Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 21 Apr 1996 13:26:29 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: Doughnuts and Holes

As I was dancing along on the dark streets this morning I was thinking about a bunch of stuff: a brief exchange on one discussion list about a principal who seemed to forget all the extra hours his harried teachers worked with their students requiring the teachers, as if they were children, to make up the official time lost during snow days by going about such busy work as helping coaches, staying after school, etc.; a TGIF coffee clutch a few of us on campus during which were remembering our old VP for Academic Affairs' great and serious concern, and the consequent continuous flow of memos, that we profressors hold classes for the required total 2500 minutes per Quarter; a discussion on how evaluations by students whose judgement the professors don't trust nevertheless force professors to teach defensively and "dumb down" their courses; and an exchange I am having with a young, dedicated professor, concerned that her students truly learn, but whose focus on the problems of testing and assigning grade is blocking her desire to try out new approaches to her teaching.

As I was mulling over these discussions, the lines of a couplet I once read on the wall of a Mayflower Coffee Shop in New York started runnig across my mind like a ticker tape tying these apparently separate exchanges together with a common thread (talk about a mixed metaphor!). It read:

		"As you wander on through life,
   		     whatever be your goal; 
		 Keep your eye upon the doughnut,
   		     not upon the hole.
I think we educators so often confuse the hole with the doughnut: method with spirit, quantity with quality, information with knowledge, performance with learning, grades with achievement. I told this young professor struggling to be a teacher that I think we worry so much, too much, about teaching methods, subject content, and assessment that we take our eyes off the doughnuts of education. I think we're wrong if we think of education solely in terms of being a transmission and reception of stock information. I think we're wrong if we think that IQs, SAT scores, grades, and degrees have real bearing on a satisfying life. Don't get wrong. I think these indicators have a place. But, maybe, in the long run, the development of an ability, the nurturing of a talent, the discovery of a potential, the uncovering of an inner worth, the planting of a faith in one's self, the awakening of a native creativity, the stirring of a courage to stand the hurt of failure and the desire to try again are the really nourishing doughnuts for the student--and the teacher--than the handing out and acquisition of some facts and axioms, the assigning of some grade, and the getting of a degree.

I think we so often keep our eye on hole of "going by the book" that we've forgotten how to munch on the doughnut of teaching by the "seat-of-your-soul." So, I wish we would worry less about the "holes" and more about "doughnuts." I wish we would worry less about methods and more about the creative impulse, passion, perception and attitudes, and intuition that energize, invigorate, and fortify methods with a vitality and force. I wish we would worry less about pedantry and more about creating a classroom climate which holds students spell-bound, sweeps them up in unbounded excitement of learning, in which is blended playfulness and seriousness, in which a feeling of well-being dominates. I wish we would talk less about teaching as a career and talk excitedly more about teaching as a calling, a mission, as an intrinsive part of the good life. I wish we would talk about teaching as delicious, satisfying doughnuts: as a craft that is important; as a way of conceiving personal and social involvement, social responsibility, and contribution; as a doorway to new experiences, new sources of satisfaction, gains of wisdom and humility, growth and enhancement of life for both student and teacher. I wish we would worry more about creating a classroom climate which shuns tediousness, the mundane, the prosaic, the staleness, the dull, the boring, and all the other "holes." I wish we would worry more about getting our teeth into creating a nutritional classroom doughnut shop whose aromatic wisps encourage the desire to learn, foster an active interest in what is being taught, sustain a focus on the subject; that entice students with the alluring and tasty ingredients of timing, freshness, surprise, invention, innovation, flair, fabrication, suspense, imagination, dexterity, improvisation, flexibility, adaptation to the unexpected, and idiosyncracy.

The best advice, training, or modeling will only produce that slavish imitation if we focus only on the holes of trivial mechanics and unthinking routine and subject worship. All our suggestions would be full of holes if we place too much faith in the "best way", if we proclaim too loudly, the "only way", if we disregard ingenuity; if we forget that there are no ready-made solutions, that nothing comes in three simple steps or four easy lessons, and that fine teaching cannot been prefabricated in a fixed pedagogical recipe or reduced to a parsimonious formula; if we haven't learned that there's always a way of looking at the familiar in unfamiliar ways; there's always a better way, a novel solution, and unsuspected alternative; if we forget that we never step into the same class twice.

The true measure of training, advice or modelling of teaching is not in pointing to the hole with an edict of method and assessment, but in holding up the doughnut with a statement of principle energized by a restless, insatible, unending professional or missionary "hunger" to help others, and a determined sense of the glory of the mission of teaching: know your subject without worshipping it, be in command of good methods and never let them command you, never get too comfortable, be dedicated to people and have a passion for each of them, value of your craft and each student, have the courage to take chances, play your "hunch", follow your gut feeling and have the guts to fail, don't compare yourself to others since there will always be someone better and someone lesser and someone different, have honest inner satisfaction and fulfillment in whatever you do, value your creativity, value your potential, and above all believe in yourself and each student. Just some doughnuts as food for thought.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
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