Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1999 07:19:00 -0500 (EST)
Wow! My computer is ringing off the hook. The the tips of my fingers are raw, my knuckles ache, my wrists feel like carpel tunnel surgery is around the corner. I have received a mountain of responses to my last Random Thought. So, this morning, for the sake of my hands, I beg your indulgence. I hope those whom I have not yet answered will allow me to respond in this manner. I assure you that my intent is no less personal and sincere. And, I apologize for the repetition to those with whom I have already talked.
All these messages brought to mind, a passage in Robert Pirsig's ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE. It goes something like this: peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts, right thoughts produce right actions, and right actions are for others to see that love is the center of everything.
That applies to teaching as well, for teaching is a part of the life Pirsig is talking about. So, as in life, in the spirit of Pirsig, teaching is ultimately love made visible. It is love in action. If someone goes into the classroom without that peace of mind, but only with distaste and/or resignation better for all that person should leave the classroom.
Too many of us academics have a favorite semantic dodge. So many of us talk about loving the student but disliking the student's lack of discipline, weak commitment, apathy, unpreparedness, etc. Unfortunately, that statement has often becomes a meaningless cliche because far too many academics too often fall short of the mark of truly loving the student for whomever that student may be. Far too many have not exhibited an ability or inclination to break the barriers between teacher and student, build a bridge to the student, and form a bond with the student. Far too many are inclined to dominate, control and possess, and demand students submit. Far too many are inclined to say, more as weeders than nurturers, "Go somewhere else. You don't belong on our campus. We don't need or want you here."
No, teaching is not apart from life; it's not protected from life in the isolating ivory tower as some of us are so desperate to believe. It's a delusion, for what too many see as protection is really imprisonment. When I started breaking out from my self-imposed cell and realized that teaching is a part of life, my life, the only one I have, the only one I know, and I found myself struggling to figure out how to live my life the best I can, I discovered that I had to make teaching the best I can.
You know, in all the nine years since that fateful 1991 October day at Hyde School when I had my epiphany, I have asked myself just what was the fundamental lesson I had learned. I've thought about that a lot over the years. The answer is like taking away all the fluff, reducing everything I have shared, everything I feel, everything I do down to its molecular structure.
I learned, the hard way, that if I was asking myself questions of myself, and that is a very big if, I was asking the wrong questions. I would ask myself "Hey Schmier, what do you know?" And, "Louis, how are you teaching this?" And maybe, "Hey, why are you doing it this way?" But, always, "What's wrong with them?" What a rationalizing out is that last question. As a new found virtual friend, Sandra Wales, reminded me, if you say a student is lazy or unskilled or lacks potential (I don't know how anyone would be able to peer into the future and know that in the present), you tend to blame the student and won't take responsibility for your teaching. But if you call the student unmotivated, that implies a faith in that student's unique potential and that you can find the motivation for him to learn. The same applies, I discovered, to myself.
Until that fateful day, I would never ask the real questions, the probing questions, the penetrating questions, the seminal questions: "What's wrong with you" and "Who the hell are you." For years, as I say so often, I was always doing what I always had done and getting what I always had gotten because I always was thinking and feeling the way I always had thought and felt. I had created a neat comfort zone of excuse, rationalization, explanation. That was not, never is, or never will be a recipe for discovery, adventure, growth, vitality, development, strength, courage, and change.
So, I learned that if I want to hit the mark of being a good teacher, I have to aim at myself. I have to take an honest, hard, and penetrative inventory of myself. I have to first teach myself, for if I can't find the truth in myself, where can I find it because it all begins and ends there. Like a nut, I discovered I had to crack my hard outer shell if the delicious meat inside is to come out and be tasted.
I struggled and am still struggling and will continue to struggle to change the way I always had thought and felt. The journey is unending. I now have a voracious appetite for self-knowledge. The transfigured Louis Schmier is spiritually grounded, psychologically sound, intellectually informed, and physically fit. I negotiated, still negotiate, and will continue to negotiate hard for balance in my life, in all aspects of my life including teaching. And as I slowly change, I find that I do less and less of what I always had done and get more and more out of what I get. Like life, it is that simple; it is that hard; it is that complicated. It's implications are vastly more complex and difficult. And, it is that amazing.
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" -\____