Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Tue 4/25/2006 4:57 AM
Random Thought: Breathless: Another Word In My Dictionary of Good Teaching

There was a special breathless stillness in this morning's warm pre-dawn air. You know whenever I go out, I find that I am really going in. And, the moment my legs begin to move, my spirit begins to flow and I begin to feel almost motionless. A rejuvenating forgetfulness of my surroundings begins to surround me. A sense of keen relaxation and eager peacefulness begins to envelop me. It's almost as if my right and left feet are my best medicines. maybe Emerson was right when he said that the real measure of a person's health is the number of walking shoes she or he has worn out. At that moment, finishing my walk a bit out of breath, since I'm not as yet back to full shape, remembering a student's journal entry last week, I thought of another word for my Dictionary of Good Teaching that I'd send to Kenny: bearthless.

That student's emotional entry so blew me away I could hardly breathe. Knowing I was a cancer survivor, she had come up to me after class and wanted to talk about her father's recently discovered lung cancer. "I'm so scared. I'm so angry. I want to hit someone real hard. I can't sleep. I can't eat. I don't want to be around people. I just want to be alone. I can't think of anything else. I can't concentrate. I can't study. My grades are going down and I don't care. My father is going to die and I can't do a damn thing. All I do is cry. I want to scream. I've just got to talk with someone who won't give me a bunch of bullshit." I called my wife to tell her I'd be late for our hot luncheon date. Sandra (not her real name) and I went out and sat on a bench for a while, a long while.

To be truly learning-centered. To be sincerely student-oriented. It sounds so neat. It sounds so righteous. It seems so virtuous. But, be careful of what you wish for. You're asking for chaotic diversity. A student is not a test score. A student is not a letter on a grade sheet. A student is not a recognition or an award. A student is not a major in a discipline. A student is point on a statistical chart. A student is not a research finding. A student is not a surety. A student is not anonymity. A student is not simplicity. A student is not pure. A student is not without fault or frailty. A student is a person who is a forever changing mystery. A student is a real person: singular, distinct, particular, unique. A student is what I call "a sacred One." A student is a real person who lives not in grandiose schemes of "learning-paradigm" or "instruction paradigm," but in the common, material, imperfect, everyday world. Each day I read Carl Jung's warning: you have to put aside your formal theories and intellectual constructs and axioms and statistics and charts when you reach out to touch that miracle called the individual human being.

A student is a person, a whole person, composed of body, mind, intellect, spirit, emotion, and soul, and is the result of the interplay among them all. A student is a person who has to deal with some professors who think that education is only about information in a discipline, with some who find it difficult to relate to students or with some who feel superior on account of their knowledge, resumes, degrees, awards, and positions. A student is a person, a very unique person, who has diverse demands pulling her or him in different directions. A student is a person who has to play many roles simultaneously. A student is a person who hasn't necessarily mastered self-discipline, time management, or self-confidence. A student is a person who has non-academic obligations of being an actor, dancer, athlete, sorority sister, fraternity brother. A student is a person who has heart and is heartless, is bold and is shy, is courageous and is cowardly, is dynamic and is bland. A student is a person who has close and distant relationships with family and friends. A student is a person who is an amalgam of experience and inexperience, who sees both beauty and ugliness, who is sad and joyful, who is depressed and happy. A student is a person who gets in and out of trouble, and makes good and bad choices. A student is a person who is challenged. A student is a person who works, grieves, wins and loses, dreams, loves, hurts, aspires, imagines, likes and dislikes, creates, tires, despairs, needs, wants, believes and disbelieves, hopes, desires, fears, exercises, ails, and a host of other slings and arrows. A student is many persons in one unique One and each is a unique combination of these persons. Each student is a human being. A student is a person who needs to be educated not only from the outside in, but from the inside out as well.

I am not sure I understand all the good and all the difference a brief moment of silent listening, a simple smile, soft word, a slight touch, and a little bit of love can make. I just know four things. First, if we academics are truly interested in a student's performance and achievement must teach the whole student and at the least take into account the whole of her or his being and existence. Second, when you celebrate uniqueness, when you include each and every student in your definition of worthy, when you erase that diminishing black bar so often drawn across so many students' faces, you see stunning and unforgettable beauty and sacredness and potential that even the student often doesn't see or believes exists. And, you become selfless as this perception grabs your heart and soul without loosening or letting go. Third, when you do silently, sincerely, and generously listen, you let people hear their own truth. Fourth, being in a hurry is not an attribute of teaching. To the contrary, being hurried, especially being in a rush to cover the material or to get somewhere else or to do something else is an adversary of good teaching and especially of deep and sticky learning. It's like speeding down a super highway at breakneck speeds. Everyone is transformed into an indistinguishable, unnoticed, devalued, dehumanized blur.

So, as this student's emotional entry reminded me, don't be hurry. Recognize and acknowledge each student's humanity. Because our sensitivity and awareness enriches our experience and gives it more meaning, sprinting to a meeting or to cover the material or to do the research doesn't make for a good measure of teaching. Instead, slow down and listen. Do everything slowly and quietly. Take the time. Make the time. Be patient. Be into others. Be aware. Look. Hear. You'll see everything sharply, listen to everything acutely, be sensitive to everything, appreciate everything, and stay calm. It'll say, "I notice you. I value you. I love you. You're worth it. I want to help you help yourself." That's the enriching and powerful stuff of mountain moving.

Remember Einstein's warning: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Change your thinking and perceptions from "students" to "a person" and you'll never change back If you're not hurried or harried, if you help make visible what might perhaps never have been seen, if you make possible what might have been thought impossible, you'll have experiences with students that will leave you breathless.

And, that is the measure of a teacher: the number of those moments that take away your breath.

         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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