April 30, 2012

An Octogenarian Plus Four recalls himself as a grade school lad wonderfully coordinated athletically but little interested in the life of the mind or academic pursuit.  His anxious mother would say in asides:  “Er kann nicht lesen (German – ‘He can’t read’.  His teachers, it is recalled, almost yearly, it seemed suggested that, perhaps,  grade promotion should be postponed.  Needless to relate this lad approached the academic rigors of high school with self-doubt and lack of confidence. THE TRAP WAS SET.Approaching an algebra test in the first weeks as a high school freshman (sextaner – sixth class before graduation at Concordia, Milwaukee), filled with anxiety and fear of failure, the lad froze unable to proceed.  A kindly instructor provided understanding and encouragement and at a later date the test was mastered with confidence and positive academic success.  Becoming increasingly confident in both physical and academic confidence high school, college and graduate school, in spite of periodic lapses and lesson needing to be rediscovered,  academic achievement became reality.

Some years later this lad now a college instructor upon several occasions had students approach his notorious essay examinations, “tell me all you know, etc.”,  with, fear, anxiety, and self-doubt staring at a blank paper with frozen pen in hand unable to proceed.  Remembering well his own experience as a student he quietly gave assurance all would be well, “let’s talk about this, come back another time when you feel ready. I know and understand and have experienced what you are going though. Together we will not let fear overcome your obvious intellectual ability.”  What a pleasure for the instructor to exhibit such understanding and watch students gain in confidence in overcoming self-doubt in achieving academic success. Truly victory for both student and teacher.

This oft repeated experience as a teacher calls to mind a quotation memorized in a high school literature class. One of Shakespeare’s characters soliloquizes:  “The quality of mercy is not strained. It dropeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath and is twice blessed.  It blesseth him the gives and him that takes.”  Or in other words:  “What goes around comes around”.  However a phrase usually understood in negative context is not necessarily always so. Both the receiver and the giver of mercy, understanding, and encouragement are mutually blessed.


Published by profbartling1

Retired professor Concordia University, St. Paul, Mn. Taught mainly American History. Also taught in other areas of history, philosophy, and theology,

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