Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 1997 08:54:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: Nothing's Automatic
It's stormy outside. The lightning is gorgeous. I waited to catch
a break in the weather. Made between torrential thunder clouds. Thought
throughout my chancey walk that staying in shape is a lot of hard work,
committment, and dedication. I was just three blocks from the house when
that was brought to home--no pun intended--as I nearly drowned in the
downpour as the dark skies opened up and had to swim the rest of the way.
As I am sipping my cup of freshly brewed coffee sitting here a tad
damp in front of the computer going over yesterday's messges, I was struck
by how many more people asked me to send them copies of THE STORY as well
as descriptions of the other "getting-to-know-ya" stuff we--I and the
students--do during the first five or six days of the term as we struggle
to begin forging a classroom learning community. I have been gladly and
unhesitatingly doing it. The tips of my fingers are blistering. I tell
each them, as I told some of you already, however, that there is no
miracle in THE STORY or any of the exercises I use to forge a classroom
community, or in any of the project they have to do to experience the
subject material. The magic will not flow not from what you do, I say. As
an e-mail colleague said, it eminates from WHY you do it and HOW you do it
and WHO you are.
Thought of hard work, committment, and deidcation brought back
memories of one of my colleagues on campus who didn't really understand
that. A while back, she had heard about the "stuff" I do in class and the
excitement it generated in most of the students: the "getting-to-know-ya"
exercises, my boom box, the triads, the Tootsie Pops, abandoning of
lectures and testing, depreciating the value of grades, the active
learning projects, brown discussions on my lunchtime, journaling, student
portfolios, end-of-term closure, etc. We talked. We talked a lot. But,
she only wanted to know what it was I do. She was all that interested in
why I do what I do. She came to my class several times to observe. We
talked some more.
She said she understood how things worked.
"It looks easy," I remember her ominous words like it was only
Those words made me shudder. "It's not," I remember warning her.
"It's a lot of hard, time-consuming work." My answer is burned into my
mind and heart as constant warnings that pot up to kick me in my butt any
time I feel that complacant "it's a snap," "I've got this thing made"
feelings coming on. "It is a lot more work, hard work, than just lecturing
and testing and grading. It's the attitude about myself and each student
that I bring into class, not the things I do in class, that make the
difference. The magic is not out there; it's in here," softly touching my
chest. "Everything I do has to be me--in me, a part of me, an extension
of me, an expression of me. It's woven into every fiber of my being.
And, if you want to change what you do, you have to somehow and in someway
change you. There's nothing automatic in any of this stuff." I remember
emphasizing that these techniques and methods are not tricks pulled out
from some top hat that will automatically wow the students. Her classes
won't turn into some elegant coach, anymore than do mine, with some
incantations from a fairy godmother. "Who you are are the magic wand, the
ruby shoes, and a wish upon a star."
She really didn't hear me. She decide to give it a try. It didn't
work and she didn't know why. She didin't ask me or ask me to sit in on
her classes. As it happened, she had two first-year students in her class
who were also in mine. She approached them and asked them how things were
going in my class. They answered, "Great." She admitted the same wasn't
true in hers. They agreed. So, she asked them why. Their first response
was a question, "Can we be honest?" That in itself was reflective, for
they knew they would not have to ask for such permission in our class.
When she said they could, choosing their words carefully, as they told me,
their succinct but brilliant answer was, "Well, all you did was to move
the chairs around."
Sadly, she gave up after that first attempt and went back to her
old ways in the classroom. Nothing is automatic.