Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sat, 8 Apr 1995
I just got back from class. I think I danced all the way--if my feet even touched the concrete. Nearly got hit by a car because I wasn't paying any attention. I was just thinking about what had just happened in class. It is sunny, bright and warm outside, the kind of day Ray Charles would sing about; but it pales next to the brightness and warmth inside me. I feel a glow about me. I am bursting with a joy that I have not felt in such a long while I had almost forgotten such emotions existed. I am literally shaking with an ecstacy, my fingers are having trouble following my orders, and my eyes are getting foggy as I share with you what one student, herself stunned, called "a awesome happening." I was just witness to something I have never seen and never dared think would happen. It dramatically reminded me once again that the real crisis in education is one of caring not information, of the extent to which fellow students and professor can help each other dream and nurture and be spiritual guides, how students experience what is going on inside the teacher, how every contact with students is a potential teaching moment, how a transformation in learning is rooted in the transformation of the heart, how learning is a joining among students and with teacher, what a student can achievement if he or she has the courage to tap the unique potential within, and how powerful a simple "I care" can be. Yesterday, we did the last of a week of bonding and trust exercises. The students and I already had their acquaintance hunts, introductions to each other and reflective interviews; we've already started journaling; each of us has already stood up and sung solo to the class. All of which were designed to break down barriers, challenge student to think and feel beyond themselves, challenge student to think and feel within themselves, to connect with themselves and each other, to sense a greater self-value. Now it was time for them to do what they would call "The Fall." I don't claim originality with this exercise although I don't think it's used in many history classes. It was suggested to me by a theater professor at a conference. It is used to develop trust and bonding in acting classes and among cheer leaders. I had decided last spring to use it in my classes. I have always had success with it. But nothing like what just happened. It blew me and everyone in that room away.
It is a simple exercise. I merged the twenty triads into ten groups of six students. Each group came up to the head of the class. One at a time, each member of the group got on top of the desk, introduced him or herself to the class from on high. As the other five members lined up and locked hands, the student would turn around, cross his or her hands across his or her chest, close his or her eyes, and then fall straight back into the waiting locked hands of his or her fellow students. As the students hesitantly climb onto the desk top, mumbling to themselves, "oh, God", "it's high", "don't drop me," "I'm scared", "I can't do this", from around the room you could hear coming from the seated students, waiting their turn or having taken their turn, supporting, reassuring and comforting, "they'll catch you", "trust them", "there's nothing to it," "you can do it."
And, they do it--after a few deep courage-mustering breaths. As they fall soft squeaks, squeals, loud yells, louder screams, an occasional "oh, shit", and other utterances resound throughout the room. Mixed with those fearful sounds is an applause of voices that grows larger and louder with each fall: "thatta girl", "good for you", "see, you can do it". Then, it came time for Kim to get on the desk top. She had been shaking her head with a fierce determination muttering, "Not me," As each member of her group dropped into her hands, she'd day, "I ain't doing no such thing. I'm not going to do it." She waited until she was the last to go. She refused to get on the table. Her classmates with whom she had gone through bonding for week urged her on, encouraged her, reassured her. With a great deal of hesitation, he reluctantly climbed on the table. She introduced herself and then looked down at the students lined up looking up at her. "I never trusted no body in my life. I don't trust no one." She refused to turn around. Her classmates offered quiet support. Everyone in the class stopped laughing or chuckling. The class grew quiet. She turned around saying, "I don't trust no body nohow." Tears started to fall from her eyes. She stepped down, saying "I don't know how to trust any one. I ain't doin' it. Period! I can't."
"That's all right," I said feeling that she was one not to push. I had a quiet understanding of how she felt as I had a flashback to that day I had to climb that sheer cliff.
Her group sat down as the next group, the last group, replaced them. I saw her watching as the last six fell into the arms of their classmates. Her face, with failure and embarrassment written all over it, got more somber with each fall. As the students were falling, I conspicuously slide off the desk, walked over to her, and swatted in front of her. Everyone was looking at me.
"Here's a Tootsie Pop."
"What's that for? I didn't fall."
"For giving it the best shot you had today. You got up on the table and gave it a try. No one can ask more than that today. That's worth a tootsie pop in my book."
"You were the first to fall."
"I've had to climb a 90 foot cliff. I know what it's like to be gripped by fear. Besides you're not the first who didn't fall."
"I'm not?" she asked as her face cracked a slight smile as I offered her that small consolation.
After everyone had finished, I raised my hand to say something, but couldn't find the words right away. There was an silence. Then, I said, "I don't think any of us should think any less of Kim and better of ourselves just because she didn't fall and we did. I bet most of us if we had our choice didn't want to fall but we were more afraid of what people would say." As the class filed out, I saw a few students in her triad and a few from other triads go over an talk with her and console her. I heard one say, "You're OK in my book. If you're free, let's go get a Coke."
I thought, "Thank you, God." But, Kim walked out, almost shuffled out the door with a dark look of defeat. I knew that insidious monster was watering at the mouth with thoughts of victory. She hadn't unwrapped her Tootsie Pop. I thought about nothing else but her on my walk this morning, trying to figure out to counter the events of yesterday.
Today, I walked into class with bags of Tootsie Pops. They were prizes for a critical thinking "contest" I was going to have today. Kim walked in. I almost asked her if everything "was cool." For some mysterious reason, I didn't. She walked behind me and gave me a "hi." There was a mysterious tone in her voice that caught my ear. I simply gave her a "hi" back.
I took role and said, "OK, I want two triads to get together who haven't worked with each other before. Move the chairs. We're going to have a contest. Winner gets......." I hadn't finished that sentence when I heard excited squeals coming off to my right. I thought it was just the normal noise of students getting ready to move around the room. Someone said something, but it was too muffled for me to hear. Heads started to turn towards the squealing. I turned my head and saw students clapping, jumping up and down in their chairs, and putting smiles on their faces that stretched from ear to ear. Then, someone made an announcement that made my heart skip a beat. "Kim is going to fall. Kim is going to fall." A buzz of expectation raced through the class. "But, she only wants guys to catch her." Every fellow in the class spontaneously jumped up without being asked and rushed to the table. They picked six to have what one called "the honor of catching her."
Kim slowly got up out of her seat and walked over to the table. I and everyone else watched stunned. My heart was pounding. I could hardly breath. I couldn't believe my eyes. She looked at the guys smiling at her. One said with assuring finality, "Trust us. We won't drop you." "I'm trying to," she replied fearfully. She turned around, looked at me, and said as if talking to herself, "I'm scared. I gotta do this." She closed her eyes, crossed her hands across her chest, she hesitated for a second as if having second thoughts, and then let go and fell back accompanied by a scream of, "GOD!"
The second Kim landed in the guys' arms class exploded into cheering pandemonium. Everyone jumped to their feet. A roar erupted as if Mickey Mantle had just won the World Series with a grand slam homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game. I stretched my arms skyward and screamed out a "YES" so loud they probably heard me in the next building. Saluting whistles pierced the air. Tears dripped down some cheeks. Mine were among them.
As Kim stood up, she turned around with a sense of accomplishment oozing from every pore in her body, and declared to me, "I'm going to kick ass in this class. You watch. I sang and I fell, and damn if I can't do anything."
After she sat down, I walked over and gave her three tootsie pops. Someone behind me yelled, "Hell, doc, that's worth a bagful." I walked back to the desk top and threw a bag of tootsie pops at a smiling, happy Kim. Nothing like a sense of accomplishment as a cathartic to self-esteem.
I has been quite a week, a miraculous week. First Heather and now Kim. I don't what happened between yesterday and today. I didn't ask. I prefer to believe that maybe there is something more involved, something mysterious, in teaching than merely exercises and techniques. Whatever it was, Kim grabbed on to it and came out of the shadows into the bright light today. I think I'm going to spend a quiet weekend to live those moments over and over again, and savor this profound feeling of accomplishment of having helped in some way a student to touch themselves.
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" -\____