Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Tue, 11 May 1993

Well, here I am again. I've just come in from my power walking. I've been thinking about what happened in another one of my classes last Tuesday. It was about 11:30 a.m. A student had just left my office. For almost an hour and a half, I listened intently, almost saying nothing, as she told me about what had happened in our 9:00 a.m. intro class. I got up from my chair, walked slowly across my rather expansive and cluttered office, closed the door, slowly walked back to my chair, sat down. It was all almost in slow motion. And suddenly in an outburst of energy, I banged on the desk with both fists and screamed out a private and orgasmic (that's the only way to describe it), "YES!!!!" I've been on a controlled high ever since. Let me tell you why.

What I call "a happening" had occurred in my 9:00 a.m. class. Last Tuesday, many of the students in that class, at least for that moment, had "found themselves." I had walked into class ready to discuss the day's assigned reading and discussion issue. Before I could utter a word, Shelly, a quiet student who had been afraid to talk in class, got up from her chair. Without waiting for me to recognize her she firmly said, "Dr. Schmier, when we had our open class evaluation yesterday there was a lot of bull shit going around. I think we all have to have a "truth talk" with each other, but can't if you're around. Could you please leave!"

"What's going on ? What are they going to do to me?" I silently asked myself very nervously.

Shelly had come into my office the day before and said that not many students were honest in their appraisal of the class and asked what should she do. I replied that she should do what she thinks needs to be done. And now this! My feet became jellied; my heart started pounding; I admit I was afraid. The other students turned to me to see what I would do. Words like "courage" and "risk" and "honesty" suddenly came home to roost. I had told them the day before that I had a tough skin and needed their input in order to improve in the class whatever needs improvement. Talk about being on the spot! Well, I figured I had to put my money where my mouth was. I nervously walked out of the room. For the next hour, I fidgeted on the computer, struggling to write something sensible, but my mind was on the goings-on in that classroom.

From what Shelley told me and later recorded for me, this is the gist of what happened:

"Yesterday we had a class discussion where Dr. Schmier asked us how we thought the class could be bettered. But none of you spoke up and said anything. You were afraid he'd hold it against you and you were more worried about your grade than helping yourselves or to improve the class for all of us."

"She's right. We've got to get down to business."

"I hate these triads. I don't want to depend on someone else for my grade. I don't need anyone else."

"You play football. No wonder we have a lousy team. Where's all this teamwork stuff, or is all that crap only to sound good?"

"I'm going to med school. I need good grades. I want to drop this course. My adviser told me to wait for an easy class. He's such a bastard for not letting me."

"I heard you try to corner and embarrass him at the beginning of class. But, he didn't back down. I think he did you a favor. Maybe, instead of whining you ought to meet the challenge and stop acting like a spoiled brat. Are you going to take only easy courses in med school? Stay away from me when you get out!"

"Let's get down to business. How many of you honestly do the assignments everyday and come in prepared, or even use the SQ3R methods Dr. Schmier suggested at the beginning of the class?"

"Some of you don't even read the syllabus calendar and then complain you don't know what's expected or assigned."

"Here's what I think. The reason some of you are complaining is that you're not doing your work and want a free grade."

"Well, I don't understand the discussions sometimes."

"Ask questions. I've never seen anybody embarrassed in this class when they do. He loves questions."

"Then, he makes us answer our own questions."

"Maybe he's trying to show you that you're able to answer the question, but are too lazy or scared to try."

"Maybe he could summarize at the end of class."

"Tell him. He won't bite. I'll tell him."

"Some of the triads aren't working."

"Well ours has become a study group."

"We're friends and have become like family. We come to each other with our real personal problems."

"It's been hard for us, but we're getting to know each other and starting to work together."

"I think we are becoming family. I know more people in this class than in all my classes since I've been here combined. I see some of you talking outside class. Some of you don't know a great thing when you see it. Like Dr. Schmier says, 'you gets out whats you puts in.'"

"I like taking the quizzes and discussing tidbits like we were one. It's not that we can do less work by sharing the load. Hell, I learn more arguing over the answer to a question than when I study by myself."

"Yeah, but some of us aren't together. We haven't been pulling our weight. But we're not giving up. If you can do it, so can we. We have to help each other."

"Why doesn't everyone look at each other and point to the ones who aren't doing their share. Say that we need your help. You're important to your triad. You're part of us and without you we're not operating at 100 percent. Go ahead. Point."

"Look, Dr. Schmier comes in here, come hell or high water, prepared, alert, and ready for bear. We owe him to do the same thing."

"That's his job. He gets paid for teaching us."

"And we pay to learn by ourselves. We owe it to ourselves. If we don't want it why should he give it to us. Why the hell are you here."

"To get a grade. This is all so stupid. He doesn't lecture. He doesn't give out any handouts. He doesn't tell us what's going to be and what's not going to be on the quizzes. When we ask him what he wants on the exams, he says, 'what do you think you should do?'"

"Get a life. You ain't going to make the grade."

"I don't like how he asks me questions. He's always asking, 'why?' He embarrasses me."

"Maybe you embarrass yourself because you come in here unprepared and try to wing it. He's not going to let you get away with it. He's too good and cares too much to let you do less then what he thinks you're capable of doing."

"Hey, I've been in his office and talked with him. Remember, he dragged me in kicking and screaming. He really cares about us. He wants us to care about ourselves. If you don't want to give him a chance, give yourselves a chance. Hell, how many of the profs around here would do what he just did. I really respect him for that. Maybe some of you ought to start respecting yourselves."

"How many of you have a smart person in the triad and say, 'Well, they'll carry my load. I don't have to do anything.' Well, get off your asses. Our triad meets twice a week in the library. We're there about 2-4 hours. Come on over and join us. It's working for us. It can work for you. We'll help anyone who wants to help themselves."

"That's a good idea. We, too, meet in the library. We'll help anyone who needs it. But, you have to come prepared."

"Three of us just have been talking. I know we're not in the same triads, but that doesn't matter. We've decided that we're going to designate ourselves class tutors. Let's start a history lab. We make a commitment to the class to be in the library twice a ......"

"My best time is Sunday."

"O.K. We'll also be in the library on Sundays from 2-4. We'll reserve a study room and we can discuss. Your obligation is that you have to read the material before you come in to discuss. We're not going to do your work. Come in and join the rest of us for a talk. If you haven't done the reading, come in and read, and then ask questions."

"I hate the tidbits. I tell him what each article is about and he says that he wants to know why it's important and what does it mean. I've never had to do that. It's too hard."

"He wants you to think and understand. Use the guide words he gave us. What we do is to read together and talk about the meaning of the article. We consider the points and see how they apply in our lives and society today."

"Sometimes, when we finish talking, we close our eyes and do a quantum leap like he does with us in class, and imagine what's going on, and feel the article"

"We'll work on the tidbits in the library."

"I'm not sure this is all going to work."

"It won't if you don't want it to."

"I don't know if I can do it. It's hard and I'm not used to it."

"Maybe she and the others are right. Let's see if we can help each other in our triads and between the triads. We might learn something."

"We're used to memorizing things for a test. He doesn't do that. He says he wants us to think. I've never done that. Why doesn't he just tell us what to learn?"

"Maybe he wants us to take control of ourselves and make our own decisions. That's scary. If some of you are willing to help, I'm game."

"I know you all said you were going to come, but if you don't, it won't hurt us or him. You'll be hurting yourself. I'm going, and if you don't show up, it's your own fault. I heard bellyaching today. Sometimes I'm one of you, but you're not putting forth the effort. You're not trying."

"He promised us pizza and drinks on him if we all pass this course. I got a taste for pepperoni and mushrooms. Let's think on it today and meet in the library and talk some more if you want."

Shelley wrote me a personal letter at the end of her written summary of the class events. I want to share it with you. I do so not to brag about myself, but to applaud and praise her. We just had Honors Day here at the college. She did not receive any recognition. She did not receive any awards. She didn't have the grades. In fact, she is among that group of students whom my colleagues say don't belong in college. Well, in my book she is an honor to have in my class. She and all the others are the reason I go to sleep each night anticipating the next day's classes. They make all the frustration and aggravation and worrying and hard work worthwhile. They are my encouragement and strength in the face of discouragement. I offer you her letter to show what unique potential lays hidden within these "poor students," and what they can discover with some support, effort, and caring. I cried as I read the letter:

A few members of the class said today that they just didn't think that things would work out for some reason or another. But, it didn't disappoint me all that much, because if they don't learn anything from what I and all the others said, I learned a lot. I learned that I can do things that I never thought I could do. I learned that I could be a leader, and I guess it is something I wanted to do all my life, but was afraid to do and felt I couldn't do. In high school I wanted to be, let's say, an officer in a club, but I wasn't popular. I was shy. I didn't believe I was a leader. And I thought that the people who were popular were better than me. I was sort of a loner in high school.

I don't know what happened in your class. I don't know. This feeling just came over me. I know I was surprised that when I came to you and said that something had to be done in the class because people weren't honest about their feelings in the open evaluation, you only said that I should do what I thought should be done. I felt you felt that I was good enough to be trusted enough that I could decide, not you, what the right thing was to do. I am so happy with myself because I'm so much more than I thought I was. I've never been able to speak in front of people. The one time I had to stand in front of a class was in a history class in high school. But, I was too shy. I literally passed out on the spot because I was too nervous. When I got up and asked you to leave the class so we could talk, I was so nervous that I could hardly get the words out. I was shaking and sweating. And when I was up there in front of the class, Dr. Schmier, I knew I would end up crying, and when that happened I would fall over and pass out like last time. But, I didn't! I didn't do it! I think the reason I didn't do that was because you trusted me by leaving without a protest, and more importantly because my triad had encouraged me to say something. They were out there supporting me when I said something. Others were supporting me,too, when others were saying negative things. But I have such a feeling of accomplishment. I can do anything! I am growing as a person. I think I stopped being a kid. I learned that I can face people. I learned that I can face myself...

I'm proud of myself! I feel that I have earned this sense of accomplishment. For the first time in my life, I took a deep breathe and I took a big risk not knowing whether it was going to be for the best or not. But I left your office feeling that you bet on me and I figured it was time I had to try to trust myself. I've helped myself and found a me that I thought didn't exist. I hope that I can help anyone who needs encouragement to help themselves. I'll never stop trying. But, Dr. Schmier I just want to thank you for helping me because you helped me a lot by showing that you believed in me and helping me believe in myself even though you never said anything. It was just that I knew from how you acted and talked in class that you really cared about me as a person. I truly believe now that if I want something, I can get it. And I am not going to let anyone tell me I can't. And I'm going remember forever what it felt like when someone told me or acted like they were better than me. I'm not going to do that to anyone if I can help it. I've grown a lot since I've been your class. I've learned a lot about myself, about others, and about history, too. I'm starting to see now that only I can, as you say, hold my head up.

I can't let anyone else tell me how to think about me. What they think about me is their concern. I think I understand when you say the problem is inside of us and so is the solution. I think I'm beginning, just beginning, so don't expect too much, to understand what you mean when you once handed out: 'To strive to reach the potential that inside you, you need the will to achieve and the courage to fail.' I taped that on my mirror last night. I'll never, never, never forget that, this class, or you. Thank you, Dr. Schmier, for being you and being there.

On that note, I'll just say a very quiet,
Have a good one

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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