Well, those uneducational things that have little to do with deep and lasting learning we call "final grades" are finally in. Took me a couple of "late nighters," since my first priority was nursing Susie. Anyway, the semester is completely over for me. By my reckoning, I just ended my 44th year here at VSU, and I don't intend to stop counting. You know neither longevity nor age itself doesn't stop anything, attitude does. That is, only I stop creating, I stop imagining, I stop experimenting, I stop risking, I stop improving, I stop growing, I stop changing. I am, like everything else, the embodiment of change, a proverbial work in progress. I am not a "human being." I am a moving, dynamic "human becoming." My routine is to never let anything become dull, boring, "in-my-sleep," rut-ish routine. I am a sculptor, always chiseling, chipping away here and there, reshaping everywhere my life sculpture. I am an artist on whose life canvas I am always painting, a stroke here, a scene change there, a change everywhere. My life, any life, is a work in constant process. It is a curious paradox that as I accept me for who I truly am, I then can transform me into becoming.
So, what have I learned in these 44 years of teaching, 71 years of living, as well as having survived both cancer and a massive cerebral hemorrhage, about what really matters? A bunch of things that I use to keep me on the move. But, if there are any items that should be at the top of that list, these are the five: first, education has become too "thingified," that is, degrees, resumes, publications, grants, renown, titles, tenure, grades, GPAs, recognitions don't really bring lasting inner peace and fulfillment as too many people expect; second, what matters is not what you have, but what you feel about and do with what you have. That is, it is always your choice, and your attitude is always your choice; third, education is not an exercise without human beings, that is, the beat of the classroom is the heart beat, not the clicking computer, not the clicking clickers, not the turning of lecture pages, not the scratching of notes; fourth, the vision in your heart and soul directs your line of sight and what you see; and last, but maybe first, get up with a "yes," enthusiastically get going, and live every aspect of life joyously now.
How do these five teaching impact on my teaching--and my personal life as well? Well, as I get older and gain more experience, the outer shells have been stripped away. All the "what have I done" resume crap drops away revealing the significant soulful presence of "who I am becoming" stuff. I've found that a lot of people, far too many people, are asking "where's the beef," but are really looking for and accepting "pink slime" filler. They may truly want a newness, sometimes even a purpose, for their teaching, but, they are restricted by what I'll called a "negative fixedness," that is habits of perceptions which blind and deafen them to who is inside them and right in front of them. They so fixate on a negative reality; they care more about the security for their job, more about what others will think and do, than for their soul and their happiness. They seem to forget that there's risk in everything; they seem to forget to accept, manage, or learn how to manage risk and transform it into achievement. Instead, they let a habit of fear become more powerful than a habit of purpose. They close their minds and hearts, and consequently are prone to raising drawbridges and shutting doors. They want a new teaching method or approach on their quick, easy, comfortable, convenient, guaranteed, and safe terms, and let their fears deafen and blind them to what the latest research on learning is recommending. They want results but not at the expense of remaking their lives, of opening the gates to their protective walls, preferring to live by guarantee, rationale, and old habit rather than by intuition, inspiration, purpose, vision, new habit, and significance, never realizing that what they fear is far more often benign than malignant, never understanding that protective walls are also imprisoning walls. They weren't ready, didn't feel a strong need, to change what Charles Duhigg calls a "keystone habit," to "rechunk" thoughts and actions, necessary to reprogram the other attitudes and routines in their professional and personal lives.
Where's the "beef?" It's in a steady and unswerving dedication to a vision. And, the vision? My vision? I'll keep it simple. For me, teaching has come down to seven words: "Do it unconditionally for each 'human being.'" I've learned to strip away preconceived, impersonal, cold, distant, disconnected perceptions inherent in the surface label "students;" I've learned to go deep and see each of them instead as a "sacred human being" or "noble and unique person," and a class as a "gathering of diverse 'ones.'" I've learned to guide myself by one question and one question only: "What will make each person's life better and help her or him live the better life?" It's a vision that can't pry me from believing in, having hope for, unconditionally loving, and plying what I do in that classroom in the service of each of them.
So, if you want a resonant, positive, growth mindset and believe you can help change a life--and that is THE essential "if"--, if you want the sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and significance of what it is you do in the classroom--and that is THE second essential "if"--, if you want to be in the service of others--and that is THE third essential "if"--you have to change your routine. You have to learn to listen closely, see intensely, think hard, connect tightly, feel deeply, roll up your sleeves, be patient with yourself and others, go into the risky "scary zone," challenge any "negative fixedness," create and experience a "positive reality," be a "disruptive innovator," be a "resonant leader," create and enjoy, know and admit to what you don't know, populate that lonely extra mile, walk more on that road less taken, be in it for the long haul, move incrementally but significantly.
But, take care, this is not as easy, quick, simple, risk-free, error-free, guaranteed, or "in-my-sleep" effortless as it may seem. Nothing worthwhile is. But, if you want to get into and stay in shape you have to keep that heart pumping not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
Make it a good day
Louis Schmier http://www.therandomthoughts.edublogs.org
Department of History http://www.therandomthoughts.com
Valdosta State University
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