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!

I’ve Really Gotta Go!

Earlier this week in one of my classes a student suddenly out of the blue loudly blurted out,
“Can I get a bathroom pass? I’ve really gotta go!”
“No.” This is my characteristic response. It’s easy for students to ask for hall passes and special privileges but it’s equally easy for me to say no. Which I do. The word “no” is such a wonderful word.

The situation escalated. Wailing. Pleading. Begging. Mercy, just a little mercy, PLEASE!
“If I can’t go to the bathroom right now…! I’m gonna pee all over the floor, right HERE!

Really? Right there? Uh-oh, this was becoming serious. Perhaps even alarming.

“Ok,” I back pedaled. “I’ll give you a bathroom pass. On one condition.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“The length of time you’re gone from class to the bathroom is the length of time you get to stay in here after class.”

You know what this girl did when she heard that? I’ll tell you. She let out an agonized cry* and I can’t describe it any other way.

Isn’t the drama in these classrooms amazing?

“So, do you still want a bathroom pass?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, with surprising calm and composure.
That wonderful word “no” again. See? the students like it too.

And she didn’t even pee right there.

*Some elements of this tale have been exaggerated for the sake of a good story