“You teach well.”
The sentence that made my night. It came from Duc, a 28 year old student who wants to go to Australia for a master’s degree in Architecture. Although it was my first time to meet their class in To Hien Thanh, the thirty-two students mostly my age and some even older behaved animatedly as I talked about the pictures I am showing from my laptop.
Today is the National Teachers’ Day in Vietnam. It’s rather different from the same celebration in the Philippines because here people take it seriously. By seriously I mean students and their parents observe the tradition by going to the teachers’ house and give them flowers. Yesterday, in my class in Xuan Thuy in Cau Giay district, a 32 year-old student gave me a bouquet of yellow roses. I was stunned and was unable to speak coherently for five minutes because aside from the fact that it was my first time to receive flowers, I also didn’t expect that my students take me as a teacher in a Vietnamese sense. I think I do not qualify.
This afternoon, while on my way to my class, I decided to buy a red Zara shirt for my teacher. I approximated her size and hoped that it will be just right for her. I thought of giving her flowers, but since I knew she will have received flowers from her other two Korean students, I opted to buy something she can wear. She only smiled when I gave her the plastic bag containing the blouse and said her subdued “Cam on em”.
During the break, I went inside the faculty room and had a chat with the other teachers in the Khoa Tieng Viet (Vietnamese Department). They spoke to me in Vietnamese which seemed to me a test in listening and speaking. The director of the department related our experience yesterday when he accompanied me and my teacher, Co Thu, to a fashion exhibit in Tran Hung Dao but was postponed for some unknown reason.
I noticed during my study in the Department that I am the only student who stays in the faculty room. During break time, I am often invited by the director to drink coffee in the room. Not that we talked about so many things, my Vietnamese is too academic to be conversational. But being with the teachers in the department allows me to observe first hand Vietnamese sensibilities and mind-set, make generalizations, and subject them to the readings on Vietnamese psychology that I encountered.
Being a teacher in Vietnam is being underpaid, stressed, and not given enough recognition the job (or vocation as my mother calls it. She is also a teacher) deserves. So occasions like this allow the Vietnamese society to recognize their teachers who have been toiling to not only pass on the knowledge but also inspire the students to dream.
Receiving flowers is already too much for me. Being told I teach well is already beyond my expectation. Just seeing them getting thirstier for knowledge the more I share to them what I know, that thing fulfills me as a teacher.