Quick to Hear; Slow to Speak

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou

Meditations in Motion

One of our runs last week took us past the high school where I used to teach. In fact, many of our runs go past the high school. My hubby and I begin most of our runs from the local rec center, located directly behind the school.

Passing the building often reminds me of my time spent there, but today, I was not thinking about my tenure as a teacher. I was remembering a time, in a different high school not too far away, when I was a student.

Meditations in Motion

I was one of those students who spent every free moment of her day in the art room. I took as many art classes as my schedule would allow, and I spent every homeroom period, study hall, and club period there.

I used to think I wanted to be an artist until I realized I just didn’t have enough talent. Oh, I was creative, no doubt about it; I just didn’t have the eye-hand coordination necessary to convert my ideas into reality.

Looking back from a lens of many years, I now understand it wasn’t actually the art that I loved, it was my art teacher.

Miss Miller (not her real name) had been teaching art for many years when I arrived in high school. She was extremely overweight, wore her thin brown hair in a long ponytail, and perpetually smelled of cigarette smoke.

In all fairness to her, she may not have been a smoker. The faculty room at my high school in those pre-cigarette ban days was filled with a blue haze. You couldn’t see the far side of the room when you opened the door.

Miss Miller made everyone feel welcome in the art room, whether you were a budding Picasso or a talentless hack, like me.

There was just something about Miss Miller that made you feel good about yourself, like you were the only person in the whole world who really mattered. She immediately made her students feel special and at ease; we all felt like we belonged there, at a time in our lives when we were searching for a place to fit in.

What is it about some people that just being in their presence makes you feel like the best version of yourself?

Meditations in Motion

Apparently, the way you make others feel is a measurable part of your personality, called the “affective presence“, your emotional fingerprint. My art teacher had a remarkably positive affective presence.

You might think that extroverts have the best ability to welcome others into their world, but Miss Miller was certainly not an extrovert in a life-of-the-party kind of way.

If a project went off the rails, she was there with a comforting word and a method to salvage the disaster.

She had a wonderful eye for detail. I remember one of my projects, in particular, an attempted sculpture of a seabird that did not turn out very bird-like. I was picturing sculpting the bird just at the moment it touched down on one foot, light as a feather. What I got was a heavy albatross who could not have flown if he was attached to 20 helium balloons.

I had spray painted the monstrosity gold during a light drizzle in the courtyard of our school. She suggested some tweaks I could make to the shape of the bird to improve his aerodynamics, then complimented me on the texture of the finish, the gold paint pockmarked with tiny rain droplets.

She made it clear through her language, both body and verbal, that she was open to real contact with you. She looked you right in the eye during conversations, turned to face whomever she was speaking to, and listened intently.

Meditations in Motion

Oh, how I wish I had Miss Miller’s listening skills. No matter how busy she was, Miss Miller would stop what she was doing to hear what you had to say. She was the embodiment of theologian Paul Tillich’s command, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

If I wanted to describe a concept for a project, I always felt as if the spotlight of her attention was solely and directly on me. As I described my intentions, she would smile, nod encouragingly, and give me suggestions on how I could accomplish my goal.

I need to adopt Miss Miller’s example of how to be a good listener. Sometimes, as I am having a conversation with someone, I have the presence of mind to tell myself “Shut up and listen“, but often I get carried away with the importance of what I am saying, and forget.

My former art teacher wasn’t just listening to her students with her ears and her mind, she listened with her heart to what we were saying. She listened with compassion and empathy, aware of our fragile egos and dreams still in the early stages of formation.

That is how I want to listen to others, with sensitivity, and in fellowship. I want to learn from different perspectives and validate the feelings of others. Most of all, I wish to honor the most important lesson I learned from my art teacher so many years ago.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”. – James 1:19

 

I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well, Fairytales and Fitness for Friday 5, Crystal Twaddell for Fresh Market Friday, Raisie Bay for Word of the Week, Spiritual Sundays for Welcome, Susan B Mead for Dancing With Jesus, Embracing the Unexpected for Grace and Truth, Counting My Blessings for Faith ‘n Friends, Esme Salon for Senior Salon, Our World Tuesday, Shank You Very Much for Global Blogging, My Random Musings for Anything Goes, Abounding Grace for Gracefull Tuesday, Purposeful Faith for RaRa, Bethere2day for Wordless Wednesday, Mary Geisen Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, and Morgan’s Milieu for Post, Comment, Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

83 comments

  1. I often tell myself I need to be a better listener too- I think it’s definitely a skill that takes practice and patience and I’m lacking in the latter

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s awesome how some people can still have an effect on you, still teach you forty years later. Funny timing, this piece. I literally just finished an essay on leadership as a guest blog post where I said similar things about my HS cross country coach. I’m sure as a retired teacher, the ultimate compliment is when an old student tracks you down and tells you that what you said still matters to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do get emails and other contacts from some of my former students. Their thanks mean a lot to me. I modeled some of my teaching style after Miss Miller, but I think teachers pretty much need to develop their own style and do what works best for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I try to do this with my kids. They always seem to want to talk when I’m involved in something else, but that ‘s the way of teens, so I am practicing the discipline of attending to their words.
    I need to work on this with my good husband as well …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Me three! I certainly hear everything said to me and very good at eye contact/focusing on people, but I often react too quickly as words tend to trigger thoughts in my mind that I need to get out. I have a bad habit of interrupting others, not out of rudeness, but out of excitement when I can relate to what they’re saying, and I’m trying very hard to work on it. In my defense, I have had a few people in my life over the years who talked as quickly as I did and who also interrupted and it was actually a style of conversation for us, we’d switch topics as one would think of something and then circle back to the original topic. I loved conversing in that manner, but have come to realize very few people (my family and husband included) converse that way. On the opposite side of the spectrum is my introvert husband who does much more listening than talking and can be hard to judge if he’s truly engaged in the conversation or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you, Tracey. I sometimes find myself thinking about a response, rather than listening to what is being said in a conversation! I have a bad habit of interrupting too. I think I drive my less verbal hubby crazy at times! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Like you, I always had a fondness for my art teachers, and they always made me feel like I had an important (albeit unique LOL) talent. Unlike my gym teachers, who hand-picked their favorites on day one, my art teachers were always eager to work with me and anyone else in the classroom. They are the ones who encouraged me to hold strong to my interpretation of art, and didn’t shun me for coloring outside the lines. Obviously, I never pursued a career in art, though it has always been a big part of my life. I was a late bloomer with running, and I know it was because I didn’t have any teachers/coaches encouraging me at a young age. I’m glad I found the love for running on my own, though, and I look forward to many more years of enjoying it “my way.” Thanks for another great insightful post, Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can definitely picture you hanging out in the art room, Kim. You seem like an artsy person to me (I mean that as a compliment). Maybe that is why running and art go together in both of our personalities – we both need to express ourselves in our own way.

      Like

  6. Listening truly is such an art, and sadly I think one that is dying. I’m as guilty as the next person.

    Oddly enough, I wanted to be an artist, too. And I did have some talent. I also wanted to actually be able to earn a living . . . which is also why I didn’t become a professional musician (again, some talent). I’m most definitely a jack of all trades, master of none kind of gal.

    But getting back to listening — you are right, it’s also an art (how clever of you to weave that all together). You were lucky to have had a teacher who was so good at it (I had a few along the way, too).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am guilty too, Judy. I sometimes find myself thinking that what I have to say is more important than listening to another person, which, of course, is just crazy!

      It’s funny how many of my running friends have artistic talent. There must be some kind of a link there. One of my running friends is a professional artist and she is amazing!

      I was lucky to have had Miss Miller. She is still teaching me even after all these years!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love that quote and actually think of it often. Reading this makes me want to be a better teacher and listen more. That is what I would like. However, the reality is that there are so many behavior problems in the classrooms these days and it makes it tough.

    I had to laugh about your image of the faculty lounge and all the smoke! Its hard to believe that smoking was even allowed at the school…haha

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how we fondly remember the Miss Millers of the world. I couldn’t even recall the names of most of my high school teachers but I sure do remember my Art teachers! Mr. Davis and Mr. Burns are fantastic, just as your Miss MIller was. So passionate and empathetic. They’re probably the reason I took Art classes all four years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope my former students remember me in the same way as I remember Miss Miller. She made a great impression on me, just like your art teachers did on you!

      Like

  9. Great post Laurie! Listening is an art & a profession 😀 …
    But one we can all learn to do. It does take enormous energy to be both an ‘active listener’ fully engaged in listening to the one who is talking & a ‘reflective listener’ attentively listening, demonstrating an understanding of what has been said & encouraging the other to continue in their story or conversation.
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jennifer. You are exactly right – listening IS an art and a profession, especially for Miss Miller! 🙂 As a teacher, we received training on active listening. It does take some practice, but it is very rewarding, both for the listener and to the person who is being listened to.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a terrific post Laurie, it’s funny you made me think back to my English teacher, she was like your Miss Miller – she was just so very passionate about English that she was both infectious and contagious in the same breath – it is only really because of her teachings, and understandings that l fell head over heel in love with English literature and writing. she encouraged all her students to be who they were born to be.

    But of the posts l have read of yours too Laurie, you are the same as your Miss Miller, you were a teacher who wanted her students to understand the hands on approach and it wasn’t that the academic was unimportant, it’s more to do with the fact that if you simply love it then in essence the academic will be a walk in the park. you were there for your students, and you allowed them to learn, that is what all teachers are supposed to do, teach, inspire, motivate on the chosen subject.

    Once more an inspiring post indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rory! So good to hear from you. I think the highest compliment you can give to a teacher is to say “she encouraged all her students to be who they were born to be.” That is what I always tried for when I taught. I hope at least some of my former students would say that about me. I’m glad to read about your English teacher. Your love of writing began there!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That is one of my favourite quotes and I think it’s true. Mrs Miller sounds amazing, I had several teachers who really inspired me and I often think of them, one started my life long passion for reading just from telling us the most amazing stories in primary school. I try to read to my own children with the same passion. I can be guilty of not listening properly and it’s something I try to work on every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She was an amazing teacher. I’m so glad to read that you had inspiring teachers too. I need to work on my listening skills too. I practice every day, but don’t always succeed.

      Like

  12. Miss Miller sounds amazing and it’s lovely that she had such an effect on you. Listening is a wonderful skill that many could learn better. I get frustrated when family don’t listen to me properly, your family should be the first place that you learn to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That Maya Angelou quote you started with is a favourite of mine. I’ve never heard of ‘affective presence’ before but some people have a wonderful ability to make others feel better just by being there. My mum is one of those people and your old art teacher certainly sounds like another. Listening is such an important skill. Being able to truly listen to someone makes such a difference. It’s certainly something that I could be better at! #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice that your mum has a positive affective presence. It must feel good just to hang out with her. I think listening is a way of making us feel loved. I want to practice it to give that gift to my family!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. So glad you had a great art teacher who you could learn from, and not only art! I think that most of us have had a teacher who was more than a teacher in the academic sense, but who also gave us some lessons in life – even if we didn’t realise it at the time. About listening, I’m a teacher of English as a second language and listening is a skill I’ve had to learn over the years in my work. And it’s amazing when you close your mouth, open your ears, and encourage others to speak to you – the things you learn, and the things people tell you – you can’t imagine until you try this! Good luck and keep listening! Visiting from Esme’s Salon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • My daughter-in-law is an ESL teacher also. You do such a valuable and difficult job! I can imagine that you could learn a lot from your students through listening. I WILL keep listening! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Listening with the heart makes all the difference. I try so hard to be fully present for people, to hear them and see them. Sadly, I tend to be the worst at this with the people I’m closest to. Thank you for the encouragement to do better in love.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Your teacher sounds like an amazing example. I love people like that who bring out the best in others. When I was at school we had a physics teacher who was really inspiring and made me want to take the subject for another year. I did, only to get a teacher who made it all seem very dull and boring and I realised how much impact a teacher can have on their pupils’ enjoyment of a subject!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I had some teachers like your Miss Miller. And you’re right in saying that it’s not so much the subject matter that makes it a favorite class, but the teacher. The ability to listen well and truly care about you as a person is a gift. I always prayed that I presented myself that way as a teacher at least some of the time. Thank you for the reminder to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Mrs. Miller sounds like the gold standard of teacher, and very similar to a teacher I had in elementary school. I still keep in touch with her to this day! And as a constant chatterer, I do have to remind myself to shut up and listen. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

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