Thursday, February 07, 2008

Teaching Moment

One night, walking with Gabriella and Cathy from the seminary to the Casa Valdese, the talk turned to the relationship of the students to the teachers of the class. Gabriella had heard through the grapevine that some of the students were complaining about the accents of some of the guest and Italian teachers, and that the lectures were hard to understand and follow.

At the time, this seemed incredibly ungracious and insensitive, and Gabriella was understandably upset. "I wish that they had the courage to say that to my face. I would have something to say to them!" she said.

At the end of the class, one of the students raised exactly this point during our group evaluation session. We were all sitting in a large circle in the Facolta's common room, having just filled out written evaluations. We were taking some time before the closing banquet to reflect and share thoughts, feedback, and experiences, and one of the students in the course raised up that it had been a challenge for her to understand the accented English in which some of our professors lectured to us.

I was expecting ...fireworks? Anger? Bottled frustration to be vented? I couldn't have been further off the mark. Gabriella hadn't been looking for a confrontation in our earlier conversation, but rather for an opening into dialogue with that student or other students that were having the same thoughts.

This was a powerful lesson for me. Where I had anticipated outrage, there was understanding. Where I had expected upset, there was love. There was no anger in Gabriella's voice, no frustration, only a calm dialogue about the importance of being flexible in terms of the professors and gracious in light of the gift they were giving us by speaking in our native tongue instead of theirs.

The moment quickly ended, and the conversation moved on to other matters. But that brief window of time stuck with me as a powerful example of how to interrupt a conversation in a positive and constructive way. This was one of my most profound learning experiences on the trip.

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