Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sun, 24 Oct 1993
This has been a heck of a week or so. As I have been roaming the darkened streets during these last ten days, I have been reflecting on the exciting happenings that have occurred in my classes. To be honest, I just haven't been in the mood to sit down and write. Maybe a low-level reaction to a flu shot had something to do with it. Maybe it was being emotionally drained from working closely with a particularly large number of students on their personal issues: listening to them; sharing my personal experiences with them; and though I never offer advice, getting some of them to see the need to talk with a professional. Then, again, maybe it was a subtle fear of not being able to "keep it up," of losing my spontaneity and feeling the demon of contrivance breathing over my shoulder as I sit at the computer.
Then, this morning, I received a "sign." I had been thinking about an e-mail message from a professor about research v. teaching. He said something to the effect that his mind was sinking because the students were bringing him down to their low level of active knowledge and he could not find much excitement in teaching them. Ostensibly, the professor was talking about research v. teaching. In reality, his message reflected his demeaning attitude towards students, the second class status he gave to real teaching, and how he felt the demands of being attentive to the needs of students encroached on what he considered more prestigious research and publication activities. I have to admit that my immediate action was to write a blistering response. But, I heard a voice inside saying, "Louis, take it easy. Stop and think. Don't be so arrogant, so self-righteous. Don't be so dishonest."
It would have been a dishonest response because I had been there once, saying that I had to research to "keep my mind alive." In fact, it wasn't my mind with which I had been concerned so much as it was my ego and desire for recognition. The responses to my efforts to introduce innovative programs, to experiment with costumed presentations in my classes, to develop inter-disciplinary courses had been ignored as "non-professional."
There is so little reputation in teaching, so little impact on promotion and tenure, so little influence on salary. And to be really honest, as I approach retirement here at the university and my scholarly reputation has waned because I have given up research and publication in order to concentrate on my classes, I ask who would want to hire a teacher rather than a reputed ever-publishing scholar. It's scary.
Anyway, I remember saying to myself and my "better students," in those days, as this professor wrote, "research is making me a better teacher." Heck, it may have made me a better lecturer, a better transmitter of subject information, but not necessarily a better teacher. It wasn't helping me adequately and properly address the needs of the students. Perhaps worse, during all those years when I concentrated on research at the expense of my classes, it may even have made me more distant from those students who needed me the most, more arrogant and disdaining towards them. So, I was thinking about all this today when, after I finished my walk and went to get my newspaper, I found a short letter stuck in the box. I'd like to share it with you. That letter was the sign:
I have come to realize from reflecting on my own personal experiences inside and outside class that it hurts to have someone look at you who sees so little worthwhile, whose eyes and demeanor say, "You're a drag. If it weren't for you I'd be off doing something meaningful, some important research and acknowledged writing." When students leave the class, when those uncaring eyes are no longer looking, the imprint still remains deep in the soul. And if they are looked at long enough that way, they begin to look at themselves as those eyes did; they find it difficult to go the mirror and see someone worthwhile. They become small in their own eyes because of those eyes. The loss of self grows. But, why should they have to go through that dehumanizing experience and I shouldn't have to combat it. Nothing so beautiful as a student should be made to feel less than something that deserves respect. I work hard to help students get back that feeling that there is something worthy, beautiful about each of them. Wouldn't it be so simple for teachers and professors to care? It's easy to stand off and say that it's the students responsibility to learn. It is that kind of thinking that allows us to shirk responsibility. It is that kind of thinking that blames the victim for being victimized. It's the same kind of thinking that is directed towards the rape victim, towards the homeless, towards the poor, towards the ignorant, and towards the student.
We don't always address the students' problems by dealing with what causes them. Most campus counselors will say off the record that so many professors don't want to be bothered with such things, that they feel that it's not their concern. But, if you start with the assumption that intellectual ability and academic performance is the professor's sole concern, you won't ask certain questions. You won't realize that you are using one-dimensional terms to discuss a three-dimensional reality. But, if you believe, as I do, that attitude is an integrated and inseparable part of performance, then there are a whole new set of questions to be asked. We can't perform emotional surgery. Intellectual performance is married to what students say, think, feel and do. Attitude affects performance and performance affects attitude. But, I don't think they are separate; it's not one and/or the other; it's how they are related. I'm getting nervous because I'm neither a philosopher nor a psychologist, and I feel myself approaching another realm and discipline. I am getting nervous because I am not the honest man carrying a lamp in the night. But, from what I have observed in my classes, from my conversations with students, from students evaluations and criticism, it's just so obvious that it needs to be said because all students are important. They all are building blocks of society. We must not be satisfied with describing student and professorial behavior. We must be concerned with why so many students lack self-confidence, self-motivation; with why are so many students are silent in class. Perhaps it has something to do with their past educational experience. Maybe it has something to do with family issues. We can begin to ask questions about how they got into this situation and what we as teachers can do to address the issue on a fundamental level.
It's ridiculous to theorize, philosophize, rationalize, intellectualize about education and teaching without dealing with the humanity, the strengths and weaknesses of those to be educated and the educators; without addressing those things that can make both students and us wholesome.
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" -\____