Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Wed, 31 May 1995
I came in from my walk this morning with my stomach and back covered with a scattering of little reddening, splotchy bumps. That's what I get for going out barechested. I must traveled through a formation of mosquitos squadrons whose dive-bombing accuracy had been honed by practice runs at a weekend of Memorial Day picnics! Time for bug repellant!!
While unknowingly being attacked, I was thinking about Buddhism, the WIZARD OF OZ, and teaching. An interesting combination isn't it. I guess it is the end of the term when I reflect on my performance in an effort to assess and improve upon it in the coming quarter. I read a fable yesterday in a book discussing Buddhist philosophy. As the story went, a young, inexperienced teacher was about to assume the duties as tutor to the heir apparent. The young prince was not an attentive and devoted student. The young teacher, understanding the consequences of failure, went to his own mentor, asking how he is to deal with a youngster of this sort. The mentor smiled and replied, "The first thing you must do is not to improve him, but to improve yourself." For some reason that had brought to mind one of the ending scenes in the WIZARD OF OZ. There is Judy Garland, in the Emerald City, forlornly watching the ex-wizard drifting off in his balloon. As she laments that she and Toto will never get back to Kansas, the beautiful Billy Burke floats down in her bubble and tells Dorothy that she always had the power within her to return. She just didn't want it enough.
What does this have to do with teaching. I think a great deal, for it seems reasonable that if what students believe about themselves and their abilities effects their efforts and impacts on their performance, then it stands to reason that is no less true about me, my efforts and my performance. For we all behave according to our beliefs, that what I do--my practices and techniques--are reflections of my attitudes and the atmosphere I allow to exist in the classroom; and my attitudes towards students have a significant influence on the prospects of student effort because they not only influence my behavior, but are transmitted to the students and influence their attitudes about themselves and their consequent performance.
But, it is not enough for me to believe that students can achieve. It is not enough to believe that in each student, what an e-mail correspondent degradingly called human deserts, there somewhere lies a hidden, untapped well of refreshing, nourishing, cool, sweet water. It is not enough for me to say or write that students are sacred, valuable individuals who are entitled to be treated with trust, dignity, respect.
The art of divining for that water is neither easy nor totally mastered. Teaching is not a static craft. Teaching is a active ever-changing craft of becoming. It's never perfect. It's never in a state of completion, but is forever developing. Like knowledge which it is supposed to impact, there is never an end to acquiring new concept and insights, but an ever-present and intense desire for more.
But, there is more to that dynamism than being creative, productive, sharing, imparting the satisfaction and joy of learning, and to assist others. I am always suspicious whether what I think is my current best is really the best I can do. For the truth is that I bring along with me my humanity. I bring onto the campus and into the class room not just my caring for and love of students, not just my commitment to my craft, but my human frailties as well. Courage is intertwined with fear; the ability to assist is mixed with my abilities to hurt; my commitment contends with my uncertainties; by quest to perfect meets my imperfections. And, there are my contradictions and my complexities. Any mistake I may make--and I will make mistakes--will inadvertently send a message to a student or to all the students that I would never imagine sending. Making mistakes is part of life, but when a mistake lowers the dignity of a student and not to care or be aware of that tragedy is far more serious than a student not doing well on a test.
I, therefore, have a responsibility to constantly talk to myself, to have an internal dialogue with myself as well as with both my students and my colleagues. It is a process of reinventing what I do and recreating my craft each day, of being open to new experiences and ways of doing what I do to make for fuller use of my potential, of realizing that criticism can be a positive force for improvement, growth, and change, of being flexible to alternate ways, of continually recognizing the wonder of students.
These are some questions as they came to me that I thought I should ask myself before the next quarter began--and ask the students about me. I'm sure I will think of more:
1. Am I creating an image that tells students that I here to help
them construct, not destroy, them as sacred, unique, individual
On second thought, I think I should ask myself these questions and struggle with the answers every day.
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" -\____