Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 12:08:31 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: Next Play


To listen to myself. That's why I walk the streets in the wee hours of the pre-dawn mornings: to keep an appointment with myself that is as serious as any other on my daily calendar, to allow myself to enter and walk inside my inner space. It's my "just to...." time to be in my own scenery. When I walk I take myself out of sight, away from where things are happening, out of the line of fire, free from clogging traffic. It's a time when I retire to my inner closet and bid farewell to the world for an hour or so, when I can settle with myself and not have to sort through others and other things, when no one's eyes are on me; I'm not in the spotlight and not on the spot. Out there on the streets ,sheltered by the pre-dawn■s blackness from all distractions, it's only me with myself when I can weigh my "dos" and "oughts", when I can assess success and failures, when I can reap disappointment or satisfaction, when I can muster strength and courage for the day to come, when I am true with myself. The streets are a place to shake things out, where I turn on the X-ray to my soul, where I can listen for the sounds and look for the signs and signals that stir my emotions and freely express my inner voices. It's a form of mobile meditation and medication. It is a time of learning from what I encounter. It is for me the most revealing, the most painful, the most uncomfortable, the most releasing, the most easing, the most satisfying force because this is the closest I come to honest soul-searching. It is an intimate time and demands nothing less than truth with myself. As I roamed among the dark moments before the day, when shadows hide threat and exposure, when the day's sounds have yet to echo, I am left with the truth of introspection. On these darkened streets, I drive both my body and my spirit, force myself to face issues, new situations, new people, new inevitabilities. I am my most relentless critic and advocate; I drive myself to reflect and interpret; I force myself to face an ever-changing series of circumstances and people. I face within myself the reality of the new dawn that I must pressure myself to face up to the external pressures and accept the responsibility of taking some action. On these streets, where I can quiet the voices so I can find and hear my voice, I ask questions and seek answers.
This was particularly important this morning as I pondered another "gift" a student, whom I'll call Sandra, from last quarter sent me over e-mail a few nights ago. This is what she wrote:


I just got back from break and read my e-mail. I saw all that sucking up stuff by Trudy and Patrick and didn't want you to get a swelled head any larger than you already have. I want you to know that I think Trudy or Patrick are full of kissing-up shit, not that I think you'll pay any attention to what I have to say except to kiss me off like everyone else does. But I■m going to give you a different kind of present and get this stuff off my chest.
I lied in my evaluation of the class, but I think you know that. Still, I want you to know that I don't think you're God's gift to teaching at VSU. I thought our class was the most stressful and waste of time I've ever had. Yeah, I got an A in your class and for the first time learned some history, but don't let that ease your conscience. I had difficulty because of all that working with others you required. I don't like working with others. I don't want to work with others. And I never will. I don't know how to talk with my mom or anyone else in my family so why the hell should you make me talk with strangers? In the beginning, when you came into class with your boombox and wearing that neat Grateful Dead shirt I thought it would be a new and rewarding experience. Boy, was I wrong. It was a horror. All that getting to know you shit, sitting in a circle, the three of us in our triad, at the front of the room, looking at each other having to work with them, every day is a crock. The two other people in my triad were nice and I did only what I had to do, but I wasn't and I'm still not in the least bit interested in getting to know them or helping them or encouraging them or anyone in the class or working with them and interacting with them as if we were a supporting a family. Families suck. They don't do none of that. I can't do that with my family so how do you expect me to do it here at VSU in your class or expect anyone else to do it with me. And, I'll be damned if I'm going to let anyone else decide my grade especially when the only thing my family is worried about is a grade and GPA. I'm not going to risk disappointing them some more than they already have let me know that I already have with my baby, drinking, and drugs. I never cared or care for this hands-on stuff. When I walk into a class. I just expected for you to do your job, to lecture and not care whether I am there or not and for me to take notes in the back of the room, memorize the bunch of facts that I need for a test, be tested and get my grade and get out. I'm not getting paid to teach me. You are, and you didn't do it. You're supposed to tell me what to do and what you wanted so I could do it. Just like all the other professors around here. "Do as you're told." Everyone else does. Where do you get off thinking that you can be different from everyone else. That's how I've been conditioned to think and act, and I'm comfortable with that because that's what I know and it's easy that way. But, no. All your stupid rah, rahs "take a risk", "it's your skit", "believe in yourself", "be your own learner and discoverer" frustrated me, pissed me off, and stressed me out. How could I believe in myself when no else does? Just because you went out of your way to talk to me and loaded me up with Tootsie Pops in the hall didn■t fool me none. I saw through you. Putting on the act that you care doesn't impress me at all. I didn't want to be noticed. I wasn't going to get slammed again by trusting someone. It happened too many times. Go give your caring about me and teaching is love and your each of one is important stuff to someone else. They'll be the sucker. I don't care about anyone else and I sure as hell am not going to get to the point of needing to rely on anyone else again. Shit, I have enough trying to care about myself. The only thing I cared about was what grade I was going to get so I could get my people off my back. Did you care about that? No. 'Grades don't matter,' you said. The hell you say. I know you gave me an A, but I had to work my ass off and do all that weird, stupid skits and scavenger hunts and role-playing and drawing and short-story writing crap. Now let's see if you have the guts not to come up with some excuse to change my grade because of this letter. I also want you sweat a bit like you made me sweat by knowing that I told the student who will read my sealed letter that it was a FATAL mistake to register to take your class and that they should get out while they can. And, I bet you'll erase this message just because I'm honest rather than send it out like you did with Patrick■s and Trudy's precious, oozing letters.


Once again I faced the daily phenomenon: going from the most appreciative, encouraging, and inspiring attitudes to some of the more depressing and discouraging ones. A letter like this is difficult to talk about. I'm not wild about sharp criticism anymore than anyone else may. I have to admit that I wasn't wild about receiving it and hesitated to share it. When I read it I was overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness and sadness about the debilitating anger and crippling pain, and bridling fear swirling within and tormenting Sandra. I don't blame her. I guess I didn't find the way to teach to reach her or stretch and strain sufficiently to reach to teach her. Nor could she. It's a shame. She has such ability and potential, but doesn't herself see or believe it. She did not intend it as a gift, but after a few days of agonized pondering, I now realize it is truly a gift to me. More important, it's an unintended gift to herself because it's probably the first time she's mustered the courage to take the risk of being honest in a long time. I don't think she thought about that or realized it. I hope she reads this.
Anyway, I have to admit that when I first received this message I wanted to draw inside myself, close in myself, or remove myself from others. I guess it's natural that when we get such a letter like this, we tend to focus on our own feelings, our own sense of mistake and failure. We become saddened, sorry for ourselves, maybe depressed, or worse, ignore it. But, I would be a lesser person if I camouflaged my own hurt, fears and disappointment by casting this letter off as a meaningless, "She didn't get it" or "What does she know" "Oh, well, I can't reach them all." Having read the letter maybe about twenty times, I decided that letters like this, maybe more than the celebrating ones of support and encouragement and praise, force me to reflect harder, to articulate my beliefs more consciously, and to teach harder. .
I went back to read the letters from Trudy and Patrick. And as I read all three letters as a collection over and over, I recalled the first team meeting of the VSU football team this past August at which I talked to the players about the importance of their academic studies. One thing that the head coach said struck me. "We have a saying on this team," he pronounced. It's 'Next play.'" He went on to explain, maybe warned is a better word, if a play results in a great tackle or block or sack of the quarterback or run or pass or a field goal or a touchdown, no one should don't get caught standing around admiring his achievement; no one should turn and throw up his hands as he delights in the roar of the crowd. "There's a game to play," he emphasized. He went on to say as well that if a player made a mistake that resulted in a fumble or interception or missed tackle, he shouldn■t get caught slumping around feeling sorry for yourself and wallowing in the moans of the crowd. "There's a game to play," he shouted across the hall. "The other side doesn't care about you. Those guys are applauding or booing. So," he asked, "what happens while you're standing around with either your hands up or up your ass, while you get over-confident or lose your confidence? Those other guys are throwing and running past you. They score before you know what hits you and we lose the game." I remember him finishing up his pep talk by warning with something like, "There's sixty minutes to a game. You can bust them for an entire game, but all your focus and hustle can be canceled by a few careless seconds of stupidly applauding or booing yourself."
It's no different in the classroom. The second I start to teach defensively because of letters like those from Sandra or over-confidently because of words like those of Trudy or Patrick- -in the coach's terms to start to play not to lose instead of playing to win or forgetting that I can lose--afraid to make a mistake or thinking I can never make a mistake, chances are I will stop teaching effectively. The moment I start bragging, "I can teach this class in my sleep," I am asleep and have gone into perpetual hibernation; the second I stop being on my toes, nervous and alert, I'm just standing around flatfooted and marking time. Thankfully, it always seems to happen that just when I may be in danger of thinking that I■ve got a handle on it, someone or something tells me what I can do with that handle, gives me a swift kick in the butt, screams ■boo■ in my ear, and reminds me that I must always have an internal critic who bullies me along, who won't let me stop, who tears away at the slightest smugness and complacency that might start appearing, who ready to deflate any arrogance that might start expanding into any available space with the pretensions of hot air, and who keeps me restless..
Letters like Sandra's make sure my teaching isn't "micro waved"; that the classroom is not some non-nutritional fast food place; that my teaching doesn't get any easier; that I have to teach hard every second of the "game"; that I must always think about it, talk about it, reflect on it, work at it, have the guts to do it. Ever searching, sifting, refining, developing, changing, adapting is an ethical responsibility of this noble endeavor called teaching so that when I teach I know, at least for this moment, I pressed it, fought for it, gave it all I had at this moment for that person.
The fall quarter is over and I'm starting the winter quarter. Next play!

Make it a good day.

                                                       --Louis--


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)          lschmier@grits.valdosta.peachnet.edu
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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