Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 04:16:32 -0500 (EST)
It's 3:00 a.m. Can't sleep. Lots on my heart. The warm milk at my side isn't helping. So here I am thinking about my youngest son, Robby, whose marriage is falling apart, the personal tragedy of a dearest friend's daughter, and a touching e-mail message from a first year student, Keysha, I received late yesterday afternoon.
Someone once said that if you have ever fallen in love, you know what it means to live in a world where all the lyrics are true; that if you have ever walked through the cummulous cloud of the perfume section of a department store, you know what it is to have a lovely fragrance stick to you. Keysha's message is all of that.
We've had only five class hours together, all of them devoted to classroom community building stuff. I didn't realize how much community we already have built until I received Keysha's message.
The message needs some background. Yesterday morning, I awoke to find that, one of our closest friends, who lives in Macon, had left a message last night. Her voice was somber. It was 6:30 a.m. We called. Her daughter, age 29, who we helped "raise," who was to be married in April, received the news that her fiancee, 32, without warning died of a heart attack. Needless to say, we were devastated. But, I always told everyone around me that the muscles around your mouth are the strongest in the body for they can lift the heaviest of heart and soul. Now, I had to put my money where my smile was. So, I went into class to continue our class community building stuff. The students in both classes, after less than two weeks, picked up on my pain. When they asked what was wrong, I told them what had happened and that I needed their help to keep me smiling.
This is the message from Keysha. I've shared it already with one or two friends. I'd like to share it with you because I firmly believe, as I once said, that we each live our stories and we learn most from the stories of others. When you feel alone, you can find community in stories; when you weaken, you can find strength; when you are disheartened, you can find resolve; when you are down, you can be lifted; when you feel pain, you can find comfort; when you question, you can find inspiration; when you tire, you can find new energy; when you wonder why, you can find inspiration.
Keysha's letter tells me and hopefully others why I believe in
each student, why I believe each student is a human treasure, why I
believe in each student's potential, why I believe in the nobility of
I just want to say that I'm sorry for your tragic loss. I just
got out of your 12pm History class. I wanted to give you a hug 'cause I
know how it feels to lose someone and try your best to keep a "smile" on
your face. I will be praying for you as well as my 'friend' (whom I talk
about in my journal). His friend's father past away this week and the
funeral is this weekend. My 'friend' was close to his friend's father. I
told him that I'm willing to support him and to be his shoulder to cry on.
I know this may not mean anything but you are the first TEACHER who has
actually taught me to value myself before I can value others. Since I've
been here at school, profs seem to just want you to listen to their boring
lectures and take their confusing tests. You are an inspiration to me.
All this year, I've been down because I couldn't figure out what I wanted
to do with my life and career. After all this time, I finally figured out
what I want to do--be a special education teacher. I thought about what
you said about how educators need to take their time to know the students
before the students know the work (rephrased in my own words). Dr. S, on
every monday, wednesday, and friday I look forward to getting to your
class. I race from the education center on those days so that I can get
to your class on time and to get the quote of the day. Yesterday I had to
go to go to the doctor and they asked me (while they were doing what they
had to do) what's my favorite subject. I told them history. They asked
me what I learned in there so far. I told them I learned the history of
MYSELF--something that has never been taught in my whole life. I just
want to thank you for helping me realize that I must love MYSELF before I
could love others. Now I realize that I know what I want to do and that I
CAN began to love others and CAN NOT hate MYSELF again. Since I didn't
give you a hug today I just want to give you an email hug (*HUG*) and let
you know that everything is going to be alright. Like you said today "we
all must fall in order to succeed in our lives". Thanks for being a
TEACHER and not just another prof!
What can I say other than I am truly touched. At the moment I read Keysha's message, we were not student and professor. We were now just two compassionate human beings helping each other on life's journey.
You know, I always start a semester without any warning of what to expect. If nothing else happens during the semester, I will end the semester both exhilarated and drained, knowing I had a life-changing experience. I told Keysha in a my response that I want to think that she was sent to me to remind me just how precious life is and what both an education and life is really all about. Because of her, I realize a bit more that neither academia nor life is about rewards, prizes and awards. Her kindness and sensitivity have reinforced my conclusion, as I once told my son, Michael, that I, like of most us, will not get academia's big, inflating prizes: an endowed chair, a prominent grant, a titled fellowship, a visiting professorship to a flagship university, a best seller publication, a National Book Award, recognition, fame, a Pulitzer, a Book-of-the Month selection, an appointment of repute to this or to that, a high powered consultancy to them or those, a "kill for" invitation to here or there, a prominent keynote address, a high profile speaking engagement, even a campus teaching award.
I, like all of us, however, am eligible to receive what we erroneously call "little and hidden pleasures." Her letter is such a pleasure. You know, if we have an unswerving belief, a good nose, unremitting hope, a keen ear, an ever-ready smile, sharp eye, a deep understanding, a special touch, a reaching hand, a caring heart, endless hope, and unbounded love we will discover that those pleasures aren't very little. You won't find them on resumes or framed on the walls, but, they are in fact far bigger, far more resounding and resonating, far more important, far more valuable, and far more lasting than anything academia can bestow.
No, teaching it's not about things. We just celebrated a season of miracles and giving. The season is about a sharing what we have of ourselves with others no matter who they are and where they come from. That's what's being a teacher is all about. As the spirit of this past and future holiday seasons should be, without restraints of a calendar date and which should extend beyond a single date of celebration. the spirit of her letter has entered my heart and I will insure that it will not leave. The moments of reading her letter is an instance in which I could forever live in which everything was focused. Because of you, I will see to it that I will look a little farther beyond each face and peer deeper into each soul; I will see a bit more pass the disruption and apathy, and recognize a bit more the hurt and pain; I will without embarrassment be awed a bit more, swell up a bit more, wonder a bit more, tear a bit more, hope a bit more, breakdown a bit more, love a bit more, cry a bit more.
So as this semester begins its journey, I think, encouraged by your letter, I will just enjoy and reap the classroom's abundant and magnificent gifts of life's "little and hidden pleasures." There more than enough to go around, and in the long run they mean a hell of lot more. And, I will download her message, and place it among my sacred objects of teaching.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____