Vietnamese Teachers’ Day is November 20th, when flower sales go through the roof and students visit their teachers across the nation to pay their respects.
From the wooden shack classrooms of the cloud-wrapped Western mountains with hardships of poor housing, clothing, little money and fewer opportunities to the growing quality of city education with well-fed kids in over-crowded and mostly under-resourced facilities – the challenges are still huge.
So to work successfully in teaching makes you a pretty amazing person!
But here’s the thing... 20 million students are getting an education and more than a million teachers are doing their jobs. The nation’s education ministry is lifting its educational standards and working on better support for everyone – it’s all happening.
That’s right – teachers are actually doing their jobs as well as they can!
When people mention education, we often moan about too much homework, boring teachers and subjects yet that could be any classroom in the world. Why is it that we don’t seem to remember the best teachers and subjects?
Here’s a challenge for you – can you remember the teacher who made you understand? I can think of about a dozen from elementary school to my master’s degree.
For me, there was Mr Fox, a scary teacher in elementary school who used colored chalk a lot and gave me my first real practical science class – I can still remember the lesson exactly. There was Mr Lowe in high school that encouraged story-telling, drama and the power of writing. And Mrs Goodman, a science teacher, incredibly strict but finally made me understand physics and chemistry.
Teachers will continue the lesson until you get it!
Recently an IELTS student’s face glowed when she talked about a history teacher who made the subject come alive for her by filling out the boring factual content with stories and comparisons – the smile on her face was priceless. She may never use the lesson in a job but what if it motivated her to travel? That’s life changing...
What you learn may surprise you in many ways later!
Not all teachers are inspiring or memorable but without their daily work in doing the lessons again and again, we probably wouldn’t have had the choices in life and work that we eventually took for granted.
So teachers are tough and strong in their hearts! (Even when it’s sooooo... boring.)
A part that’s often poorly understood by parents and outsiders is the amount of organizing, planning, paperwork, grading, marking, report writing, studying, thinking, meetings, lesson plan writing and sudden changes in curricula, timetables, schedules, standards, workloads and outside-school-hour work that is involved in good teaching.
A teacher’s ranges of office skills are often wider than you think!
A good teacher is also partly a parent, policeman, psychologist, scientist and philosopher. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to listen to students’ problems, calm down an excited class or lift the spirits of an unhappy class. There are times when the weather is bad and the students are grumpy (the teacher too!) or the other days when one student looks like the loneliest person in the world and there’s nothing you can do.
Sometimes students will ask you questions about life and you have to philosophize, explain or give an opinion – without imposing your own prejudices on them. This is a very hard one – especially with students around late teenage or early age. The trick is not to judge the student for asking the question but giving them an answer that is honest and fair.
Teachers see things from many points of view! And there’s often more than one answer...
Next to last, knowing your stuff; There’s an old saying, ‘the textbook is only as good as the teacher’ – meaning it takes a teacher to help the student understand the knowledge. All too many teachers go ‘by the book’, relying on the book to get them through the lesson but your special teacher will go much further than the book.
There’s inspiration and imagination to give and young minds to set on fire. It doesn’t happen every lesson or for every student or every teacher – but we can all remember that moment of inspiration. Remember my question from before about who opened your mind?
A teacher understands that school is only half the classroom!
A true teacher knows the world is bigger than the book and many lessons are learnt outside a classroom. If you teach a student to pass an exam then you have only half taught them – if your teacher gave you some ability to think about the unexpected then the lesson is 90% complete. The other 10%? What you think long after your teacher is an old memory...
So before you give your teacher their flowers and gifts, stop and stand or sit quietly somewhere for a moment and just think: What did they teach you that didn’t seem like a lesson, yet you learned something?
If you are smiling when you think about this... then the teacher did his job...
My very best regards to all the hard-working teachers of this nation that I love! Happy Vietnamese Teachers’ Day!