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Thank you, Teacher!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018, 10:15 GMT+7
Thank you, Teacher!
Students give flowers to their teacher at a high school in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

As important as the dates of the national exams, Teacher’s Day (November 20) marks a time to show appreciation, respect and love for your favorite teachers in Vietnam. And to remind the teachers that you are still there!

In the Vietnamese education system, there are over 20 million students and a million teachers. The preparations for celebrations for Teacher’s Day usually start about a week beforehand and occur at all levels of education.

It’s common for students to visit their teachers at their homes to offer flowers or small gifts. For some students, a trip to somewhere with the teacher and classmates can also be a treat. Calling upon former or retired teachers is not unusual either.

According to Wikipedia, the occasion originated from different traditions dating back to the 19th century resulting in countries honoring their teachers on different dates – although International Teachers Day is usually October 5th. 

The day often involves performances, songs, dancing and even sometimes the talents of former schoolmates! 

A national saying goes: ‘When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree,’ meaning how we see the world is created by the knowledge given by teachers so we should appreciate them and what we have learnt. 

As a former English teacher for thirty four years, I know all too well the pressures, problems and joys of the job. It’s even harder for the Vietnamese teachers who work under tough conditions throughout most of the country. Unless you have a dream job working for a respected school or university, it’s a hard gig, and even harder to rise up the ranks in such a highly competitive system for both teachers and students. The complications of over-crowded classrooms, poor salaries, lack of systemic support and confusion over textbooks and curriculums all add to the headaches. 

Think of the teachers who suffer along with their students in the poorly built and maintained classrooms of the mountains. It’s pretty cold when many of these places are just wooden shacks – no bricks – and miles from outside support in barely accessible locations. Hardly the ideal situation for learning but then again, it’s repeated in poor classrooms from Africa to South America too. Doesn’t make that acceptable, just part of the way it is for a lot of the world.

As recently as last year, I remember reading a classroom in the Mekong Delta finally getting electricity so the barely literate local adults could attend night classes to improve their ability to read and write. And of course, you’ll need a teacher for that too!

There are many teachers in Vietnam who do far more for their students than expected. There’s 49-year-old Luong Thi Kim Loan – teaching literacy classes to children with handicaps in Quang Nam. Another dedicated former teacher, Huynh Van Phe, 77, has been offering free lessons for 24 years! There’s Le Thi Chau, retired but still offering classes to kids for the last 12 years.

No doubt dedicated teachers all over Vietnam probably don’t get any rewards or publicity for their hard work either but at least Teacher’s Day makes up for that in some ways.

Certainly it’s become a far harder job than in the past. Numerous instances of bad behavior on the part of both teachers and students are difficult issues to resolve – and the use of smartphones for bullying or revenge messages against teachers and students is still a major headache in many schools. But at least for Teacher’s Day, we can focus on the positive side of teaching.

Fifty-two years ago I had a teacher, Mr Fox, who was the primary school’s scary teacher because we had to go to him if we were in trouble. Sure enough, I did the visit too. After punishing me, he put me in the back of his advanced class for one day. To this day I still remember the brilliant lesson on air pressure he taught that day with a blackboard that was an artwork of colored chalk and illustrated explanations. It took me years later to understand that he put me in that class deliberately to show me the joys of education. Thanks, Mr Fox!

This is the magic of the teacher: to inspire your heart, to stretch your imagination and help you make of the world around you.  Happy Teacher’s Day!

Stivi Cooke

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