November 20th in Vietnam is ‘Teachers' Day.' It’s a way for students to mark their respect for their teachers in recognition of the influence teachers have on our personal and academic life and the growth within us that comes with that.
You might have already seen the preparations at schools – often involving more than a week’s work – with students decorating stuff or practicing musical shows in the playgrounds.
Throughout Vietnamese places of learning, literally at all levels and ages, there’ll be performances by both teachers and students, presentations, gifts, speeches and public acclaim nationally for teachers – usually organized by the Ministry of Education and Training, with awards and certificates for those notable teachers who have achieved outstanding results for their students as well as their own efforts to become better at teaching.
As a kid, I was taught about bringing an apple for the teacher to school – although I never did that! Still, giving them a gift was a handy though rather hopeful method of ‘buttering up the teacher’ or ‘currying favor’ with an educator – particularly around exam time! I was fairly unsuccessful at this.
High school for me was something that I ‘survived’ rather than enjoyed, a grueling, endless series of tests and exams occasionally punctuated by moments of clarity, joy, satisfaction and the odd epiphany or two and mostly the revelations I discovered about the people around me.
Yet I can still remember most of the names of the teachers who deeply affected my view of the world, the things that I came to love doing such as writing, drawing, acting and…science, history and sociology! Mr. Fox in elementary school who introduced me to the wonders of science (and caned me when I was naughty!); Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lane who inspired my love of drama; Mrs. Goodwin who took my science in high school far beyond anything that I could imagine; and others in university who taught how many different ways you could approach a subject or problem to find a solution.
Funnily enough, we can also recall the boring teachers, the ones who destroyed any love we had for a subject (for me that was math); from which we vowed never to return to that subject later in life.
Teachers command a great deal of respect here and hold a trusted place in the community. The original idea of Teachers' Day came out of an international trip to a teachers conference in Poland in 1957 by Vietnamese educators. The first commemoration was the year after; marked as an anniversary. The idea grew and by 1982 gained its official name Vietnamese Teachers’ Day.
This celebration can go as high up as the nation’s leaders visiting their former teachers. Visits to former or retired teachers are as frequent as the trips to those currently working and happen as far away as the highlands and border regions.
It’s a day that’s not without its controversies regarding the state of education in Vietnam which is still struggling in many areas but at the same time has preformed great achievements in raising the quality and quantity of educational standards and institutions. Generally, the negative side is left to be considered at another time.
I’m retired from teaching at the present time so I wouldn’t get any gifts myself but in years gone by, my students used to offer flowers, cake, and candy. I can deal with that!
However, the national day is focused very much on native teachers doing their bit across the country. Recently I commented on a pictorial article that Tuoi Tre News ran about a teacher working in a very remote part of the country, showing her dedication and perseverance; at some great personal hardship and distance from friends and family.
It’s even tougher for rural teachers with fewer educational and personal resources, on top of the struggle to convince poor parents to bring their kids to school instead of helping the family make a living. With almost 60 percent of the population still living in rural areas, it’s clear how far there is to go to helping those teachers and students even in a country growing as fast economically as this one.
A future beyond just surviving is hard to imagine if you have little education.
And it's almost impossible to accomplish without an educational guide to lead and inspire a student towards a lifetime filled with achievements and transformations.
We owe a huge debt to our teachers for bringing us to the point of having a future infinitely better for the knowledge, skills, and wisdom that they try to put into us. Although society and our parents also play a serious part in all this, today we’re thinking of the teachers.
Happy Teachers' Day!
Hey, teacher! Want an apple?