Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Fri, 5 Nov 1993
Watch your ego! That warning was bouncing around my brain as I struggled to walk on an aching wrenched knee in the black south Georgia morning. But that counsel had nothing to do with my physical agony. It had been issued in gentler words by a Canadian professor of English with whom I have become friends and with whom I talk on an e-mail list. He was uneasy that I might be stepping over the line and inadvertently creating a cult of personality in my classes. He was trying to alert me to the possibility that if the students became dependent on me, they would not learn or want to learn how to learn about things without my urging, without wanting to please me, without needing the support of assignments and textbooks and exams and marks. He worried that the student who works hard because I inspire him or her would not continue to do so after he or she leaves my class. He worried that I will have given the students, in his words, "a good, big fish--but I won't have taught (him or) her to fish."
It was a timely caution as I thought about some discussions I had with two students and about another's journal reading in class. It truly is all so easy to let one's ego get in the way and step over the line. It is something to which I am very sensitive. I think about and have to deal with it almost everyday. Are there risks? Of course there are risks, but we shouldn't let the fear of failing stop us from striving to succeed. If we did that, none of us would have struggled successfully as tots to walk.
I think that anyone who is concerned with students must be careful as he or she struggles to become that proverbial "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on stage." We do little good if the students' eyes follow our movements; if while being physically off-center we remain psychologically in the center. To replace one form of "Learning Dependency" with another accomplishes very little, and to perpetuate such LD is not my goal. I firmly believe that more often than not, it's not what we do in class that makes a difference, but often what we allow to happen. For that process to develop, however, a kickstart and encouragement often must occur just as we once hand-cranked the car to start the motor running. There is so much pain out there; so many albatrosses hanging around necks; so many impairments. Even a teacher or professor who wishes to assume the identity of a guide, to be meaningful and effective, must have the trust of those he or she guides. Trust has to be earned by the human display of respect, caring, concern, and ability. We just have to struggle to know when to let go and/or to push away. If we are not successful at that, then, we would be exercising just another form of control and self-gratification. It's curious, but things just keep popping up in my classes that are to that point. I had conversations with two students today. The first student is quiet, shy, ladened with low self-esteem. He came up to me before class and said in so many words, "Dr. Schmier, I really felt good about myself when I took that risk you urged me to take and spoke up for the first time in class to disagree with Melinda. The others in the triad congratulated me. They've been trying to get me to talk for a long time, but you know I was too scared about being wrong and looking dumb. I felt really good about myself. Thanks for kicking my butt. Keep doing that each day."
I answered in so many words, "You did it. I and the others only believed in you and encouraged you. I'll encourage and support you, but it's you who has to start kicking your own butt. If you depend on me then you've accomplished nothing. Your drive must come from in there (pointing to his chest) not from me. You have to want to do it; you have to do it, not me or any one else. I may be icing on the cake and the class may be a place where you can take those first steps, but what are you going to do if you get into a class where the prof doesn't care? Don't use me as a crutch. Don't do it for me; do it for you. Think of how you feel this moment about yourself. Don't let that feeling out of your grasp. Build on that. Take another risk, keep taking steps. But only you can walk."
It wasn't but a few minutes later that a second student came up to talk. "Dr. Schmier," he admitted what I already knew, "I've been fucking up all quarter and bringing my triad down. I've had a bunch of shit on my mind, a lot of pressure from the folks, and I've had it with myself and all this crapping around. If I give it everything I have, can I still pass the course? I want to make my parents proud of me."
My answer was something to the effect: "Make yourself proud of you. What really should matter, the grade or the realization and the effort? Should the grade be more important than your commitment to excellence? The truth is John (not his real name) that you can't have the first without the second. Read the syllabus. What does it say about climbing mountains and putting in effort? Besides what does your sense of self-pride say you should do, rise to the occasion or tuck tail and run away? You've got four weeks left. That's a long time. You're talking now, but will you start walking? I believe you will surprise yourself, but only if you believe it as well." And so on and so on.
My conscious craft is more concerned with empowering the students than merely informing them. But, I can do only so much. Ultimately, the ball is in their court. And, if what I do results in expressions of appreciation or gratitude, what's wrong with that? I still remember and acknowledge those few, very few, teachers and professors who cared enough for me as a person. Let me end by quoting from a student's journal. I had noticed Monday that she was different when she came to class. Something had happened. She had a glow of confidence about her. She was interacting with the others in the triad differently. She suddenly was participating in class, asking questions, answering questions, challenging positions. It was as if she had decided to come out from a shell. We all discovered why when she surprisingly volunteered to share these two entries with her classmates. I was so struck by her words that I got her permission to share her thoughts with you:
Fri. Oct. 29: Today is quiz day over 15 & 16. I got the
guts to ask my question about the Indians. Dr. Schmier
delayed handing out the quiz to let the class deal with
my confusion. Also, on the quiz there was a question
that I knew the answer to that my triad disagreed with.
But, I had studied hard and this time I wasn't going to
back down. I persuaded them to use my answer and low and
behold I was RIGHT! Since I stuck to my guns and
wouldn't let them change it, we got it right. But the
important thing is not that we got it right, but that I
stood my ground. I'm going to participate in class next
week. I know I'll learn a lot more that way."
Fri. Oct. 29: Today is quiz day over 15 & 16. I got the guts to ask my question about the Indians. Dr. Schmier delayed handing out the quiz to let the class deal with my confusion. Also, on the quiz there was a question that I knew the answer to that my triad disagreed with. But, I had studied hard and this time I wasn't going to back down. I persuaded them to use my answer and low and behold I was RIGHT! Since I stuck to my guns and wouldn't let them change it, we got it right. But the important thing is not that we got it right, but that I stood my ground. I'm going to participate in class next week. I know I'll learn a lot more that way."
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____