Genuine Interest = Communication Perspectives on teaching and learning
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”Luke 2:49
When I tell about something that has happened to me, I might become so involved that I relive that event in my mind. I see it happen again right before my eyes as I search for words to tell the story. I might even become so excited that I make gestures without realizing it. Yet I also notice whether the listener pays attention or not. If he asks a question or voices a reservation I am able to react and respond to those comments. I am able to relive an experience in the telling of it, while at the same time closely observing the listener.
These elements – the story of the event itself, and the interaction between speaker and listener – are characteristic of meaningful communication. It is, in fact, correct to suggest that the more we are “in” our subject, the better we are able to communicate with the listener. A good speaker knows how to bring about reactions in his listeners. In those spontaneous reactions we show who we are, we betray our interests and concerns. An examination does not lend itself to get to know the person who is being examined. At best we discover how much or how little information such a person has available. If we want to know what someone really thinks, it is much better to engage him in a discussion about a topic which is important to him. If we want to know how someone thinks about politics, we should not ask him to write an examination in political science; instead, we should discuss with him current events and issues – and see how he reacts. A minister or elder learns to know the “sheep” of the congregation not by a formal examination of their “spiritual health,” but by their reaction to the Word which is brought during the home visit.
This rule applies equally at the school. A Christian teacher knows that the main principle for all subjects is the telling of God's great deeds so that his students learn to see the beauty which he himself has already discovered. Such a teacher loves his work. He will come to know his students in their spontaneous reactions to his teaching. Although he lives his subject, and is fully involved in it, he also gains entrance into the secrets of the child's soul. Unnoticed often, the children become interested, involved, start asking questions – sometimes those questions reveal lack of understanding; sometimes the teacher discovers that they did understand far beyond his expectations; sometimes those questions of the children help the teacher discover new aspects he himself was not aware of; sometimes they betray what is in the child's heart.
Indeed, this was the way of the ancient Israelites. The children would ask, “Why these stones?” And that question provided the fathers with the opportunity to explain God's great miracles of the past. That was the way in which the 12year-old Jesus investigated the things of His Father, to the great amazement of the scribes. At that moment – in the midst of the discussion of things which so vitally interested Him – the Lord showed Who He was, and the scribes recognized this, even though later they would reject Him. The business of His Father, that came first. And in that way we may know Him, too!
Scripture rejects the foolish glorification of the wisdom and skill of persons. People can only be called great in as much as they have tried to respond to their calling with their whole being. The list of faith heroes does not include those who have tried to improve themselves and impress others in the process. That list includes those who fought for God's justice, people who gave all to proclaim God's great deeds, people who sang psalms with bleeding backs and bound feet, people who received strength in weakness.
Scripture teaches us that we do not get to know a person on the basis of his personality, but on the basis of his actions in response to God's call. God can change a heart which is interested in farming and cattle into a heart which is interested in kingship and government – Saul! Genuine interest in the business to which God calls us is a most critical element in the exercise of our vocation (vocare = to call).
How can we discover such interest in others; how can we get to know what really moves the other? Show interest in the activities, in the business itself, and do not admire the person! Talk about the work, not about the worker; talk about the study at hand, not about the cleverness (or lack thereof) of the student. Share your interest in the work, rather than admiring the skill or cleverness of the person who accomplished it.
Our age sees much glorification of persons with little thought for the work itself. This makes healthy and necessary criticism difficult, since criticism is often considered an attack on the person rather than a suggestion for improvement or correction. This attention for the person also makes a healthy cooperation often difficult (Delegation or sharing of responsibilities? Sure, but is he able to do this as well as I can?). Yet working together on a given task, studying together, discussing things together – these are all opportunities which allow us to get to know each other well because our attention is on the business, the task at hand. But if the persons involved become the focus of our attention, then a pleasant, perhaps even a stimulating experience often becomes a terrible frustration.
Friendship is built on interest in and love for a common cause; frustration and antipathy result from the lack of such interest and love. The simple elder who speaks during home visits about the business of God's kingdom discovers that love or the lack of it in the reaction of his “sheep,” and therefore comes to know the members of the congregation better than his colleague who inspects “souls,” or a minister who collects psychological data. A teacher who simply tells the children of God's great works and who together with his children is busy with schoolwork knows his pupils better than his colleague who constantly uses drills and repetitions, and at every opportunity gives marks towards the grade on the report card.
Are we known by our actions, as people who are genuinely interested in, and busy with Father's business? Are we genuinely interested in our children, in our students, in our brothers and sisters as (co-)workers in Father's business?
Based on A. Janse: Het Eigen Karakter der Christelijke School. Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1935. Hoofdstuk VI: Echte of Voorgewende Belangstelling, pp.84-89.