It seems this past week or ten days, there have been a cluster of “Hey, Dr. Schmier” suddenly flurrying all around me, all unexpected, all in the strangest places and at the strangest times: at a coffee house, at a restaurant, at a gas station, at a food market, even from a visitor at the synagogue, and now at an event at the University. They each have been creating a deepening joyous serenity and warmth within me as past students came up to me. They presented themselves, though they didn’t know it, as demonstrations that I had unwittingly passed what I call a real assessment, the “ten year test.” There were hand shakes and hugs, teary eyes and smiles from these past students who were in class with me not five or seven years ago, but fifteen, twenty, and twenty-four years ago.From them, I discovered seeds that had unknowingly found fertile soil and thrived. Seeds that had sprouted, had become deeply rooted, and had bloomed far beyond the confines of the classroom walls, the end of the term, and the completion of the college experience into the distant working and living realms. Seeds that would slip under the radar of any traditional, subject oriented classroom assessment instrument on learning. Seeds that moved me to tears time and time again as I found out that the character values that had come from my soul had found their way to the hearts and actions of others throughout their personal, professions, and family lives; values that had touched these people and altered the direction of their lives, values that had created an inspired and passionate vitality, values which had actually changed the world and altered the future. I felt a profound feeling of deep accomplishment, meaning, and purpose. And, I’ll leave it at that.
Well, actually I won’t. I won’t because even though I am no longer in the classroom, contrary to what some think, my experiences, said through the students, can teach a lot to those who wish to learn. I won’t because after hearing Misty Copland, I could have sworn she had read my “Teacher’s Oath” and been my classes. She talked about the need for a conscious daily renewal of passion in order to stay away from the rut of dulling routine, of the need for what I call “the three ‘-tudes” of attitude and aptitude and fortitude, of having hard and demanding fun at whatever we’re doing. I won’t because these past students represent a need to comprehend, understand, and empathize with each student, each of whom comes into class walking on a different road. I won’t because most of us reveal an ignorance of the latest research on brain development when we proclaim “They are adults” as if these college kids had suddenly metamorphosed from being quirky juveniles in high school to being rational adults in college two months later. I won’t because these students, and goodness knows how many unknown others, demonstrate that while you cannot motivate people, you can inspire them to reach for their stars; that you can help students help themselves to break out of their confining prisons with your heart; that you can help them circumvent constricting boundaries with your spirit; and, that you can see hidden realities with soulful eyes; that you can be that person who can help each student help her/himself strive to become the person he or she can become.
As they talked to me, their words struck my heart like bolts of lightning and reverberated through my soul like claps of thunder: “It had everything to do with life, not just this class, and how I was going to use it and live it”…. “ You were a challenge to take a risk and make mistakes….” “It wasn’t just a history class, it was a class in the human experience, my human experience…” “We replaced the word ’stranger’ with ‘friend’ and ‘family’ so we would risk doing stuff we wouldn’t have done otherwise…” “That class was full of such support and encouragement I never felt in another class.” “The class was good for my soul, and made me a better person and prepared me to be a better businessman, parent, and husband.” “You could touch the energy in that class. It was challenging and light hearted, demanding and easy-going, serious and smiling and laughing all at the same time because we were friends and family. And, I never let it slip away in anything I did.” “It was so much fun learning, serious fun, that it all seemed so ‘easy’…” “There was so much love and trust in that class room….taught me a lesson about life inside and outside my profession.” “I found confidence and self-esteem in that class.” “I could make a mistake and learn from it instead of being crucified for committing it. So, I took chances and learned a lot about who I was and what I am capable of doing, most of which I diddn’t know before I came into your class.” “That class helped me see that a challenge was a possibility and opportunity, not a barrier.” “The class was just plain magic.” And, on and on and on it went.
These students are the visible embodied result of living my “Teacher’s Oath” in and out of the classroom. They told me that I was right to see that while technology and pedagogy were important, we shouldn’t focus on them to the exclusion of focusing on the humanity of the individual and unique student; they told me that the classroom is a human world, not an information transmitting and receiving station; they told me that faith, hope, and love are antidotes to toxic dehumanizing perceptions and expectations generated by herding stereotypes and generalities and labels of students that poisoned every well; they told me that faith, hope, and love lift and ennoble each moment; they told me that faith, hope, and love forge a safe haven with unconditional and non-judgmental respect, kindness, caring, empathy, compassion, support, and encouragement.
I’ll end this reflection with portions of two messages I recently received from two of those students. One was in classroom nineteen years ago and is now special education teacher: “I want you to know you were my unspoken mentor. After reading over and over and over your ‘Teacher’s Oath’ that you just sent me, once again, I know why. I alway felt you were teaching to me, that your caring eyes were always on me. You noticed and cared about me, and were kind and patient with me, in class like no one else had done because of my ADHD. Saying it wasn’t enough for you or me. You always had time for me. You always read word for word what I wrote in my journal. You always acted in that way, especially through your active loving support and encouragement. I learned to trust you enough to pour out my heart and get things out into the open air through my journal entries. You were always showing you loved me, had faith in me, and had hope for me, and I should start having confidence and believing myself. I remember you writing the ‘Words For The Day” on the blackboard that said ‘Everyone has “dis-ability” and “dat-ability,” and don’t believe otherwise.’ I have been reading those words every day in the morning since. That became and still is my motto in life. It is the core of my teaching and living.” The second student, who was in class twenty-four years ago, wrote: “That trust fall and the singing in front of people—I sang the Flintstones theme—and the hands on projects using the class material in the triads all started teaching me a lot about myself, about trusting myself and others, and about respecting myself and others. They gave me such a confidence build up that I truly needed and helped me start overcoming my fear-based shyness. You made a heck of a difference in my life, how much I didn’t realize at the time. I’m still ‘taking’ trust falls and ’singing’ in front of people, in a manner of speaking. You taught me that learning, real learning, goes on and on beyond the classroom and college into myself. And now, I see to it that it goes into all around me. Every now and then you pop into my mind and what you once called ’the three -tudes in life’: attitude, aptitude, and fortitude,’ and that the most important is ‘attitude.’ I haven’t thought about them in a while, but after seeing and talking with you, I see they’re still always there inside and with me. I realize I never really forgot them and am always using them, and helping my co-workers and, above all, my children to use them.…”