A married couple in Ho Chi Minh City have not only put their hearts into their teaching jobs, they have spent more than three decades perfecting their profession, and have also encouraged their children to follow in their footsteps.
Passing on knowledge to students and helping shape their character are a legacy bequeathed across three generations in the family of Tran Quang Vinh and Nguyen Thi Le Hang, both chemistry teachers at Hung Vuong High School in District 5.
Hang, who recently retired as a tenured educator but still teaches on a visiting basis at the school, inherited the passion for the job from her parents, who were veteran teachers at a local elementary school.
Her two sisters also followed in their parents’ footsteps.
Hang’s family is not the only one who has maintained the decade-long tradition.
Vinh, Hang’s husband, also has two siblings on his side who became teachers, though their parents did not work in the education sector.
Despite the challenges involved, they all find teaching a satisfactory livelihood and rewarding profession.
|Nguyen Thi Le Hang teaches chemistry to 11th graders at Hung Vuong High School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Nhu Hung / Tuoi Tre|
The couple’s greatest pride is that their daughter, Tran Ngoc Minh Vy, has also gone into teaching.
Vy began her career as a physics teacher at the very school where her parents started working four years ago.
Vinh shared his work, however, is only half done.
Their son, concerned that he will not make a good teacher due to his bad temper, is currently studying pharmacology, despite all the efforts they have put in to persuade him to take up teaching.
Rewarding, worthy calling
Like in many other Asian countries, teachers command respect in Vietnam and hold a trusted place in the community.
Despite their great passion and skills, many teachers, particularly those in rural areas, find themselves juggling between day jobs and home-tutoring sessions or other jobs to make a living.
Vinh had a tough time early on in his teaching career. He was even teetering on the verge of giving up the profession for better-paid jobs.
Upon graduating in chemistry from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education in 1988, Vinh was assigned to Le Minh Xuan High School in the suburban district of Binh Chanh, where he worked as a teacher and was also in charge of youth activities.
Like most rural teachers with fewer educational and personal resources back then, he would cycle more than 15 kilometers of bumpy dirt roads from the inner city to a poverty-stricken neighborhood where the school was located.
With his salary sufficient for breakfast only, the young man had to rely on his family for financial support to hold on to his pursuit.
Despite his lack of income, Vinh pressed on by offering free tutoring classes to stop his students from falling behind. Busy helping their family make a living, however, several did not make it to his supplementary classes.
It was then that the man began to question his career choice.
“How will I be able to provide for my wife and children later on while I’m still financially dependent on my parents for living expenses?” Vinh recalled the time when he was at his wits' end.
He added he was so deeply moved as many of his students pleaded with him not to leave them behind that he shrugged off the idea of job change and has stayed steadfast in his original career choice since.
Hang, Vinh’s wife, said even now many of their colleagues still joke that a three-generation family working as teachers would mean shaky finances.
Hang shared she is happily married to Vinh, her university sweetheart. Vinh is currently vice-head of their school’s chemistry teacher group.
Despite retiring a few months ago, Hang still teaches at the school as a visiting teacher to remain connected to her job of choice and her beloved students.
“My wife is still fit and finds it hard to part with her students, so she just continues her job. After more than 30 years into the job, we’re under no financial pressure now,” Vinh explained.
He noted despite the initial tough time, teaching has brought financial stability and discipline to his family over the decades.
“Well-qualified teachers don’t have a single worry about financial security. Our family isn’t well off, but we’re definitely not poor,” the veteran educator said with a contented smile.
Apart from financial boons, Vinh stressed educational guides like him who lead and inspire students toward a lifetime filled with achievements and transformations are also treated to joys that may not be typically part of other jobs.
The senior teacher proudly said many of his thankful former students who have carved out successful careers and enjoyed high social status make it a point to pay him a visit on Vietnamese Teachers’ Day – November 20 – and Lunar New Year each year to mark their respect for their teacher.
“Several also drove me around for sightseeing,” Vinh added.
Vinh and Hang’s calling exerts a positive impact on their personal life.
“We have a cozy, disciplined family, obedient, well-educated children and a stable life. My dearest wish is to see my children and grandchildren keeping our teaching tradition going,” Vinh shared.
As today’s digital life has disrupted eons-old human activities and spread to a large portion of the world’s inhabitants, including high school and university students, it has brought about unprecedented challenges and mounting pressure for teachers.
|Tran Quang Vinh gestures during his chemistry class with 12th graders at Hung Vuong High School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Nhu Hung / Tuoi Tre|
According to Hang, what today’s educators are up against involves how to get students’ mind off digital devices, social media, and online games which they constantly have at their fingertips.
“If we pay individual attention and advise the students against overusing the devices, our well-meaning act may turn out to be an intrusion on their privacy,” she stressed.
Vinh added another challenge is the struggle to keep children from well-off families motivated.
“Some even told me they don’t need to study as many university graduates end up earning meager salaries while the monthly allowances they receive from their parents come out higher than that,” he said.
Tran Ngoc Minh Vy, Vinh and Hang’s first child, shared she takes great pride in being a homeroom teacher despite being a newcomer.
“I’m happy in the role of a teacher,” Vy said.
Sharing her parents’ concerns, the young woman agreed that today’s teachers are placed under overwhelming pressure.
“The greatest source of pressure comes from teachers being asked to reinvent themselves and keep their methodology and lessons updated and in line with the reformed curriculum,” Vy said.
The young teacher added educators need to put in a great deal more effort compared to their predecessors to keep their students away from distractions and focused on their studies and training on how to turn out a good citizen.