Embracing one’s sense of mission

Dear Hey

When you finished your talk to the student teachers, and I said you didn’t look like someone who was working for the Government, what I really meant was that it is difficult to find an education worker these days who has worked in the field for some years to still posesses a strong sense of mission. It might be easier for teachers to maintain that sense of mission since they deal with students directly on a daily basis, and can see the outcome of their effort more easily and quickly. It would be much more difficult for other educational professionals who have to grapple with often-tedious paperwork, other unsympathetic adults, and unavoidable organisational politics, day in and day out, to keep up that sense of mission. And you’re definitely an exception.

You might still remember that I had worked as an inspector for the Education Bureau of the Hong Kong government for a while. When I applied to the position, I had taught for 10 years, and I thought that the new position would allow me to make a greater contribution to ELT in Hong Kong. But very soon, I realised that few of my colleagues shared the same mission. In fact with some of them, the longer they had worked as inspectors, the less passion they had about education. Certainly I shouldn’t put all the blame on them, for the culture of the civil service in those days discouraged conscientious work: promotion was dependent on seniority and how well one played the bureaucracy game, not how much contribution an officer had made to the education community.

Of course, that was in the mid-eighties, and today, the Hong Kong government has become more accountable to the needs of the people, and it could be a very different picture working at the Education Bureau today.

Anyway, after some time when it was clear that the work culture I was immersed in wouldn’t change in the forseeable future, I applied to become a lecturer at a college of education to train primary and lower secondary teachers of English. In so doing, I would be able to make a direct impact on the future English teachers of Hong Kong. Indeed, it was a highly rewarding time teaching at the college of education, as the students were energetic young adults who wanted to become good teachers. But after four years, because of changes in the Education Bureau’s manpower needs, I was transferred to another section which had nothing to do with English, the subject which I loved so dearly. Soon, I made a career decision which shocked all my colleagues: I resigned from the Government (meaning that my pension would be gone), and went back to secondary-school teaching. I taught for three years, at three different secondary schools, before joining the CUHK Faculty of Education in 1991.

In retrospect, the three years were of immense value to my own development. At the college of education, I was ‘selling’ the Communicative Approach and various ‘progressive’ teaching methods to the student teachers. So, the three years back in schools allowed me to practise what I preached. But more importantly, because I was experiencing the life of a teacher again, this sojourn reminded me of the many pressures that teachers worked under in real life, so that when I re-joined teacher education in 1991, I beccame more understanding of teachers’ thinking, and more sympathetic when I worked with inservice teachers.

Haha, why am I telling you all this? Your talk confirmed my previous impression that you’re a highly reflective educator, with a strong sense of mission. And if there is anything I can share with you from my almost forty years of work in education, it is that it is important to remain reflective, and definitely worth embracing your passion and sense of mission. Not because this will make you rich and famous, but because it will strengthen your sense of pride, and you will continue to fnd your life meaningful When I think back to some of my colleagues at the Education Bureau in those days (and I have to emphasise in those days), some of them had already stopped living before they entered middle age.

This goal of working for the good of other people, even if it is a very humble goal, will make you feel good and special about yourself, and give you extra energy to face the many challenges ahead.

A thousand thanks for sharing those stories of yours to the student teachers. In our taught courses to the student teachers, we usually focus on technical issues of pedagogy, because there are course contents to complete. Even the student teachers themselves might be obsessed with the assessments and assignments. It is not always possible or easy to address the affective dimension of teacher education, even if we teacher educators want to.  The talk you gave, hence, was most inspiring to them. I was not joking when I said that the messages in those stories had been made more effective because they came from you. This was because you were sharing your personal life with them. If we (their own teachers) had told them the same messages, they might have found us preaching.

And I personally have to thank you again for your sharing, as you have reinforced my faith in teaching from the heart. Yes, we may not be able to see the fruit of our labour immediately, but maybe without own knowing, we have made a small difference in a student’s life. Yes, we will feel good if our students need our teaching, but we should also remember that our ultimate goal should be to help students become independent learners. Yes, we should find from, and give support to, our ‘comrades’. And yes, we should keep a good supply of candy bars for our students, and chocolates for ourselves.

It’s a good fortune of mine to have met you.


Note: Hey works at the Teaching and Research Institute of the Guangzhou Education Bureau.


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