Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Fri, 25 Aug 1995
Went out a tad late this morning after debating with myself whether to go out at all. It was not inviting out there. Reinforced by a cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee, I did. As I ambled along the dark, slippery, drizzle-soaked streets this hurricane-threatened morning (sounds more dramatic than a saying a tropical depression), castigating myself with a "what the hell are you doing out here," I began thinking about battling hostile conditions, how much easier and rewarding it is to walk when the weather is....is likeable. "Likeable," I found myself saying to myself about a quarter into my route as the street lights were exploded into distorted, glaring, blinding novae by the water than clung to my glasses. "That's an important word to me. It should be an important word for all of us." As I began to realize just how much of an important word that is, a sharp image of Holly, a student I had in one of my first year classes a few quarters ago, and what she had said to my wife about me one night last week, just popped into my head.
I hadn't been in the mood to wok up a meal that night. So, my wife and I decided to go out for a quiet, simple dinner and enjoy the comfort our new car (the payments sure aren't comforting). We hadn't stepped a few feet inside the door of the restaurant, when we heard a shout, "Dr. Schmier!" I looked up to see Holly's bright face and beaming smile. She rushed up to me, hugged me--and I hugged her back--and showed us to a table saying, "Only the best for my favorite teacher." Then she turn to my wife and said, "I really like him as a teacher and person. You know he's one of the best-liked on campus? I'll be your server."
Does this sound egotistical to recall and relate this episode? I'm sure some will think so. I don't because I think it has important meanings for teaching, and let me tell you why. I think much of what I do that is good in and out of the classroom is motivated by my usually successful desire to be liked by the students. I don't deny it. I don't want to deny it. I have discovered that unless I want to be liked by the students in the class, the magic of the learning community isn't there. The sense of a learning community isn't there because I can't teach and learn very well and the students can't learn and teach very well unless we like each other a lot, like ourselves, and enjoy what we are doing.
What do I do for the students to like me? Well, the first thing is to get to know them as quickly as possible. If I want a student to like me, I have to find out what makes him or her comfortable, what puts him or her at ease, what makes him or her happy, what makes him or her feel safe, what makes him or her respect him or herself, what is meaningful for him or her. So, this is what I do to get students to like me. I play music--all sorts--at the beginning and end of class to set a mood of being alive. I openly display my frail humanity by freely admitting to mistakes and nervousness about trying a new technique. I dress in a way that I am honestly comfortable and am me, not in a masking uniform of authority. I offer them Tootsie Pops as incentives. I am as real as I know how to be--no masks. I am fair. I am interested in them. I trust their judgement. I listen carefully to each one of them. I see each one of them. I laugh with each one of them. I talk with each one of them. We have fun learning. I respect them. I believe in them and their ability. I support and encourage each one of them. I treat them so they know I want them in the class. I challenge them. I don't demean them with pandering or patronizing. I treat them as I would want to be treated. I treat them with dignity. I don't denigrate them with poor-mouthing. I don't hold any threats over their head. I am sensitive to the demands on their lives outside the classroom and am accordingly flexible.
Those are elements essential to encourage growth and development and learning and change in the students, but they are also elements that promote my own cause, my own joy, my own growth and change. When, five years ago, I stopped seeing students as signs of my failure, as distractions from the higher task of scholarship, when they became my profession, when I began to seek their approval and recognition instead of my colleagues and superiors, when I became more interested in their evaluation than some faculty salary review, I discovered that I could concentrate much better and more effectively on their individual needs and differences as well as on my own individual needs and difference. And, I discovered I could be a far superior better teacher and learner--and a much better person.
By the way, we gave Holly a good tip.
Have a good one. --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" -\____