My humbled experience

Fifteen years ago, when I first came to teach in Asia, I was surprisuiked when entered the classroom and suddenly all students immediately stand up. It took me a minute to realize that they are showing their respect to the teacher which is part of their tradition. Of course, as a student in the elementary and high school in Vietnam, I did the same thing with my teachers but living in the U.S. for over 50 years, I almost forget this wonderful tradition.

Asian tradition always respects people for their position, abilities, or achievements. Children are taught to respect their parents and their teachers. But respect is not a one way as many people thought but two ways. As the students show respect to the teachers, the teachers also show the appreciation for the students ‘ behavior by a thanking gesture such as saying: “Please, sit down.”

In this fast changing time, many wonderful traditions have been forgotten and many years have passed before I rediscover that old tradition. I realized that our attitude toward students makes all the difference in their learning. For many years of teaching in the U.S. and Europe, I constantly ask myself how to make my class better and what the students want to learn from me. I thought that having the most current technical knowledge is important so I always try to keep my course materials up to date. But after teaching in several Asian universities, I came back with a new conclusion: “What the students want the most from a teacher is NOT ONLY their knowledge BUT ALSO their kindness, concern and empathy attitude toward them.

As teachers, sometimes we take our role too seriously and be too strict with them. We need to reflect on our attitudes by imagining a role reversals. If we are students today, what do we want from the teachers? I am sure that we may have differences of opinion but in my experience, I believe students want to have teachers who care for them. As teachers, we spend many years studying and acquiring knowledge to teach but how much time we are taught about caring? Of course, to many teachers, caring is in their nature and personality, and that is why they choose to be teachers. However, not all people become teachers because they care for students or to educate future generations. To some, it is just a job that they can find. In this turbulent time where respect is rare among the society for the teaching profession, more than ever, we need to show our caring and kindness to our students and reminding ourselves that caring is the main reason why we become teachers.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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