Let the other people know they are important: a win-win strategy

Last week I had a to substitute a volunteer teacher in her, according to her, problematic class. I meet her in a monthly teacher reunion in the foster home I am volunteering in. I meet all the teachers for the first time and all of them gave me a great first impression with the exception of one of the teachers. All of us were trying to find solutions to the enormous variety of problems this association for immigrants has to face of, like the lack of attendance, participation and motivation of the students. I was all ears because my experience with immigrants was close to nothing. There were all kinds of positive comments all addressed to improve the situation. I loved the passion and the positiveness of all the volunteers but for one person.

This woman, teaching a group of students in the higher level of Spanish, did nothing but complain of her students: they miss classes, then they don’t speak, and also they are critical with her and her methods, and then they are very ungrateful… she was complaining of one student in particular… let’s call him Falou. The rest of us were listening and trying to cheer her up by advising her not to take it so personally. Her reaction and the words that ending the meeting and with the good vibes of all of us were that she was a good teacher, she was following the same programme the National School of Languages established and  if the students didn’t learn was because they didn’t attend all the classes and they didn’t want to participate when she started any debating topic and finally that she didn’t need to put up with any critic and the students should be thank her for being there instead of criticize.

After that “speech” she came to me to ask me for a favor: she needed someone to be in charge of her class for a couple of days. It didn’t take me a second to accept. A supposed tricky class was very appealing since I’m always up for a challenge but more than that was the fact that I really wanted to know if her students were so bad.

The day came. The afore mentioned Falou appeared. A big guy, over two meters tall, strong and a striking unfriendly face. The other students appear as well and the class began. Ok, as defense of the complaining teacher, I must say Falou had a very defiant attitude and he overtly refused to answer when asked… at the beginning.

Falou is a teacher, he’s born somewhere in Africa, did his studies and moved to USA where he created a family and left the country. He has been an English teacher for 25 years. Now he has to send money to support his family, living miles away in the States. He knows how to teach a language to foreigners and he learn two foreign languages himself, he speaks fluent French and English and he speaks a quite good Spanish after only 7 months. He is obliged to attend the Spanish classes in exchange of some assistance but he wants to get a job in order to earn money to send to his family.

This is Falou’s background and all of the volunteers there knew that, included the complaining teacher.

If I were in Falou’s feet I would probably be a bit pissed off if I had to spend 2 hours every day attending a class where I’m not learning much instead of being out looking for a job. He has the right to criticize, he might not be paying money for the service but he is obliged to attend, so he’s paying with his time.

The class continued as I tried to break Falou’s defenses by not forcing him to speak but letting him know that I was interested in what he had to say, his opinion, his critics... I end the class I got him eating out of my hand in the exact same way as he got me eating out  of his. What a privilege I had by having a 25 years experienced teacher giving constructive criticism to me!

I learn so much that day. I learn that being open to listen the other people critics and evaluate what they can have of truth goes in everybody’s benefit. I learn that being humble bring the people closer and willing to reach an understanding. I learn that when you put yourself in the other person’s feet your perspective changes and your scope widens. That being defensive and take things personally don’t bring anything good.

2 thoughts on “Let the other people know they are important: a win-win strategy

  1. Maria – letting other people feel important and taking an interest in other people’s lives is always a win-win. All the skills you used to connect with Falou are great life skills. Trying to understand others, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and being humble is sometimes easy to do with people we just met – isn’t it harder sometimes to extend the same courtesies for friends and family?

    • Good question! I guess it’s harder because the other person behavior affects you more and so it’s more difficult to be understanding. In my case, I am working on this reactions by being more reflexive and understanding… not always easy though.

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