A Vietnamese high school teacher in the Mekong Delta has turned to literature to solve the typical teenage behavioral issues she sees in her classroom on a daily basis.
Tran Huynh Nhi, a literature teacher in Vinh Long Province, believes that a strong book-reading habit is a key aspect of her students’ emotional and educational development.
To help her students develop that habit, Nhi has created the first-ever book club at Nguyen Thong High School in the provincial capital city of Vinh Long.
According to Nhi, participating in the book club has not only stopped many students from misbehaving in class, but also given them a safe space where they can set and discuss life goals and the daily issues they face as adolescents.
By offering various literature-related activities and helping students connect the lessons in each book to real events in their lives, the Nguyen Thong High School Book Club has become one of the most popular groups in the school.
Books are the solution
As a literature teacher, Nhi spends much of her time attempting to turn her students’ indifference toward books into a love of reading.
The book club is a means for her to achieve that goal, to use literature to help shape her students’ personalities and spark their curiosity.
At first, the club got off to a slow start.
Only a few students would come to meetings, more out of curiosity than a true interest in reading.
That was when Nhi began hosting activities and holding writing contests, hoping her efforts would help bring more students to the club’s monthly meetings.
And it worked.
The club grew and grew, with new faces showing up in each of the group’s get-togethers to discuss a pre-determined practical issue, usually related to a typical problem faced by teens.
Nhi also reached out to her colleagues at Nguyen Thong High School to suggest that they send their most misbehaving students to the club so that she could build a rapport with them and offer each a suitable book to fit their personality.
Each of these “problem students” is asked to read their book, summarize the reading, and offer a commentary with their thoughts and opinions.
Now, many of those members who had once been forced to attend the club’s meetings have fallen in love with reading and gladly come on their own.
“I was able to change their mindset. Now they no longer act out and cause trouble to their friends and teachers. They’ve learned to set plans and goals for their lives instead,” Nhi proudly said.
The teacher also uses books to give advice to students faced with pressures from family issues, dramatic events, exams, and bullying.
“Firstly, I talk to students to become their friends,” Nhi shared with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
“Then I offer them a suitable book for their situation. For example, if a student is running into family issues, I give them a psychology book.”
Thanks to her efforts, the reading room is no longer just a reading room.
It is a counseling center and a safe zone for students to visit when they are dealing with a difficult problem or simply need someone to talk to.
Raising funds through paintings
The money for the books Nhi offers her students comes from extra cash she earns by selling her handmade paintings and calligraphy.
Each piece sells for VND70,000 (US$3) to 700,000 ($30) and every couple of months Nhi takes that cash and travels to Ho Chi Minh City to buy new books for the reading room.
Her artworks are not only sold to teachers, doctors, and engineers in Vinh Long, but also to residents of neighboring provinces, including Tien Giang and Dong Thap, and Can Tho City.
Her students help by selling paintings and handmade goods on the Internet, collecting recyclables to sell to scrap dealers, and holding bake sales.
Now, after almost two years, Nhi’s book club boasts around 2,000 different books with none having ever been lost, even though no one keeps track of which books are borrowed, save for a small notebook used by the club to sign books in and out.
“The students are very aware of our rules, so everyone keeps quiet in the reading room,” she said proudly.
Many students have said that their ability to express themselves both verbally and through writing has improved as well.
“Thanks to reading books at the book club, my vocabulary, ability to focus, critical thinking, and analytical skills have improved considerably,” Dang Thanh Truc, a 12th grader and a member of the book club, said.