Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Fri, 4 Oct 1996 21:37:06 -0400 (EDT)
TGIF! It's late in the afternoon. Everyone has gone home. A rough week has come to a surprisingly serene end no thanks to me, but thanks to a couple of student one of whom I do not know. All week I had been letting what I'll vaguely call campus "stuff" get to me and kicking myself for letting that "stuff" get to me.
Anyway, one of the non-traditional students--I'll call him John--in one of my classes came up to me this morning and handed me a wrinkled envelop. It's edge was ripped open. "Something's bugging you, almost got you down, even though you're doing a damn good job of hiding it from most of us. Well, read this. It's what's in here that makes you really important on this campus.
He caught me off-guard. I thanked him and put the envelop in my pocket. I forgot about it for a moment as I went back to the office. I turned on the tape to listen to _Les Miserables_, unwrapped a Tootsie Pop and put my feet on the desk. Remembering his offering, as the melodic "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" drifted out, I non-chalantly took the envelop from my pocket, took out the few pieces of paper on which it turns out was anonymously typed an original poem written by a student in one of my summer quarter classes. As I read it, my nonchalance became a gratitude for both John and the anonymous student. I felt myself being restored, uplifted, getting back on track, my perspective rightened, my balance re-established, an inner peace overwhelming me.
You see, to get a true and honest--and meaningful--evaluation from the students about the goings-on of my classes for other students, at the end of each quarter I have each student in my classes write a sealed letter to a student in the coming quarter's classes in which he/she can write about anything they wish about themselves, me, the class, etc.--good, bad or indifferent, signed or unsigned, win, lose, or draw. I distribute these letters on the first day of class believing that students will accept the word of their peers as truth far quicker than anything I could say or do. I never get to see the real scoop one student writes to another. This poem is the sole exception. I wish I knew who he or she was that wrote it. But, it doesn't really matter except that I owe him or her for being my teacher, putting me in my place and back on track. I do not share it to toot my horn although I'm sure some will think so. I share to give an otherwise hidden student's eye view of my set of values, my sense of mission, my vision, and some of what I struggle to do. Here's what the unknown student wrote:
I'm supposed to tell you something about the Doc's history class and him. I decided to compose a poem for you. I've never done this before, but Dr. Schmier has taught me the value to risk stretching. It's not important whether the poem is good or not, just so I try to write it. By the end of the quarter you'll understnad what I'm saying. So here goes. Good luck you're in for one hell of a journey:
You probably said, just like me, that Dr. Schmier's class is a breeze. You probably said,"I hear there are no quizzes or tests or exams. I can sit in ease." You probably thought, just like me, in his class you've got it made. You probably said, "They say he doesn't believe in giving a grade." So, we signed up for the class and found we were wrong. Not only is it hard and demanding, stretching and challenging, but we had to sit in a chair different ways and then sing a song. This class was not the usual lecturing bore There's fun, excitement, joy, and laughter galore, And there's more behind this history door. We write and act out skits We debate and argue about issues in the tidbits We make up games and draw. We even scavenge for objects on every floor. Oh, you'll soon learn that there's no mystery to why you unexpectedly learned so much history For ten years from now when one brings up a historical idea or a name, you'll know what or who it is from that tidbit argument, scavenger hunt, the drawing, a short story, or the game Oh, there's not only you, I might add, but you and two others in your group called a triad The class will be mixed together in groups of threes So many at first like me ask reluctantly and annoyingly, even protest "Depend on someone else? Be responsible for someone else? Please!" You're mixed together by gender and race So, you'll will learn to respect the other's place You're mixed together and are responsible for the others' success Now that's what I call a real test. Yet, as if by magic many wounds of our suspicions and prejudice magically start to mend during the quarter we each become the others' true friend And before you know it, it starts to begin that many come to start feeling like a close family of helping kin. You can get an "A", though I've got one little caution You must do you best, he won't settle for half a portion You'll make yourself act and look like a jerk if you think he or anyone will let you hang on a coatail and do no work. You'll find the midnight oil must burn He ONLY wants you to stop settling for passing a test and making a grade, He wants to start to understand and to truly learn And the best, he says, is the only thing that you should give, not just for this class, but that's how you should live. And if you try to cut a corner or take a rest, or do less than what YOU deep-down honestly know is your best, do you know what you'll gain? You'll hear him encouragingly and patiently emote, "Do it again." So many of us came to college told that we really did not belong Slowly he let us see for ourselves that they were wrong One professor told me in so many words where I could go when I told him, "I don't know." Not Dr. Louis All that kind of shit is just a bunch of phooey. Once I said to him, "I tried." Even accompanied it by crying. He'll just quietly answered back confidently and firmly, "You can do it. 'Trying is lying.'" The classroom has no back, or front, or side And there's no place in this room to hide. The Doc's not far away behind desk doing all the talking He always among us listening and walking He's always moving about and over every chair with eyes looking everywhere that tell you he has a care Oh, at times I snarled, "don't care so much." At times I complained, "don't reach out to touch" Oh, I uttered a curse, and screamed, "screw it!" I remember him saying quietly with a supporting smile: "if you want it, it can be done; and if it can be done, just do what it takes to do it." I'll always remember what this class in history and in life is about Like Popeye and Schmier say, "the more youse puts in, the more youse gets out He won't give you from yourself any relief He won't allow you in yourself any disbelief But, if you need help in learning how to study if you need help to clear up anything that's muddy if you need help with how to think don't whine. Don't say, "I can't." Instead, go to him in a wink if you need help in learning to do any this or that He'll give you all of his time, any time, and that's a fact. And on those days when you just need someone to listen and you just need to talk, you can always join Schmier with a Tootsie Pop on the hall floor or in the street on his 5:00 a.m. walk And in the end what did I find? That I've started to change as a person and develop in mind And though this class took on my sleep a great toll In the end, it paid off with growth in my soul I now feel in my stomach a slight burn No, it's not indigestion It's the beginning of a yearning to learn And do you learn! ....if you give yourself a chance and jump at your turn To me, Dr. Schmier, is at the top, and deserves a great big orange Tootsie Pop
I slowly put the poem down, vainly tried to straighten out the creases and wrinkles, pulled some tape out from my desk drawer, and tenderly stuck the pages with their precious contents to the wall just below my beloved Kuumba idol where I will see them every day. You know, there is a Dakota saying that translates loosely as , "We will be known forever by the tracks we leave." We so often think of such things only in terms of the legacy we teachers leave in the hearts of students. Today, at this moment, and for many more to come, I am indebted to this unknown student for leaving his or her tracks in my heart. Today, at this moment, and for many more to come, I am his or her student.
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" -\____