Teachers’ Day in Vietnam: Teaching the future

Stivi Cooke shares his thoughts on the Vietnamese Teachers' Day, November 20

A high school teacher poses for a photograph with her students at the Giong Ong To School in Ho Chi Minh City.

Editor’s Note: Stivi Cooke is an English teacher based in central Vietnam.

Yep, that time of year again. November 20th – Teachers’ Day, known locally as Ngày nhà giáo Việt Nam.

I have a running joke that if you want to lose weight in Vietnam as an expat, be a tough old lady in rubber boots, a facemask and a shovel on a building site, or a teacher in the summer!

Having worked with a lot of local educational institutions, I know firsthand what it’s like to teach big classes of thirty or forty students with only overhead fans to keep us from dying on our textbooks. It’s quite embarrassing for me to teach with sweat running down my face and chalk spattered across my nice shirt – it ruins my credibility.

Each year I read story after story of incompetence or mismanagement in teaching yet we rarely read and learn of the tremendous contributions to the nation’s future by great teachers everywhere across the nation.

Across the land there are many examples of teachers who do their jobs with a dedication that would be hard to find in the modern western educational system.

Teachers who are working in the cold mountains of the north experience the same poor conditions as their students and parents. They face the same dangers as their students, of flashing flooding, storms and crossing rivers that have no bridges. Salaries are low, material support and guidance is far away and the requirements are harsh – long teaching contracts and the loneliness of being far from their families mean they have to become tougher just to continue every day.

It’s getting tougher too, just to do the job. Recently teachers complained of excessive paperwork preventing them from preparing lessons or finding time to develop their professional skills.  While the mountain of paperwork comes with the territory, this only services to undermine their determination to stick with the job and do their best.

The pressure grows with the demands of society that teachers become better at their jobs without widespread access to professional development training. In the Mekong Delta not so long ago, local English teachers were being threatened with disciplinary action if they couldn’t reach the B2 standard for English teachers. Now that’s demoralizing. Fortunately, that idea was withdrawn and offers of more help have been provided.

It is to the absolute credit of Vietnamese teachers nationwide that they continue to persevere when confronted with these difficulties, on top of problem students, noisy classrooms and a need for patience that goes far beyond what you need for a lot of other jobs.

Technology has proven to be another headache, too. Interactive whiteboards, online lessons and researching lesson ideas have proved too much, too soon for many teachers. Without that all-important training, teachers are caught in the middle between the administration and the needs of the students and the expectations of their parents.

Yet it’s not all bad. How many of us remember that special teacher that got you interested in a subject that you continued to learn years later. For me, it was Mr. Fox in elementary school and Mrs. Goodwin in high school, who introduced me to the love of science. Forty-five years later I can still remember their names and faces perfectly. That’s the power of teaching.

So this Teachers’ Day – forget the bad, horrible, mean teachers and pay your respects to the people who make your lives richer with knowledge, smarter with skills and wiser with good words about life and how to become the person you are destined to be.

And remember – no one becomes successful without a teacher somewhere, sometime in their lives!

P.S.  I prefer chocolate, hate flowers and love nice cards and students saying, “Thank you, teacher!”

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