Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Sat 1/6/2007 3:11 AM
Random Thought: Joyful Time

Can't sleep. Can't go out on the streets. Coughing. Coughing. Coughing.

Hope each of you had a joyous holiday season. I did--and didn't. Susan and I had spent the week of Chanukah in California lighting up our lives by spoiling the grandkids. Unfortunately, our little, mischievous, "two and three-quarter" year old Nina gave both us, especially me, one heck of a cold in return. It was not a nice present. I'm still unwrapping it. This "crud" just won't go away.

We returned to Valdosta on Christmas. And though I was sick as a dog and not looking forward to turning around for a New Year's week in the uninviting and cold environs of Boston, off I went with Susan to see her brother and his family coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and aching. I'm glad I did even though I placed myself under virtual house arrest.

We hit Valdosta Thursday night. I don't want to see another plane, especially those thirteen row cigars with wings they call regional planes, for a long time. This morning, on the computer screen a list of 929 messages faced me. Not really in the mood to engage in serious discussions about final grades, student course evaluations, teaching religion in class, the education value of community colleges, I exercised my index finger and tested out the deleted key. But, one message struck me and stopped me in my tracks. It merely said, "Joyful." That's what I needed in this time of a stuffed nose, watery eyes, a pair of clogged lungs, and atrophying muscles.

It wasn't the uplifting, "motivational" holiday message I thought it was. And yet, it was. It's turning out to be just what the doctor ordered. Certainly a better treatment for my spirit than the foul tasting cough medicine I am being force to swallow by my personal Nurse Ratched. Anyway, the note was from a student who had been in class this past fall semester. She had been a constant challenge, and that's all I'll say.

"....I just looked at my grade in class. I can't believe it and I still can't believe what I had to do and did to deserve to keep that A you gave us on the first day of class. I never would have gotten it if you hadn't gotten in my face that day and said to me, 'I won't let you fail yourself or this course.' I learned so much about myself thanks to you. I'll never forget how you said, 'It's not about your ability. It's all about attitude. So get a good one that makes you feel capable.' You kept being in my face until I slowly got in my own face. Why did you do that? Why did to put so much into me when no one else ever has?...."

I just wrote her back:

"It's simple. Like I said, it's all about attitude--yours and mine. When you feel confident in yourself, you'll feel better about yourself; when feel better about yourself, you'll be comfortable in your skin; when you're comfortable in your skin, you'll take pride in yourself; and when you take pride in yourself, you'll be stronger to take on any challenge hurled at you; when you're stronger to take on any challenge, doing all those apparently little things lead to doing the big things. As that happens, you'll be less mousey, will disbelieve less, come out from hiding in the shadows more, blend less in with the surroundings, and go along to get along less. You'll motivate yourself more, take on more challenges, see them more as opportunities than as obstacles, achieve more, dazzle more, be more confident, and be more joyful. It's no different with me or anyone else. When I had begun to believe that there was joy for me in working with and for each student such as you rather in just working for myself, and experienced that joy, the classroom truly became a significant and even momentous place of joyous celebration. It still is. So, to answer your question, you give me joy as much as you give yourself joy. Never underestimate the power of joy. To ignore or deny the value and power of joy in yourself as well as in myself, is in itself a form of obstructive sadness."

My new semester begins Monday. This message reminds me of the human element in education. I must always remember that with emerging demands for independence, fears about peer acceptance, pressures of family, worries about extracurricular activities, unsuredness with new and unfamiliar surroundings, a continuous search for self-identity, these adolescents--they are not "adults--and even "non-traditional" people, are on a physical and emotional and intellectual and spiritual roller coaster. I must remember that like every generation before them, including ours, these fellow human beings have a surface shyness or arrogance or over-confidence that reveal or mask deep insecurities about most things. They will make mistakes, act irrationally, behave badly, and be thoroughly self-absorbed. They actually need us more, though they and we will usually deny it. And despite continual "battles," if I'm open, if I'm caring, if I'm authentic, if I'm approachable, I will experience glorious moments that both they and I will cherish always. I must remember not to belittle, ignore, or underestimate the importance of their feelings. It may seem like they are overreacting, but they feel emotions like embarrassment, loneliness, insecurity, confusion, frustration, and love truly and intensely. It's horribly disrespectful to minimize or discount these feelings with useless advice like "It's nothing" or "You'll get over it" or "Everyone feels that way." Nor is it helpful to dismiss or invalidate their feelings by saying, "That's touchy-feely nonsense" or "They're adults" or "It's not my concern" or "I'm not a counselor, parent, or clergyman."

I must remember that each student is important. Someday, these students will be the future. And, I have a hand in shaping them and influencing it.

         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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