Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teacher's Day Eulogy

As I was going through the motion of another routineous day, I remembered very well that it was the Grand Teacher's Day when the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius was honored for his birthday. Didn't we use to get a day off and didn't we use to send cards to our teachers? Now it is not celebrated as a holiday although its significance remains on the calendar with a tiny mark next to the day.

So it was a work day for me on a day that was not publicly acknowledged anymore. I sat with my morning freshman psych. classes in an international conference which they were forced to attend. I felt like a nanny and many times I feel so in my current job. What was really funny was that the department sent a student worker to remind me of my duty to keep the students from skipping the event. The topic was music therapy and I doubted how many of them felt truly inspired at their age? Why did they call this an international conference anyway when the audience wasn't international at all?

At 3:30pm, my dear student Mr. Liu showed up to present a card to me. It was the third time in a roll that he did this and I, on seeing him outside of my office waiting, suppressed my tears. I really wanted to hug and thank him for remembering me on this day. For the first time in three years, I felt like a teacher who was truly appreciated by a student. I told him how special he was and he seemed embarrassed, not expecting this to come from me-a teacher. Taiwanese student may not be used to hearing compliments. But I ignored that and told him how much he had made my day.

On the card, he wrote, "dear teacher, I want to know if you are as pretty as ever, and I hope they are not killing you with this amount of work. I wish you are more beautiful each year. Thank you for being a part of my life." How can I not feel touched by sweet words like these? Mr. Liu certainly did not expect me to read the card in front of him. I answered each of his questions in the card and asked him to show me the secret of staying young and beautiful as we age.

There was this person in my life whom I owed thanks to on every Teacher's Day. It was my first English teacher Mr. Huang in junior high school. He gave me a key to the world by leading me to understand the north American cultures and language. He was not only a teacher, but a father figure to his young students by giving his love unconditionally. There I was, a sad girl searching for the meanings of life at the age of 13. I did not like school and doubted why I had to be imprisoned in a culture where my individualism was not valued. I wanted an outlet to a different life and found my escape in the world of English. I felt as if I was in a different world where I could be who I was, without having to abide by the rules of absurdity. It was a make-believe world where I temporarily relieved myself from the boredom of life.

Mr. Huang raised two children on his own after his wife had passed away. He would often come by and reach out to hold us, urging us to practice English with him. But we all ran away. Studying English for more than five hours a day was drilling to young teens. As much as I enjoyed learning it, I couldn't help join other students for a complaint from time to time.

It was when I was in college that I heard Mr. Huang had cancer and was very sick in the hospital. I was in shock and did not know what to do to cheer him up. I had not kept in touch with him although I was one of his favorite students. I was too scared to go see him. From other former classmates, I learned that he was not doing well. Several of them had visited him. And I, waited, and waited until one day I heard that he had passed away. I heard that he worked away typing the English practice sheets for his students on his sick bed, until the very last day of his life.

All these years, I felt like a coward because I was too afraid of death to visit Mr. Huang while he was still alive. I missed my chance of saying goodbye. Mostly, I miss him so much that I wish I could see him smiling with his cute buck teeth again. I know that he is in good hands with the Lord but I really miss him. I want to ask him to teach me to say the double "r" in Spanish, again and again. I would practice very hard until I get it right this time. And I would tell him that he is the best teacher that I've ever had, the most talented Asian teacher who rolled his tongue so well when speaking Spanish. I want to tell him that I was mimicking his ways in teaching my own English classes to teenagers when I was back in college, and I had done very well producing some excellent students who went on to shine in the world of the English language. Perhaps I've managed to keep his legacy?

I am writing this in memory of the one and only Mr. Huang from Concordia Middle School, for he inspired me to interact with another world that I found comfort in my early miserable teen years. I love you very much Mr. Huang. Can you see that I just got a card from a student? I wish you had an address that I can send my card to.


  1. Wow, you are a great story writer. You remember loads of details Lori. It is great to get such a card. Yes, send the no aging secrets you have. As they pour in for you, you will see how much of a difference you are making. Your teacher, Mr. Huang, gave you many things, including your current career. And he helped make you a fluent speaker of English and helped lead you to your graduate degrees in the USA. One person led you to many things.

    I had a high school humanities teacher for 3 years who later was a student with me in an Eastern Religion Thought class (I was an undergraduate student and he was a graduate student). His name was Mr. Kim Rhode. I thanked my Rhode for his help over the years in my 1998 Electronic Collaborators book in the Acknowledgements. Now you are acknowledging your teacher. We all need teacher reflection days to remind of us the good mentors and teachers we have met. We are lucky to have Mr. Huang and Mr. Rhode, respectively.

    I enjoyed your post. Happy belated Grand Teacher's Day.

  2. Thank you very much, my friend, for your kind comment and sharing your personal thoughts. And here is my belated wish to you too, for the Teacher's Day (9/28), Curt. You are one of my distant mentors that I feel lucky to have. Thanks for your kindness.

    Have you sent cards to Mr. Rhode on holidays? You are lucky if you have. I wish I could send a nice card to Mr. Huang...

  3. MW... your tribute to Mr. Huang is so beautiful. We are all influenced by someone whose path crosses with ours. They leave something behind when they touch our lives in unique ways. Likewise, we leave something behind of ours for them to take along. I think those who teach have that special privilege to make huge differences. I thank God every day for the privilege to teach and to leave behind my enthusiasm for learning and hopefully nothing negative.

  4. Well said, MIT and I am so glad that you are enjoying teaching and inspiring the young minds. We all have been there although I sometimes lose my patience teaching a group of noisy kids. Oh, well.

  5. What a touching post Lori. I'm sure Mr. Huang would be proud of you if he could see you today. As he made a lifelong impression on you, so too are you making a lifelong impression on your students, like the young man who gave you a card. Keep up your good work.

  6. Martin, thank you for your nice words. I think you will make a wonderful art teacher too whether you stay in SA or go to the UK.