Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 15 Oct 1995 11:55:09 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: A Letter

Somewhere in the Talmud, there is something that goes, "I have learned a lot from my teachers and more from my colleagues. But I have learned the most from my students." How true. I just received such a profound lesson from a student who wrote an anonymous letter which I found a few minutes ago slipped under the door of my office. I want to share it with you because it teaches me that..... No, you decide what it teaches and why I want to share it with you:

Dear Dr. Louie (sic):

This is almost two years overdue but I'm going to graduate soon and I just finished your book and my folks are here for Homecoming. We were talking about me becoming a teacher and talked about you and felt I had to say something to you before I graduate, but I don't want to say it to your face. So here it is many months since I did a shield in your class and read a tidbit and jotted off a ratty evaluation and many miles down a road in both my school's and life's journey. I will write this as a reflection of where I was and where I seem to be now thanks to you. I don't want you to know who I am. I don't know why. I just don't. I don't think it's all that important. In fact, I wouldn't mind if you tore up this letter after you read it.

I always wanted to be a teacher, a real teacher not just a self- serving class room controller like most of the teachers and professors I've had, and I will be one next year. I have never talked to you about teaching or anything else for that matter, but I want you to know that you have talked to me when you knew my name and said "hi" as I walked by at the Student Union and when your eyes said you gave a damn and when you came over to me in the library and wanted to know how things were going and when you noticed me enough in class to throw me a Tootsie Pop across the room to brighten a miserable day and when you believed in me and gave me slack and when you trusted and respected me and the others to hear us and give us free rein in class and when you came into class saying you were down and needed us to help pick you up and when you exposed your inside to us without a hesitation and when you did a bunch of little things that meant a hell of a lot to me than I think you thought they did.

God knows that I learned more American history that I even thought I could. I still am amazed how much I am using in my other classes. Just as important are things that I learned in your class that had very little to do with American history. They had more to do with me and my own history and perceptions. I am one of those people who detested change and upheaval of any sort. The year prior to your class had been one of tremendous change and emotional trauma because of death in the family and broken love. So, by the time I came to your class my world as I had known was upside down, inside-out, and I was frozen in fear and lack of confidence. And I knew you sensed it and cared. I won't tell you how you did otherwise you might remember me. But, you did.

Your class, the others in the triad who I still go out sometimes with, the stuff and projects we did in class, and above all, you, enabled me to begin facing some fears although this has been a slow change for me. My definition of a leader, for example, has always been of someone who is out in front of everyone, leading them loudly into some sort of physical action. I was always a follower trailing behind. I used to let others including teachers lead me around. I never realized until my experiences in your--oops, OUR-- class that there are different kinds of leaders and in a real sense I *am* now a leader even though I am quiet. I can see where following what's true in my own heart and having the strength, courage and conviction to face myself and be responsible for myself is a trait of a leaders--and a teacher. I am beginning to understand what you mean when you always said that self-acceptance is the mark of true development, not the need to have the approval of others.

The experiences I had in your class, the challenges, the support, the encouragement, the achievements began a questioning in me that was a very necessary part of my beginning to grow as a person. To me, just the encouragement to risk to do, just that, was one of the most powerful tools for living that I learned how to use in your class and that I continue to use today in other classes and more important in my life. I know that for me today, the truths in my life are only momentary perceptions which, if not revaluated, can stagnate my potential as a growing human and a teacher.

You probably thought you never touched me because I was one of the quiet ones. Maybe even a resistant one. But, I want you to know what you've shown me what it is to be a teacher. I know now that to be a teacher I have to worry more about what I plant in a student's heart instead of just what I pour into their heads because real education is the spirit for learning what's left over after the facts have been forgotten. If I want to be a great teacher I can't just tell or explain or demonstrate, but I have to inspire. The greatest power I will have as a teacher is the power of example. I know that students will do best when I do best. I know now that what I will teach best and receive the greatest joy when I am generous with my heart, when I teach more by who I am than what I will say or do because I can't love students without giving myself to them, and only by caring can I truly be a successful teacher. I have learned that for teaching to be real I have to have it make a life for myself and not just be a living and I have to show that to students about learning, too.

Well, that's all I want to say. Have a Tootsie Pop.

I am not going to tear up this letter. A friend of mine, Judi Neal, says she has what she calls "sacred objects" in her office to remind her that when things get her down, they're there to nourish her as reminders about all the things she loves about teaching: the students, the chance to make a difference, the chance to grow and be a better human being. She say meditating on those objects all of her negativity slips away and she feels good about who she is, where she is, and what she's doing. I understnd that. I guess by that definition of a sacred object I have my belaying rope at home in my study, a kuumba wood carving a student spent all last summer fashioning for me. Now, I have this letter as well.

Have a good one.


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

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