Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 31 Mar 1996 18:14:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: Being A Teacher

It's afternoon this rainy Sunday. This is the first day in several weeks I've been unison with myself. I've been feeling out of sync with myself lately and not in the mood to share although so many exciting things have happened the last few weeks. I guess it's because I haven't wandering the pre-dawn streets in almost three weeks. My L5 & L6 degenerated discs--at least, what's left of them--have been acting up for the first time in a few years. Ordinarily I wouldn't let an ache or two keep me inside, but when the beautiful boss of the house, unimpressed with my proclamation of having a Ph.D., says with both her succulent lips and the piercing, laser stare of her alluring eyes, "Thou shalt not walk," cowardice being the best part of discretion, I merely reply, "yes, ma'am" and obey. But, not having felt an ache for a few days, Susan finally gave in, unlocked the chain, and let me go out for a sort--I didn't tell it was a fast--two-mile walk during a pause in the release of drifting rain clouds.

My muscles ached. My lungs screamed for air. My breathing heaved. But, I felt reborn. I felt like I was experiencing the effects of the spiritual counterpart to my beginning of the term class "getting to know ya" exercises. I felt as if I was breaking down barriers within myself, building bridges between me and my spirit, creating a community between the two.

As my spirit burst forth and flowed free once again, I started thinking of a student whom I'll call Bob and of a demand he made of me Friday. Friday was the second day of the Spring Quarter and of the "getting to know ya" exercises I use to start forging a classroom learning community. We had had an in-class treasure hunt each day to see first who had tatoos and then who had exotic pets; each day we had gone on a treasure hunt searching out in the class to meet ten people whom we didn't know. The students had engaged in a "what do you want to know about me" interview of me. And, we had just started interviewing each other with a set of questions. I ended class by asking each of them to bring in a symbol of themselves to show and explain to the class on Monday.

At the end of the class, Bob came up to me. I didn't yet know him. He introduced himself to me saying, "You said that five years ago you started being a teacher."

"Yeah," I replied with an affirmative look on my face.

"Well," he continued, "I think that sounds good, but I don't think it says very much about what being a teacher is."

As I heard those few words, I could feel the excitement stirring within me thinking, "and it's only the second day of class."

He continued. "I read one of the letters from one of the students in last quarter's class that you asked to write us about your class. That person said that you like us to challange you and question your answers, and that we should be brave enough to risk pinning your ass to the wall. That's what she said. Is that really true?"

"Interesting way to put it, but--yep." My outer calm belied the fact that I was jumping up and down inside with anticipation.

"Well," he went on with obvious nervousness, "you just told us to bring in something that we would tell the class about on Monday that would show everyone what we felt about ourselves. And, you said this was our class. So, I think you should do the same thing and bring in something to explain to us what you really mean about being a teacher."

I almost couldn't keep the silent scream, "YES", what swelled up in my throat from blurting out. I almost choked keeping it down. "That's some challenge. Tooks guts. Have a Tootsie Pop."

I think I skipped all the way back to my office. In my office, propped my feet on the desk, unwrapped a Tootsie Pop ,and excitedly started sucking on it as I took a quick glance at the class role. It showed that Bob was in the university's math and writing skills deficient developmental program. Maybe. His challenge and question, however, were anything but developmental. Now I had a job to do.

That was my last class of the day. I walked home, still a bit cheery. Then, reality set in. This wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. What to find and bring in. I couldn't bring in either an apple to cut and reveal the star at its center or bring in a hammer to represent a goldminer's pick. They were old hat. I've done that before. I ran from room to room wondering; I rummaged through closets searching; I tore through drawers hoping. Nothing. I thought about it all day yesterday while I was driving and my wife was reading. Nothing. I was getting concerned. I enlisted Susan's help. She and I searched for something while we wandered hand-in-hand through Jacksonville's malls. Nothing. I thought about it as I was driving home and Susan was dozing. Nothing. I was getting worried. I thought about this morning. Nothing. I was getting desperate. Panic was beginning to set in. I was having occasional nasty thoughts about Bob.

But, on the home short leg of my walk, when the only thing I was thinking about was the exhilaration of just being on the asphalt again, an unexpected vision came to me. I rushed home and ran into my study. There it was. I'd bring to class tomorrow a velvet arm cover from our old couch that my wife and I had lugged a few days ago into my study and had stored standing end-up in a corner to make way for the new living room furniture. I grabbed the soft cover and rubbed it gently between my hands. And, it all made such sense. I was off the spot. Let me tell you why.

I like the touch of velvet and that touch is a perfect symbol to me for being a teacher, for this is what I will tell the students as I told up the cover: I unequivocably believe that being a teacher is far more being with people then being with a subject. Being a teacher is being in the classroom for someone else. It is struggling _daily_ to touch others and to make a difference _each_ day in their lives. I have found that in the academic world of cold calculation and cold, hard facts many people find it difficult to recognize that we all touch each other. The intellectual climate creates what I believe is a false image that there is little place, little dignity, little seriousness, little prestige, little value in what some derisivsely call the soft, warm "touchy-feely" passionate experience of learning. But, I am convinced that emotion, touching people and opening their hearts and eyes, is as important a part of education as transmitting information and opening up their minds. Yeah, that velvet arm couch cover will do very nicely as my symbol tomorrow.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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