– Part One –

April 4, 2012

On October 1, 2011, I sent up a trial balloon: Would the public be interested in trying out my daily quotation tweets.  Now that these tweets have been running for a half year, I figured it would be a good idea to have a referendum on them—hence this blog.

Now for the story behind these daily tweets:

I’ve always loved quotations, the most condensed and concise source of distilled wisdom we know, even more condensed than poetry.  Way back when I began my teaching career in California’s gold country, one day I decided to try something new: give my students something to look at besides me.  So I wrote a quotation in chalk on the blackboard.  It proved to be a hit: it was the first thing students looked at when they entered the classroom.  Over the years, as I moved from junior high to senior high to college English, there remained one constant: a quotation each day.  I soon learned that merely scribbling any ol’ quotation wouldn’t work; it takes hard work to keep young people interested in anything!  Too stodgy or philosophical, and they’d lose interest.  So I learned to mix in enough humor so they never knew from one day to the next what kind of quotation would set the day’s mood—for a teacher has that kind of power over the students who willingly or unwillingly stream in and out of his/her classroom.

In this vein, long ago in a convention, I wrote down a quotation I so internalized that it became part of who I am: There is only one unforgivable sin in teaching: and that is to bore your students.  Because of this awareness of how difficult it is to maintain students’ interest from day to day, I never permitted my classes to become predictable.  Consequently, they never knew from one day to the next what tangent they’d find me on next.  I’d even switch in mid-class: if I saw that deadly glazing of eyes, I’d leapfrog into a story, substitute something radically different, take them for a walk, go outside, sit on the lawn or in the shade of a tree—anything to regenerate interest.

* * *

Well, many years went by, and I made a life-changing decision: take early retirement from the formal classroom in order to write full-time.  In essence, to trade direct mentoring for indirect mentoring.  In truth, I really miss the daily one-on-one interaction with my students, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world for now I am blessed by letters and emails from all around the world from people (young and old) who through our books, stories, blogs, and tweets, feel they are vicariously sitting in a virtual classroom with me.

In the sixteen years since I left the formal classroom, a serendipity has to do with the large number of former students of mine who have re-entered our lives—an honor I do not take lightly.  For it is little honor to hold students captive in a given classroom, but it is a great honor to have even one voluntarily re-enter my world!

It is interesting to note what brings them back, and it violates most everything methodology teachers tell you in education classes.  They re-enter my life because each one felt I loved him or her.  That I always tried to be kind.  That though I made more than my fair share of mistakes, when I did so I could be counted on to apologize to them publicly.  That they remembered how hard I tried not to ever bore them.  That we laughed a lot. That my interest in them continued long after graduation. That I told or read lots of stories.  In fact, I’ve had a number of them write or phone me, saying, Dr. Wheeler, I wake up in the middle of the night and hear you reading to me!  For there is something in being read to that indelibly embeds itself in memory.

In fact, it was former students who helped propel this traditional dinosaur into the digital world of blogging.  They’d say or write, “Dr. Wheeler, I miss your classroom so much—if only I could re-enter it again.  Hear your voice.  See you cackle”.  Which brings me to a recent article on our books and stories penned by a former student of mine, Kimberly Luste Maran.  For it, she interviewed three of my former students about what they remembered about my classes—scary!  For one never knows what idiosyncrasy they’ll remember.  Let me quote from one of these:

Sadly, my favorite memory of Dr. Wheeler lacks all context now: I cannot for the life of me remember my good-natured but ‘snarktastic’ remark—possibly something about refusing to do my final paper on Zane Grey?  But I will always have that perfect mental snapshot of how the venerable white-haired elder of the English Department paused for a second behind his posh wooden desk, then stuck his tongue out at me like a schoolkid.

                                    —Camille Lofters, English/pre-law, and journalism major,

                                       1995 graduate (Adventist Review, Dec. 16, 2010)

When one considers how incredibly difficult it is to snag even a millisecond of another person’s time in this hectic world we live in, it is a near miracle if even one person takes time to listen to what we say.  That’s why I never take for granted the undeserved honor so many pay me by reading our books or stories, or tuning in to these weekly blogs.

Or daily tweets.  One of the key factors in getting me to take the inertia-breaking decision to sire a series of daily quotation tweets had to do with the number of former students who admitted that they wrote down in their notebooks their favorite quotations—but what really boggled my mind was their adding, “And I’ve kept them all these years!”

* * * * *

Next week, I’ll get into a discussion of why I feel our daily quotation tweets are different from anything else out there in cyberspace.  Also what kind of rhythm there is to these daily choices.  And finally, why I’d love to hear back from you about your reactions to these tweets.

Please stay tuned.  I’ll see you next week!

Follow me on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/joewheelerbooks