important and I don’t ignore them, though some people think I do. But, if my teaching were limited only to these aims, I’d be credentialing and not educating, schooling and not helping to transform, teaching to the test and not teaching to the whole person. No, for me, there’s more, much more, to teaching than all that. And, it’s that growing awareness of that all important “much more” which has influenced the evolution of my educational philosophy, my purpose and meaning, and consequently my teaching practices. Teaching, for me, is doing each day what in Hebrew is called a “mitzvah.”

The word "mitzvah" has two meanings. First, it means "commandment" or "law." Mitzvah also refers to a good deed or act of human kindness. The two combine in the sense that Jewish law requires we do good deeds. The notion that there is a moral obligation to be kind, helping, respectful, just, and compassionate at all times and in everything we do, including that which we do on our campuses and in our classrooms, is embedded in all of the great religions and secular philosophies. Mitzvah means doing your duty to make the world a more peaceful, loving, creative, respectful, intelligent, and caring place. That’s being a teacher! That’s the teacher’s mission, purpose, and meaning: giving time and energy consciously to leave this world of ours a better place than when we found it

Being a good teacher, then, is not merely giving a good lecture or making up a good test or developing a good exercise or devising a good project or having a good discussion. Being a good teacher involves doing good for students and helping them learn to do good and to do well. As teachers, our challenge, then, is to make every day in that classroom, as well as on our campus, a good deed day, a mitzvah day, for each student and to never stop looking for ways to make people and thus the world better through what we do. Our teaching should teach people how to be supple. It should help them learn for themselves to deal with those two incontrovertible and inviolable truths in life: choice and change. It should widen their horizons and inflame their soul. It should do more than teach people to know what they did not know. Teachers should be on what I’ll call a transforming “as” mission: they should help people learn as they have not learned; they should help people to do with what they know as they have never done; they should help people to feel as they have not felt, to believe as they have not believed, to think as they have not thought, to hope as they have not hoped, to behave as they have not behaved, to be mindful as they have not been mindful.

More later when I share with you a student’s journal entry that got me started thinking about this,

         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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