Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thankful for Teachers

Almost in the spirit of Thanksgiving the Vietnamese have reserved November 20th as "Teacher Day." Imagine, taking one day out of the school year in which the students all show up at school, but not to be lectured to or tested or otherwise tortured - and neither are their teachers. Instead, teachers bask in a day of appreciation, songs, dances and lots and lots of flowers. Bouquets were flying right and left and the flower sellers were doing a holiday's business as ever student raced to get a dozen roses or a stalk of lilies snuggled in a bed of babies breath or bright yellow daisies all trussed up in paper and lace and ribbons to present to their favorite teacher. I asked my staff how this whole tradition of teacher's day came about. Of course, the origins have to go back to the esteemed Uncle Ho Chi Minh, who wrote an open letter of appreciation to all teachers in the country, dated November 20th, year unknown. He included a quote that translates roughly as:

If you want to prosper in the next decade, plant trees;

If you want to prosper in the next century, plant people.

Teacher’s Day was only declared a public day of recognition only within the last few decades. I asked my staff for some of their experiences while celebrating the day. Almost all of them talk about going to visit their teachers in their homes on this day at. A large group of students would gather together and choose a teacher’s house. Many of them spent so much time there that some of them even wound up spending the night after being caught out after dark. Visiting teachers on this day is almost mandatory – and many don’t stop after they finish school. Many of my staff who had attended school in the area dashed away from the office at 5 PM to gather with their friends and begin to make rounds to their former teachers’ homes.

Today I had a meeting with members of our organization’s Project Management Committee, including the provincial director of the Department of Education. The committee spent several minutes chatting about the activities from the day before – then they asked me how Teacher’s Day in Vietnam compares to in the US. I had to confess that I didn’t think we had an official day for recognizing all the contributions of our teachers to our lives…and that I think Vietnam has something good on us there. Everybody laughed, appreciative that they were truly ahead of us in at least one major category – showing thankfulness and paying debts of gratitude.

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