Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sun, 24 Sep 1995
I had just open the door to go for a walk when the security motion light suddenly came on. My eye caught a barrage of yellow micro-bursts erupting to my right like a series of exploding flash bulbs. I turned towards my neighbor's high wooden fence, nearly hidden by the rain-soaked, glistening, thick foliage of a luffa plant I had sown a few months earlier. The light shown on the bright flowers that polka dotted the luffa's green lushness as if Marc Chagall had come along and just splattered large splotches of yellow from his palette. The hum of bumble bees filled the air as they began their day's erratic dancing from one golden platform to another. Already some long seed pods the size of oversized zucchinis are lazily hanging from the vines. I stood there for a moment looking at the wall so covered with life. I felt a sense of amazement and excitement. Who would have thought that out from such a tiny, innocuous thing as a half inch long seed something so much larger and beautiful would come?
I turned and started off. I hadn't walked a few steps out onto the dark street on this drizzly, moonless morning cooled by autumnal 50s when images of that luffa plant intermingled with thoughts of a student I'll call Mary who meekly had walked into the classroom Friday, three days after class began.
I first met Mary as I was walking across campus. He came up to me telling me with an obvious anxiety in his voice that he had just late-registered for my class. He was a first year student, his schedule had been messed up, he was desperate for a class, and heard good things about me and my classes. I shook his hand and told her that I was glad to have in class. Then, he asked, as if he didn't want an answer, if it was true that he had to get up and sing and do other things in front of the class.
"Yeah," I told her noticing the nervousness written all over his face. I gave her a reassuring thumbnail sketch of the class saying something like: "Everyone does. It's a participation class. We all get into the material. We discuss the material. We touch the material. You and your group will write and perform skits in front of the class. You'll go on scavenger hunts and get up to show and explain to the class what you brought in, and will discuss the material in class. I don't just stand and talk, and you don't just sit and listen and take notes."
"Oh, I can't do that," he said with a panicky voice. "I'd be scared to death. I've never been able to get up in front of people. Maybe I should drop the class."
I suppose I didn't have to bother and could have disinterestedly said something like, "Whatever you decide", and walked off. But, I didn't. I persisted.
"Well," I sympathetically said, "maybe that's something you have to work on. In our class, we get to know each other. We become like a family, work together, and support each other. It's a place where you can take a risk. What do you think you're afraid of?"
"Being embarrassed, I guess...looking stupid...being wrong. I've always been that way. I can't even ask questions in class. I don't know if I can do it."
"I do. Do yourself a favor, believe in yourself, and give it a chance," I said quietly.
The conversation went on like this for about five minutes when Jason walked by and I called to him. I introduced him to Mary saying that Jason has been in my class last winter. "Jason, if you've got a few minutes, tell Mary how you used to be afraid to talk up in class. Tell to her about the class. Mary, I hope I'll see you tomorrow. I want to have you in the class." And, I walked off leaving the two of them talking and sucking on the Tootsie Pops I had handed them.
That was Wednesday. Thursday morning Mary wasn't in class. I was disappointed. When I got back to the department office, I found Mary' drop slip in my mailbox. I was really sorry to read it.
Friday, just as class was about to begin, Mary meekly walked through the door.
"Dr. Schmier, I know I dropped this class, but can I still get back in--if you'll have me now? I gave it a lot of thought and decided maybe it was time to try to change and this class may be the place."
I looked at her with a warm smile, extended my hand, and said, "Glad to have join us. Sit over there with that group."
A few minutes later, I said, "Mary, we've been introducing ourselves to each other. So, why don't you stand and tell us something about yourself."
Mary slowly rose and said a faltering "I'm Mary", and whispered a few words about herself. Then, some students asked her to answer a couple of questions taken from the biographical exercise. Next, as part of a personal scavenger hunt I'm trying for the first time as part of my "getting to know ya" exercises, I and each student rose to describe the item each of us brought to class to best describe ourselves. When each person in Mary' group finished and his turn came, Mary rose without being prompted and hesitantly said, "Well, I didn't bring in anything since I just signed up for the course. But, I would have brought in a paper weight because I often think I don't belong here. That weights heavily on me and holds me down a lot."
Wow! Talk about being caught off guard by such openness and honesty. I nearly fell off my chair.
After class, Mary came up to me and asked for assurance. "Did I do okay?"
"What do you think," I replied.
"I thought I did good."
"Then, why ask me? But, I think so, too. Congratulations. You did great. I was impressed. I am so proud for you. Aren't you."
"Yeah, but did I look and act nervous?"
"Yes, but that doesn't matter."
"See? I told you. I was so scared. Think people noticed?"
"Hey, what they noticed was that you did it and trusted them with your honesty. You weren't the only one who was nervous. It's okay to be nervous, but this time you didn't let it control you.
"I did do it, didn't I."
"It's a step. But, don't just say that you did it. Think this weekend about what that says about you and what's inside."
I guess I was doing the same thing this morning as I stared at the luffa plant. Mary, like so many students, is very much like that luffa seed. You know what it took for that luffa seed to grow into this huge wondrous flowering, fruit-bearing vine? First and foremost, it needed my commitment, love, and devotion. It was with great expectations and anticipation that I planted that luffa seed. Small as it was, my faith in it was strong and my hopes for it were large. I didn't approach it negatively by saying "It can't," "It won't," or "It never will." In fact, I didn't know what kind of plant would emerge. I had never seen a luffa plant. I planted that seed with an attitude of "I'm helping to give you a chance to do your thing", "let's see what it is you can be", and "let's see what we get."
And so, I carefully prepared the soil, mounded it, made sure it was well drained. With equal care I planted the seed, insuring it was placed at the right depth. I looked over the tender seedling and protected the delicate and vulnerable sprouts. As it grew, I encouragingly talked with it and I excitedly guided it along the wall. And, now, with faith and hope rewarded, I reveled in the blossoms of both my labor and that seed's potential.
And now, after having a brief glimpse into Mary' potential, I wonder why is that we will dirty our hands, crack our nails, scrape our skin, strain our backs, pull our muscles, spend our time and money as we plant, feed, trim, prune, train, spray, water, protect and nurture that seed as it sprouts, grows, blossoms and fruits. But, so many of us will not be so caring and nurturing, so protective and supportive, so committed when it comes to those human seeds we call students. I wonder why is that so many teaches want only to see students as fully grown, low maintenance plants in full bloom in need of only a bit of pruning here and there. The tragedy is that when we think that way, we unintentionally act like a scorching sun, a withering drought, a devouring insect, a choking week, or a drowning torrent to any student who appears to be any less than a mature plant.
I think if we were committed to students like Mary as much as we are committed to insuring that a seed will grow into a beautifully flowering plant, we would find in our students, like a seed, that there is so much potential impressiveness in something apparently so ordinary; so much potential grandeur in something apparently so simple; so much potential beauty in such apparent plainness; so much potential to be unfurled in something seemingly so limited.
I think I'll give Mary an orange Tootsie Pop when we meet in class. Because of her it has been a good week--for both of us.
Have a good one. --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" -\____