My first lesson with a German made me feel right at home. There is something about folks who don’t beat around the bush and get right down to business that seems very familial. Perhaps it’s because the Dutch and the Germans share an origin. At any rate, when it comes to German people, what you see is what you get or in my case what you hear is what you can expect. Germans have an amazing work ethic and they like to follow the rules, which is why calling Roland the Hardest Working Man in Germany is so significant. Everyone in Germany works hard, it’s their nature.
It was December and I saw Roland’s name on my January calendar. He had methodically gone through my schedule and scheduled six months of lessons twice a week in the same time slot. This alone alerted me to the fact that this was no average learner.
My first encounter with Roland was fairly typical. He sounded a bit nervous and was very modest about his level of English. But there was something about him, something that led me to believe that this was a man who had convinced himself that he couldn’t reach any higher but desperately wanted to.
Time after time he kept his appointment for his lesson and had his homework completed. Asking an adult to do 30 minutes of homework for a 30 minute English lesson is actually a taller order than you might imagine. The majority of the people that I work with complete their homework 20 minutes before their lesson and sometimes not at all. After working 40 hours a week, commuting for 35 to 45 minutes and then coming home to a family, even the most devoted learner sometimes fail to have completed their homework but never Roland, not once. If the instructions for an assignment were unclear he wouldn’t just put the homework aside and wait for the next time, Roland spent hours and hours until everything was perfect. I began calling him the “Hardest working man in Germany” and each time I could hear him glowing on the other end of the line.
Roland is in charge of shipping for a factory. My impression was often that he was not as well appreciated as he would have liked to have been. He is that guy that we all know who shows up every day and does his job so efficiently that no one notices him. He is that indispensable wheel that never needs grease. If he were gone everything would stop, but he never is and so we never notice. That is Roland.
When Roland completed his lessons he had made obvious improvements and he seemed to have gained tremendous confidence. I wish that I could say that he was promoted or got a big fat raise; I don’t know that to be true. I do know that he goes to work every day and does his job well. He goes home every night to his two sons and his wife. He helps to prepare dinner and he helps to clean up afterwards. Roland takes his family on holiday several times a year but he never leaves Germany. We won’t see Roland’s photo on the front of TIME magazine but the earth would not turn quite as smoothly without him.