Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Tue, 11 Apr 1995
I received a message in response to my Random Thought about Kim saying, "It often seems so hard to take risks. Not seems hard, IS hard. And I think what is so often hard about it for me -- is what others will think about what I have done. I think EVERY STEP of Kim's experience took guts. I mean, everyone in the class knew something of her agony... and everybody got a victory... But, oh God, did she have to open up and risk it all to get there..."
I hear the insidious whispers of our unwanted guest. If we learn anything, then, from Kim's fall, it is that demonic monster who fishes in schools of students no less successfully chums faculty waters. Our degrees, resumes and reputations offer us little protection from our exposed humanity; nor do the shut doors of our offices and class rooms shield our fragilities. He trawls his nets in faculty offices, casts his sharpened barbs around the podium, dangles his poisonous bait at conferences and meetings, and gaffs so many faculty souls. So many of us are as afraid of teaching as students are afraid of learning because we've taken the bait of this diabolic fisher of people. We're just as afraid to be what we are or want to be as are many students. We may get these fantastic, insane ideas, and then don't or won't or can't act on them. We excuse ourselves and put ourselves off as our invisible colleague reels us in: "Oh, That's crazy." "What can I do to change things." "I couldn't do that." "It's not me." "It's not done this way." "How will the students react?" "What will my colleagues think?" "What will my Department Chair or Dean say?"
We let ourselves, issues of promotion, tenure, professional reputation, peer support and approval get in our way of living our profession as we truly want to. We let our professional lives rest in the hands of other people; we give over responsibility for our teaching and the students' learning to someone else. And, as long as we do, we really will not --cannot--teach fully. It's a shame because if we really don't teach fully we keep students and ourselves from learning fully.
If we're afraid of teaching, we don't experience. We don't feel. We don't see. We don't risk. We don't care! For ourselves, not only just for others! And therefore, we don't teach because teaching means being actively involved. It means getting down and dirty. It means jumping right into the middle of everything. It means blowing it. It means stretching yourself beyond your current self as Kim did. It means taking your own risks as Kim took hers. It means taking your own fall as Kim took hers.
I have said over and over again that the students would learn so much more if they have been coached to look within themselves for strengths, passions, direction, purpose, uniqueness, self-worth, integrity, and value. But, how much better would they learn and how much better would we teach if we had first been taught to look within ourselves for strengths, passions, direction, purpose, uniqueness, self-worth, integrity, and value.
I do know how tough it is to take that fall. I've taken it, and continue to take it every day I enter the class room. The journey inside always is spooky. That's what makes it worthwhile. I learned several things from my own spiritual journey. First, my professional and personal growth and change occurred only when I took a chance to trust myself and risk myself. Second, any experiment I engaged in with my life, large or small, was frightening because I was confronting the unknown. Third, the more I talked with my shadow self within me and brought it out into the sunlight, the more comfortable and confident I was with myself. Fourth, as I confronted and acknowledged my own woundedness, I saw far more clearly the students' woundedness. I am far more sensitive to that woundedness because I am facing my own woundedness. I can empathize with the students' pains and say "I understand. I've been there." And finally, as I changed my scenery and became more open with myself and the students, they became more open with each other and me, and the class room learning became, as Kim attests, more meaningful and powerful.
Initially I decided to take that fall, that I had to take that fall, and to keep falling, to save my son. Then, I discovered that I really took my fall to save myself. For as I fell, I discovered to my initial dismay that I had to confront the questions, "What does me mean to me?" "What does teaching mean to me?" "What do the students mean to me?" I'm not sure the answers had as much to do with whether I had tenure or not, or whether I had peer support and approval or not. It had to do with a growing need to live my profession, to live my life, to be more comfortable of myself, as my gut, conscience if you will, told me I must. I discovered that I had to free myself of teaching to be liked in return and to get rewards. I had to teach to teach, and to do that I had to risk not being like and not getting the rewards. But, let me tell you one secret, the real and meaningful rewards come. Let me share with you one such overwhelming reward that came unexpectedly just yesterday. I had casually mentioned that I planned to retire from VSU in two years. This young lady came into my office very upset when she heard of my plans. "You can't do that," were the first words out of her mouth. "Others need you like I did." I was speechless. I gave her a tootsie pop and a quiet, tearful "thank you."
So many of us have potential beyond our imagination, but are afraid to let ourselves see what it may be. So much talent is lost because we're afraid to fall. So much good is left undone because we don't trust. I think if each of us spent as much time thinking about ourselves and teaching, about answering those questions honestly, about taking that fall, as we do planning a vacation or arranging a cocktail party or worrying about what others will think about us, we'd be a hell of a bunch of incredible teachers.
I know some people are going to make excuses. "Oh, Schmier has tenure and doesn't have to worry" or "He's supported by his colleagues and has the approval of his superiors." Let me tell you a little secret. You can have all the peer support you desire and all the protection tenure has to offer, but in the end, as this person who wrote me so accurately said, when a person takes their fall off the desk... they take that fall alone."
Let me tell you another secret. I have discovered that the second I got involved in teaching, the pressure inside me was decreasing, and I started feeling safe. I felt safe because after a while my colleagues here on campus, initially feeling threatened, threw up their hands in frustration, and protected themselves--and thereby me--with an arsenal of defensive weapons. Their big gun is that they'd say, "what's that kook up to now?" What they don't realize is what freedom that eventually gave me. I love being called crazy because when I am, it gives me a lot of leeway to do things I want to do. It's almost expected of me. I can do and say just about anything and people will say--as I have heard and some my student tell me--"Oh, that crazy Schmier is drawing shields." "He insane for letting them kick him out of class so they can talk about him." "There he goes, just like a kid, walking down the hall with his music blaring." "That silly guy is having his students doing skits and creating games in class. It's so infantile" "Now he has students falling off desks. I should have known." The students and I are having a ball and learning about ourselves and each other. We're excited and having fun learning history. It's the prim and proper, the sane ones, who are both worried to death and bored to tears.
So, I guess my only answer to this message is to learn from Kim as I have, to somehow find it in yourself to risk your own lonely fall, start kicking that monster's butt out of your class and your life, roll up your sleeves, and teach. No easy task, but well worth the struggle.
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" -\____