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Happy Vietnamese Teachers’ Day!

Friday, November 20, 2015, 10:57 GMT+7
Happy Vietnamese Teachers’ Day!
Students give a flower and a handmade card to their teacher as a sign of appreciation.

Editor’s note: Hoi An-based Aussie Stivi Cooke, who is himself a teacher of English, wrote this piece as a tribute to teachers on Vietnamese Teachers’ Day (November 20).

I get jealous on Teachers’ Day, where are my flowers and chocolate? How come I don’t get a fabulous red envelope? Why doesn’t anyone call me? Sob... Just kidding!

It’s that day that 20 million students in Vietnam should never forget! As flower sellers do a roaring trade outside schools, colleges and universities, school supply shops are busy selling cards and gifts. Heaven helps you if you don’t get something!

Although it’s a traditional thing to do, it’s still quite popular with students and a sign of a teacher’s approval rating with their students. For some, it’s an important gesture towards teachers who hold power over their marks and future. For others, it’s a warm signal of appreciation for the teacher’s help during the past year. Although it would be nice if my students remembered how to say my name correctly – it’s not ‘Mr. Stivi’, it’s ‘Mr. Cooke’!

Many students and teachers hold small parties together and for older students, perhaps the local coffee shop. For special students, a dinner party or an invitation to the teacher’s home could be in the offing. It’s a great occasion for cakes and snacks and chatting – the hallmark of a good relationship between teachers and learners. It’s quite interesting what students will tell me when we’re not in a classroom!

So again I salute the patience and stamina of Vietnamese teachers, wherever they are – in the mountains, coastal areas, sweaty inner cities or on remote islands. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the quality of Vietnamese education, the teacher’s dedication to a job that is stressful and overloaded with paperwork is quite extraordinary. 

As the demands of a developing Vietnam add more pressure on teachers, be it from parents or governments to change and progress while struggling to learn new teaching methods and skills, particularly in the areas of English, science and mathematics, it’s remarkable how accepting the nation’s educators are to their duties and problems. Teachers’ strikes are common in the Western world.

Bad teachers? Sure, there are some, but that number is amazingly small given the size of the Vietnamese teaching profession, and the sheer number of students to be taught each year. I know well the working environment of city teachers; big classes, out-dated books, argumentative parents and poor salaries. It’s a tough environment compared to the beautifully-equipped and well-supported schools of the Western education system. 

Yet it works, year after year, producing young adults with enough knowledge to fuel Vietnam’s labor market. The system is not perfect – it never will be – even Western education struggles with adapting to new educational standards and economic demands.

Whatever the case may be, as you struggle to finish your homework for the night, remember there are thousands of teachers struggling to finish their lesson plans, paperwork and test marking for the next day! Just as you sweat profusely in the back of the class, understand that the teacher has the same problem as you!

A lot of students admire a teacher who explains the lesson well and has patience. It’s not an easy balance to achieve for the teacher. It has often been said that teachers ‘think for two people’; meaning what they are doing and what their students successfully understand. Great teachers think about the quality of what they do and how to become better at their job.

For parents, do you remember how hard it was to teach your child to walk, eat and get dressed? Your children’s teacher will be teaching them a lot more than that for the next 12 years! Parents, think it’s tough managing one or two kids at home – try 40 in a class! Do you remember who taught you how to read, write and count? Do you have a favorite memory of a teacher who opened your mind and surprised you with how amazing the world is? 

In a world that sometimes seems mad, bad and shocking – education is the road to peace, discovery and understanding. If you think of a great teacher as only someone who helped you get great marks, then you may not have learned the lesson correctly. If that teacher made you wonder and think about the world, if that teacher showed you a better way to live or took you on a journey into the art, science or history of this planet we share – then you have passed the lesson. Why? Because that’s what you will pass on to your children.

Celebrate this year’s Teachers’ Day with a deeper understanding that the man or woman who stands at the front of the class every day is pretty amazing! And don’t forget the flowers!

Stivi Cooke

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