Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach. – Aristotle
September 10 is Teachers’ Day in China. Several of our former students have contacted my wife and I. Before living in China, I had the honor to work with hundreds of teachers as part of my job at a major university. My actual title was Assistant Support Scientist. The scientist I worked with were part of the university’s outreach and education efforts. I had to ask basic questions in order to explain their research to middle and high school students: Cardinalis cardinalis – “red bird”; Sialia sialis – “blue bird”; Spinus tristis – “yellow bird” 🙂
Explaining things clearly is a large part of teaching. I am happy to say I taught thousands of university students and hundreds of younger students. First you have to get their attention, then spark curiosity and perhaps inspire them.
It is safe to say, well over two billion people learn English as a second language. I am so grateful to readers of my blog for whom English is a second, or third language. My first groups of language students in China taught me so much. I still keep in touch with some of them. Most of my classrooms had computers and projectors. I bought my own projector and speakers for the classrooms that didn’t. I developed each lesson like it was part of a semester long mini-series. Because of the honest interchange with students, an ocean of communication was shared between us.
As a teacher, I tried to respect my students as individuals. My first lesson was always getting to know me, so they could then tell me about themselves. That was one of the best parts of teaching in China. Once students know they can trust you, the lesson content becomes more than just about language. Life is the canvas on which a teacher can illustrate ideas. Confucius (KongZi to Chinese) taught by analogy. Laozi, Zhuangzi all the great ancients: Plato, Aristotle…
Chinese culture is filled with proverbs, aphorisms, analogies, sayings – general statement containing a kernel of truth. These are a shorthand way to begin a discussion or offer advice: Fire is the test of gold and friendship; A candle lights others and consumes itself. If one is true to one’s inner self, and follows its wisdom, who is without a teacher? – Zhuangzi
Teaching younger kids was especially satisfying. To put it simply – I love kids. We taught students in every apartment in China until we got our own classroom. We had our own little school near the grade school. There were two classroom, a waiting room, toilet and storage room. Unlike other foreign teachers, I had my second full-time job teaching with my wife. We both taught an hour with each group. Some of my kids groups were pretty young, so I went heavier on the visual learning.
I fell back on my university work for teaching college and even more so for teaching kids. I chose the topics for each week and every class ended with a hands-on activity related to the topic. The kids loved it. I introduced them to many holidays and special knowledge. They loved my sense of humor- important when teaching kids. In thirteen lessons a semester, I taught them about many things: color, light, hygiene, art, robots, rocks, volcanoes, animation, symmetry, music,…
Twice a semester we had a food class. So I had to come up with recipes that kids could learn about, make and eat, while still teaching them English. When they saw the microwave in my classroom, they were thrilled. We made many things: burritos, pizza, fondue, sorbet… Even microwaving a potato was fun for them.
There are many Teachers’ Days around the world. Certain teachers hold a special place in our hearts for our whole lives. They change our personal world. I was lucky enough to meet the English teacher who inspired my wife to study English and become a teacher. Although she wasn’t my teacher, she will always be special to me. It could be said that because of her encouragement, my wife’s chosen path led eventually to a place where we could meet. And that meeting made my life better forever.
Thank you to all my teachers. Thank you to all those wonderful teachers who taught my three kids. Thank you to my friends who are teachers. Thank you to all the great teachers everywhere. You make the world a better place for us all.