Are We Listening?

It’s easy to talk. It’s harder to listen and I think even harder to ask good questions.
Lady Listening Carefully

As a Math Tutor in the public schools I am reminded over and over the importance of listening. A student asks me for help so I kneel next to him, look over the problem they’re struggling with and… immediately want to start talking. Instead, what I try forcing myself to do is ask, “What are you having trouble with?” After they’re done telling me I immediately want to start talking again!

However, I’m finding it’s better to ask, “Explain to me what you’ve tried doing so far.” As they begin explaining I listen and pretty soon can usually spot the problem. Then guess what? I want to start telling them what they’re doing wrong!

My interrupting and explaining isn’t best for their learning. They get a lot of lecture already. I’m convinced they need someone to ask good questions that challenge their thinking and force them to struggle to the point of either 1) self discovery or 2) entering a teachable mood. Spoon feeding only makes them hungry for more spoon feeding.

Here’s the kicker: I find after I’ve listened and probed for awhile they usually do reach a teachable moment (if not self-discovery). At that point I can say something succinct and relevant that hits home with them. Then they lift their heads and say, “Aha! I get it!”

So yes, there is a time and place for teaching. However, I still maintain there are many more times and places for asking questions and listening.

Now think about Jesus: He knew everything and was the greatest teacher of all time. Did that mean he went around spouting off everything he knew all the time? No, he asked questions. These questions engaged His listeners. Then, when his listeners were in a teachable spirit he would tell them something.

According to this interesting list, in the book of Matthew alone it’s recorded Jesus asked over 80 questions!

Amazing. Convicting. Let’s ask more. Let’s listen more.

James 1:19, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”

Photo Credit: Speak up, sonnyboy!

What’s for Lunch?

Every morning in the High Schools I’m working in there are morning announcements broadcasted to all the students via intercom.

Usually among the announcements a lunch menu for the day is given. Recently I heard one particularly un-appetizing sounding lunch menu, I forget what it was, something like burned lime flavored goulash delight with sides of broccoli and asparagus or something. Anyways, this particular day after the cafeteria menu was given the announcer stopped talking and there was a dramatic pause.

Then in a low voice he said, “…but as for ME… I’m thinking Arby’s.”

That really cracked me up. I wonder how many students went to Arby’s that day? I know I was tempted to!

The Fine Art of Procrastination

Last week my professor informed our class of a large assignment that would soon be due. I clearly recall her sternly warning us all, “Now don’t wait until the night before to start on this project because it’s going to take longer than that!”

Well, I took her words to heart. I followed her advice and didn’t wait until the night before to start like she advised. Unfortunately, I actually started even later than that… I started the morning it was due. And class starts at 9:50 AM!

Nevertheless, against all odds and despite her nay saying, I still got it done in time (submitted it online before class started). My final product was a seven page paper. We’ll see what grade I get. Nothing like running things down to the wire though to cause a little heartburn.

I guess it’s like my older brother Seth says, “If you wait until the last minute to do something, it only takes a minute to do.” When my Dad hears that, he likes to wryly remark, “And it only takes a minute to grade too.” We’ll see.

In my defense, I had been thinking about the assignment beforehand so some of the “brainwork” was already done.

But I wonder, why is it human nature (well, at least MY nature) to procrastinate? Why is time management so hard?

Photo Credit: Procastination Cat

UPDATE: July 27th

I just got my grade back on this paper. I received an A. I guess I pulled the wool over her eyes.

UPDATE #2: November 16th

Boundless had a relevant post here on procrastination: Craving Crisis

A Piece of Advice From a Cancer Survivor

In my post yesterday on being late to class I mentioned I had to give a presentation for school. The topic I was assigned to discuss was children diagnosed with malignant cancer. I was supposed to address specific issues or concerns teachers might face or at least need to be aware of while instructing said students.

At the end of my presentation I asked the class if anyone was a cancer survivor. One man, Matt (not his real name) raised his hand. I asked Matt if he had any special advice for the rest of the class on how we could appropriately interact with people who had cancer. Matt then took the floor for a few minutes and held everyone spellbound. It definitely brought some life to my boring presentation and woke everyone up.

In case you’re curious, one thing Matt said we should do was to just listen and empathize instead of launching into personal stories we may know of others who had cancer. He said that hearing second hand stories of other cancer patients never helped him feel better. In fact, Matt said when people would do that it made him feel like they considered themselves a cancer expert (because of the stories they knew) when in reality he didn’t feel like they understood what he was going through at all.

Matt pointed out too that all cancer stories have one of two endings: Either the person survived or died. In his opinion neither outcome was very comforting and here’s why:

Obviously the stories where the patient died was not very comforting. But the survivor stories weren’t comforting to him either because he felt they implied the individual who survived was especially tough or somehow super human. And Matt said (I’m paraphrasing) he didn’t feel that tough or super human while going through cancer treatments. And wouldn’t that imply he might not make it?

It seems to me that a lot of being “Christ-like” is true humility, thinking about others, putting ourselves last, genuinely caring, and keeping our mouths shut. (All things I don’t do well!)

I love what C.S. Lewis had to say about humble people in his book Mere Christianity:

     "Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will
     be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be
     a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you
     that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will  think 
     about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who
     took a real interest in what you said  to him. If you do dislike
     him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who 
     seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about 
     humility:  he will not be  thinking about himself at all."
Photo Credit: Advice

That’s the Story of My Life – A Day Late and a Dollar Short

So how do I respond when things aren’t going as planned? This morning I got to find out.

Here was the problem: I needed to print thirty handouts for a presentation I was scheduled to deliver this morning in my college summer class. The class started at 7:30am.

On this particular project I had procrastinated so long I was still scrambling to finish up last minute details 5am this morning. Everything was done except for the 30 double-sided Fact Sheets I needed to print out.

Would you know it? My printer got through several and then ran out of ink. Not good news. I was a little peeved but quickly came up with an alternate plan.

Here was Plan B: drop by my parents’ house on the way to school and print the remainder using their printer. Good plan, right?

I breezed into my folks house at the crack o’ dawn. They were still asleep. Slipping downstairs to the computer I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl under their computer desk to access the awkwardly placed USB port. I was in such a hurry that I accidentally tipped the computer over on its side. No big deal, right?

Wrong. My parents’ computer crashed. Cold. I tried turning it on and off several times. It would try to boot, but then die with a gasp of its jet-powered sounding fans.

Drat. Foiled again.

Time for Plan C: Use my parents’ printer with my laptop. That should work. Uh-oh, I didn’t have the correct printer drivers. Well, perhaps I could download said drivers off the internet? After some travail I got an internet connection, found the drivers on the HP website, downloaded them, installed them, and… their printer still wouldn’t recognize my laptop.

The hands of the clock now stood at 7:31. Class started one minute ago. Time was ticking Cinderella. Quite disgusted, disgruntled, sour and perturbed I flew out of my parents’ house, hopped in my drag car (i.e. aging Jeep) and headed to school.

I think at this point I had forgotten all about the verse:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6)

To my credit, I didn’t speed. At least not by much. But I didn’t pray either. Instead I stewed and thought, “This is ridiculous! Failure on a triple redundant magnitude!”

Maybe another reason I didn’t pray was because I realized I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. If I hadn’t procrastinated until the last minute I wouldn’t have been in such a fix.

Plan D. The computer lab closest to my classroom in the Education building. Surely it would have a printer I could use. 7:50 found me standing in front of the doors to the computer lab. The closed doors to the computer lab. The closed, LOCKED doors to the computer lab. The sign informed me it didn’t open until 8 o’clock, ten minutes away.

Plan E. The printers in the library… clear across campus. Hike, hike, hike. Nope, the library was closed too. What about the 24-hour study room? Yes, one aging printer! Perhpas it would work?

One final detail: I wanted to print these Fact Sheets off on spiffy green paper I had brought with me. But what was this? The paper tray on the crazy old printers was padlocked shut!?? How was I going to get an A on the assignment if my Fact Sheets were printed on boring, plain old ordinary white paper? NO! They must be printed on eye-catching neon green paper. It was the only way to guarantee success.

Then I spied a copy machine that didn’t have locked paper trays. Yesss. Insert green colored paper.

Ooops, that was upside down. Ooops, that was the wrong side. Allright, that’s what I want. Print 30 of those suckers. What’s this? Why is the copier spitting out long paper rolls of goobered inky nastiness?

I take my seat in class. Fifty minutes late. Fortunately, I’ve arrived in the Nick of time, only moments before my turn to present.

Yes, now it’s my turn. After first handing out my Fact Sheets (printed on eye-catching green paper) I calmly deliver my presentation. We’ll see what grade I get. The green paper had better of helped.

So to answer my original question, “How do I respond when things aren’t going as planned?” I would say poorly at first, then better. When my printer ran out of ink at my apartment I was filled with malaise and a sense of impending doom. Then at my parents house when their computer crashed I got irritated. Like, really irritated. Ok, like, well, REALLY irritated.

However, by the time I was at school standing in front of the locked computer lab doors I was finding the situation nearly comical. Nearly. But hey, it all worked out in the end, right? Just like Paul said,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

Photo Credit 1: Are We Running Out Of Time?
Photo Credit 2: Getting There On Time