by Meredith Berger
Every Wednesday I teach English to adults at the Ethiopian Community Development Center near my home in Arlington, VA. It is both exciting and challenging to be the sole instructor for 10 students, teaching complex sentence structures, pronunciation, vocabulary, as well as American history and even a bit of the Gospel. What makes each week refreshing though is the students’ desire to learn and their willingness to put away their pride. Despite being adults nearly twice my age (some older), they are so open to correction and instruction. They are vulnerable and not afraid to fail, and have asked me to cold call them and put them on the spot, so that they might be forced into learning the material.
“What is a moose?” “ How does the US government work” “Why does ‘tall’ change to ‘taller’ but ‘good’ change to ‘better’?” “How do I make a resume for a job?” “Can you explain the pronunciation of ballet and valet?” They engage in thoughtful conversations and inquiry, and at the end of each class, ask “may you pray?” They are hungry for knowledge, for the Spirit, and for success brought by learning this unfamiliar language.
As adults, only we control this intrinsic desire to learn and grow. As children, we are naturally curious and asking questions constantly. There is no shame or fear of embarrassment, just an excitement at the world around us. As we get older, we are put into school and society gives us all of our information without us having to seek it out. We become reliant on what we are told, and once we graduate, returning back to our original inquisitive state feels juvenile. Asking questions and appearing uninformed is viewed so negatively, yet is that not the way we learn and best understand our environment?
In James 1:5, we read “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
I look at my students bravery and confidence in the face of error, and it makes me want to take more chances and ask more questions in my own life. Think of all the times we don’t raise our hands, or don’t ask for clarification – we are only hurting ourselves by not allowing the learning opportunity.
When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
Put aside your pride, and be open to learning something new this week – something you might be ashamed you don’t know much about. Ask questions and speak up! I believe we can all learn from my students and their decision to make themselves vulnerable, forcing themselves to learn a new language in a new and very different place. Each week they inspire me, and I hope they’ve inspired you.