Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Fri, 30 Jul 1993
I was thinking about my metaphor survey this morning. Yes, the results are troubling. I wonder if these students are a sample of what's out there. Unfortunately, I think they are. I think part of the problem is that if professors accept even partial validity of the results, they would have to redefine themselves. First, they would have to redefine what they do, that is, what is the function of a professor. That's somewhat difficult, but you know I think too many of us define ourselves by what we do rather than by what we are. The exercise deals primarily with attitudes, or the "what we ares," and that requires courage, and I don't use that word lightly. We can't transform the system unless we transform ourselves because we are part of the system, and we wouldn't be on any moral ground if we asked students to do as we said rather than as we did.
I approach each student as having a unique potential worthy of receiving my attention. Instead of using the term "good student" or "bad student," I prefer "different student." I see each of them as a "fellow traveler" or an "equal partner," and act accordingly both in and outside class. I guess those are my metaphors, similes and analogies.
I do know that if we do not respect the student, and if we do not see teaching as an art or a craft or a calling, and if we keep being taken with ourselves, we can hardly expect ourselves to do whatever it is we can do when we are at our best. I work hard to demolish mutual stereotypes and understand each other for the faulty human beings that we are. In class I engage students in honest, open, and at times, uncomfortable and painful conversation. I find it to be releasing, exhilarating and insightful.
As part of the exercise, then, the students exchange their sentences with each other for comment. By the way, I do one myself and throw it into the pool. Then, we openly discuss our impressions. We also talk about how and why they felt the way they did about themselves, about each other, about me, about college and getting an education, and why I feel the way I do. The gist of the conversation is "let's see what we can do together about all this." Sometimes the effect is dramatic. Let me give you an example. One student, Lloyd was his name, wrote that students are like lumps of clay waiting to be molded. In the course of the discussion--now this is on the first day of class, mind you--another student asked what role did the clay have in shaping itself. Another commented that the clay is totally dependent upon the artistry of the professor. Still another talked about how worthless dirt is. Lloyd, whose facial expressions betrayed his insecurity, sheepishly commented that his experience in high school in Atlanta and generally here at VSU was that his views were unimportant and he didn't have anything of value to contribute to his own education. He and I made a commitment to each other that we would be "potter-partners" who, drawing upon the artistry within both of us, would mold that clay into a fine coffee mug together. He hesitantly agreed.
As the quarter has progressed, he has seen that I have been serious. I seized every opportunity to remind him of our pact: "We're potter-partners Lloyd. We can't do it without each other." He has started trusting me. I later found out that he talked with the other members in his triad about taking a chance because he thought I really cared about him. Slowly but surely, as we have learned to trust and respect each other, he has become a major and significant contributor in the class. It has astonished another student who had known him the entire year as a "scared mouse in class." Lloyd's sheepish expressions have changed to a more confident expression; he holds himself better; he has displayed some leadership; he had challenged me in discussions. Some would say his performance, study habits, and insights would only earn him a "C." But, he has put some effort into himself, and he has studied, and he has struggled, and he has come a long way, and that is worth an "A+" in my grade book!!
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____