A very, very wet good morning. Thankfully, near-hurricane Beryl proved to be something of a wimp. It was more of a blowhard, windless, 4 rain inches event by the time it’s eye traveled over Valdosta yesterday. Yet, yesterday afternoon, as the rains came down, my cellphone rang. It was Barbara. She called to remind me of her “assignment deadline,” tropical storm or no tropical storm. ”Yes, ma’am,” I replied. Not being able to go out into my flower garden, while I was on home lockdown, I was actually thinking about what I would tell Barbara beyond what I had said almost two weeks ago. I was also reflecting on the workshop I had just given at RCCC’s Summer Institute in North Carolina. I hope I had offered what they wanted or needed. I certainly didn’t cover everything that I had planned, but answering questions and going into sidebars during the presentation will always do that. Speaking of that, I’ve learned that though I read up on RCCC or any institution where I give a workshop on teaching, I really don’t know the ins and outs of its faculty and administration. So, I can’t have any theory for it. I also don’t know who would be in the audience, what their stories are, what they are seeking, and what they are needing whether they know it or not. So, I don’t, I can’t, tell them what to think or what to do. All I can do, all I should do to my way of thinking, is share me and my story making sure they see a guy who had transformed from a pontificating professor to a loving teacher and who has been on his inner personal and professional journey for the last 20 years, making sure they understand nothing is quick, simple, sure fired, or easy, making sure what they see is the result of those decade of searches, learning, experimenting, misfirings, and achievement. So, I let the “theories” talk to them; I show them how theories talk to me; I share with them, and model, what I consequently think, feel, and do. I don’t, I can’t, tell them what to think or what to feel or what to do. I do help them look through the lens of the latest “brainology” on learning and show them consequently how to think and feel, and the why of such thinking and feeling. And, I let them draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions about what, if anything, to play with.
Back to Barbara. Not wanting to get a failing grade on her assignment, this is the first of two parts of what I wrote her. I told her that each day when I get out of bed I know I am going into a messy, complex, complicated life full of potential waylays, disappointments, unfairnesses, misfortunes, screw ups. But, if I make a commitment to a higher purpose, to pull that dedication into my life, to live a meaningful personal and professional life in accordance with my values, to refuse to compromise those values, I can fend off the distractions, temptations, static, noise; I won’t let the challenges get me down; I won’t let the setbacks be discouraging; I won’t dwell on the “one that got away” to stop me. Why? Well, for one thing complaining won’t accomplish anything. After all, you can’t build something positive with a bunch of negatives, and you can’t be on the move while stuck in the mud of resignation, frustration, or despair. For another thing, each “failure” reminds me of the places I want and can go, and maybe makes me even more determined. And finally, because who I want to be and what I want to do and where I want to go is clear as a bell, rings true as a bell, and cuts my path in the direction of true north. It’s about morality, ethic, personal awareness, personal otherness, service to others. It’s about what and how I can leave the world better than when I found it; it’s about doing something that will change the world and alter the future; it’s about doing something that will help others, one person at a time, become better people. Once I make those decisions on a macro level and abide by it, live it, in my daily micro and incremental choices, life is ethically easier and certainly more significant and fulfilling. And, to help me keep on the true and narrow, with the intention of making a difference that day, I bookend myself with a guiding morning and every-changing “to do” list and a “not to do” list, and an end-of-day, pre-wine and cheese, reflective and evaluating “done list.”
On the T.V. show, “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” James Lipton always asks his guests what would they want St. Peter to say to them when they stand before the Pearly Gates. Well, I’ve thought about that lately, feeling a deep sense of mortality, upon the sudden and unexpected death of my friend, colleague, and VSU’s Provost. I think St. Peter would say to me, “Hey, Schmier, before you say anything, don’t throw your resume in our faces. We don’t care what you did. We want to know who your are because who you are tells us why you did what you did. Were you patently a genuine human being? Were you too busy working to share, connect, and serve? Did you bring your heart and soul and spirit and dedicate yourself to a cause beyond your self-interest? We opened the doors for you to walk through. Who do you think screamed ‘boo’ in your ear, shook you to your soul, and let you have your epiphany so that you eventually found your place in the very place you were standing? We showed you the difference between wanting to be important and doing something important; we directed you to finding what you love doing and doing what you love. We got you past cancer; we let you survive unscathed an unsurvivable cerebral hemorrhage. We offered you the opportunity to see and understand what really mattered. We provided you the means to see that your resume of publications and titles and positions were not the best marks of success. Did you hear and answer the questions we asked of you: ’Whither did thou goest? What’s was the purpose of your life? What kind of person did you want to become? What kind of person did you become?’ So, did you stop over-investing in yourself and your career and under-investing in people? Did you then start investing heavily in others? Did you discover that loving relationships with family, friends, and students are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness? Did you see that you were your best teaching resource? Don’t talk to us in generalities and theories. Don’t give a list of books and articles you’ve read; don’t rattle off a list of authorities in the field of learning; don’t hand us all those pithy quotes of yours; and don’t point us to a catalogue of methods and technologies you used. We are not impressed by all that superficial stuff. Don’t excuse yourself by telling us that it wasn’t your job and that you outsourced people to other people. Don’t give us a string of ‘I couldn’t’ and ‘I wasn’t’ and ‘it was hard’ and ‘I didn’t know how.’ Tell us, what did you do with what we gave you? Give us names! Talk to us of how you took who everyone else condemned as a weed and nurtured into a beautiful flower. Talk to us about someone who was labeled small and ordinary and unimportant whom you noticed, cared about, and helped elevate to the heights of huge and extraordinary and important. Talk to us about the actual persons you found in the valley’s shadows and helped them learn how to climb to the mountaintop. Talk to us about the individual persons you actually helped, about the individuals you actually helped become better people.”
Maybe that should be an explicit part of our individual and institutional mission, that is, to help students think about their lives and not just their professions, to graduate as honors persons possessing a moral compass rather than just honor students possessing a degree and a credential; to help them play the responsibility game rather than the blame game; to know that while things happen to them in unpredictable ways, they have the profound power to choose the effect that has on the kind of people who they become; to help them understand that professional accomplishment, fulfillment, and happiness aren’t necessarily synonymous terms; and to send them on their way with a strength of character and deeply ingrained values that will help them keep from losing their way.
That has had a heck of an impact on me. It’s made me see sharper, listen keener, and feel deeper. It’s made me a more aware person; it’s made me a more alive person; it’s made me a more hopeful and loving person; it’s made me a more empathic person; it’s made me a more selfless and serving person; it’s made me a more purposeful person; it’s made me a more fulfilled person; it’s made me a happier person; and, it’s made me a damn better teacher each day.
Now, it is easy to be preachy to yourself and students. The problem with such sermonizing, however well intended, is that people, and that includes you and me, will listen and see on their own time not on our time. Yet, it far more meaningful and just as easy to be spiritual without being preachy. Just preach with living your life, not with your words. Speak with you eyes, facial expressions, hands, body language, vocal tones and inflections. And, from reading daily student journal entries and having subsequent conversations, that is especially critical, for students What that means is that we better be living a life of values, modeling ‘do as I do’ rather than ‘do as I say and not as I do,’ so that when the occasion arises we are around modeling what we wish they would learn to live proves valuable to each of them.