Award-winning teachers

The other thing that made my day last Saturday was witnessing Mak Yee Kiu, a former student, receive a teaching award at a ceremony in the afternoon.

The occasion was the award presentation ceremony organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers. I can understand the constraints of such teaching award contests; for example not everyone may agree with the selection criteria, and not all exemplary teachers will be awarded. Still, these are commendable efforts to acknowledge the importance of good teaching, and recognize the contribution of good teachers. Hence, it was a heartwarming occasion last Saturday afternoon to see so many outstanding teachers, to witness that their passion and hard work were being recognized, and to share their joy in receiving the awards. During the event, whether they were going up to the stage to receive their awards, sharing their thoughts with the audience, or receiving congratulations from their friends afterwards, they had one thing in common: they were exuding joy, passion, and dedication. Mingling with these exemplary teachers, one couldn’t help being inspired and motivated by them.

When Yee Kiu told me the news a week ago and invited me to the occasion, I was not surprised with her obtaining the award. She more than deserves it. In fact, whether she is formally awarded or not, she has always been an award-winning teacher in my mind. After she completed her postgraduate teacher education programme in primary teaching some years ago with me as her major-subject (English) tutor, she has continued to stay in touch. Though due to our busy schedules, we have only been able to meet up occasionally, every time we were able to catch up, Yee Kiu turned out to be even more passionate about teaching than before. She couldn’t stop sharing her joys in teaching with me, recounting the recent fun and creative things she had been trying with her students in teaching English, enumerating the recent achievements and cases of progress of her students, affirming her love for the children, and narrating the support that she had been given by the parents and her principal and colleagues. Often she was so engrossed in her sharing that I could hardly throw in a word, but I didn’t mind being an attentive listener, as simply immersing myself in Yee Kiu’s sharing was rewarding and satisfying enough.

Most of the time, at the end of her sharing, I was so awestruck that I was lost for words, and all I could say was: “Yee Kiu, you’re getting crazier and crazier!” I believe my comment is true, because she literally throws herself into her teaching. She never asks: Is this on my duty list? Are my students worth my extra effort?

Another heartwarming thing last Saturday afternoon was seeing so many award recipients being accompanied by their school principals. Whenever I have the chance to chat with a group of serving teachers, one of the most common frustrations they spill out is that their hard work is not acknowledged, not to say appreciated, by their principals. Hence, the scene last Saturday at the ceremony venue was most encouraging. Among the school heads present was Principal Tse Lai Wa of Kwun Tong Government Primary School (Sau Ming Road), who was there to congratulate Yee Kiu. Principal Tse looked even happier and more excited than Yee Kiu. She kept telling me the fine qualities of Yee Kiu and how lucky she was to have her on the school’s teaching staff. And then Yee Kiu kept telling me the endless support that she had been receiving from Principal Tse. I was a content listener, delighting in the wonders that good principal-teacher relationships could work.

Professor Joseph J.Y. Sung, Vice-chancellor-designate of the CUHK, was there as the guest of honour. Instead of delivering a speech, he told a little story. A couple of years back, he went to the UK to visit a world-renowned professor who had taught him 30 years ago at medical school at HKU. Professor Sung had always remembered this teacher whom he admired and respected. So while in the UK on business, Sung took time out to pay a visit to his former teacher. During their reunion chat, his former teacher said to him: “Joseph, if you have an academic paper published in the most prestigious medical journal in the world, it will be read for at most ten years. Then it will be totally forgotten. I was your teacher 30 years ago, and today you still remember me. Isn’t the impact of good teachers obvious? Never under-value good teaching.”

In our daily frenzy to deal with one thousand and one things at the same time, we sometimes forget the small things that we have done or said to our students. But they may not forget. In the ceremony prospectus, there is a section for the recipients to express their thoughts on receiving the award. Yee Kiu wrote (original in Chinese; translation mine):

……

I have two teachers to thank. The first is Dr Paul Sze of the CUHK Faculty of Education, who was my “form teacher” when I was studying for the postgraduate diploma in education. Once he told us a story titled “Three Letters from Teddy”, which illustrates how teachers can affect their students for life. Although I am not exactly like Teddy, the message stuck with me, and I decided to become a teacher who will make a difference in students’ lives.  (Yee Kiu continued to thank her second teacher, Principal Tse.)

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Honestly, I don’t remember telling this story, but I’m delighted that I have made a difference in Yee Kiu’s life.

(Postscript: As I have pointed out, not all exemplary teachers will get to be awarded. One such example is that of Mr Patrick Chan. Listen to how he overcame the disappointment, and kept up his passion for teaching:

http://paulsze.podomatic.com/player/web/2009-05-13T21_49_40-07_00)

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