Matt Hafar: “I was close enough to be able to help” part 1/3

Matt is on sabbatical from his teaching job in Minnesota this year, so he is in Martin, teaching English and music at the Lutheran Academy. He is a volunteer through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Global Mission program. He is enjoying working with Slovak students and his many new colleagues at the gymnasium!

Do you consider yourself a strict teacher?
Not strict, exactly, but I do think that students need a teacher who expects excellence. I also believe that students need to practice English every day, so I do insist on homework for each lesson.

Try to describe yourself. What kind of person are you?
I hope that I am patient and encouraging. I like to get to know people and hear their stories. I enjoy teaching and helping people reach their goals. I am interested in many things and I enjoy a good challenge.

Which differences do you see between teaching in an English-speaking country and teaching in Slovakia?
This is a hard question for me. I’ve always taught at the college level before, and I’ve been here only three months. But my impression so far is that students at our school are fine young people who are interested in improving their English. I think in the U.S. we try always try to be encouraging and positive, perhaps too much. It seems that teachers here are more straight-forward in their discussions with students and that they require more work and give more tests. I’m trying to adopt the good things I see my colleagues doing here, while keeping true to my own style and manner. It’s not always easy!

What are your students like? (Please, try to describe them)
I see over 120 students each week. It would be impossible to say anything that would be true of all of them! But I can say that I’ve met many young people who are eager to work on their English. They seem bright and I’m sure I will be getting to know them better as the year goes on.

What kind of humor do you have?
In America, we would say that I have a “dry,” subtle sense of humor. So far, I think that my students here think I am always serious. When I say something that I think is funny, there is usually no reaction. Before my year is over, I hope they realize that I do have a sense of humor. Maybe someone will even laugh!

Do you have the sense of humor? It is also room for humor in the learning process?
I think humor is good. Some students are uncomfortable when the classes are difficult and humor can help to put them at ease. Our work is serious, but we’re humans. We need periodic breaks from hard work. A little humor and fun can help us.

You think that God has a sense of humor?
I suppose it is possible. That’s not something I have considered.

Surely you also had experienced a period of life when you did not have a willingness to laugh … When it was, respectively what was the most difficult period in your life?
The illness and death of my father was the most difficult period for me. He died two years ago, on 9 November, so the anniversary is still very fresh in my mind. He was a wonderful father to me, not only when I was young, but right up to his last days. The last few months of his life were very difficult for him and that was hard for me to see. His last hours were the most intense moments of my life.

While I have gotten used to the fact that he is gone, I miss him very much. I feel certain that he would have been excited about my year in Slovakia and most every day I wish I could tell him about the things that are happening here.

Did you at this difficult time felt close to God? Indeed, it happens often that this person does not feel that and he only “stik´s” with his “attitude of faith,” as if he just had his decision for God, which he did in the past…
It was a complicated time. Some days, I think it was more an “attitude of faith,” as you say. I didn’t always feel my faith, but I tried to remember that I had it. Some days I felt closer to God, and this presence made the events bearable for me.

Many people agree that just in pain, sickness and fear have found or rediscovered God – the difficulty latched to him – and this time, although difficult and painful, would not have exchanged for anything. What is your experience with God in difficult situations?
At difficult times, it’s often hard for me to feel that closeness to God. I might go through the motions, but I might have trouble feeling God’s presence. I have felt much closer to God during this year. It’s a challenging year for me, but not in a negative way. I have a clear feeling of being called to Slovakia, and that clear feeling has made God feel very near to me.

Philips Yancey wrote a book, which has a bit shocking title: “Disappointed with God.” In these book he explained that disappointment and frustration from God is because our human imagination of the imagination how thinks should work out … Has it ever happened to you that you were expecting something from God, but He eventually did not give it to you? (or gave, but completely different than you expected?)
I have always wanted to teach at a small, church-related college in the U.S. Although I have been a finalist for jobs at three church colleges over the years, I have never been chosen. I have spent my entire career instead at three public colleges and universities. Each time I would interview at a religious school, I felt that “this was the time.” They each seemed like the perfect fit for me—schools with a mission I could easily support, full of outstanding students, and in the Midwestern U.S. There were 3 such interviews, but I didn’t get any of those jobs! I was surprised and very disappointed, repeatedly.

Looking back, I have been very fortunate to teach where I have. I have worked at three very different schools, giving me invaluable experiences. I had an interesting few years at a Hispanic-serving college in the high desert of Colorado; twelve years at an African-American institution in urban North Carolina; and, for the past seven years, a job at Rochester Community and Technical College, in Minnesota. I love living in Minnesota! I am close to many friends from my own college days and I am close to my hometown in neighboring Iowa. During my father’s extended illness, I was close enough to be able to help my parents through this difficult time. I’m so glad I was nearby!

see also interview with Matt Hafar – part 2 | part 3


Profile of Matt Hafar

Dr. Matthew Hafar is a member of the music faculty at Rochester Community and Technical College, in Minnesota. He is a graduate of St. Olaf College, and holds a M.A. in trombone and Ph.D. in music theory from the University of Iowa. At RCTC, Dr. Hafar teaches music theory, appreciation, world music, and brass instruments.

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