Character and passion for teaching

Yesterday, I met up for lunch with a former education student, Jenny. Jenny was as exuberant as ever. When I asked her how she managed to keep up her passion for teaching after all these years, she replied, without a moment of thought, “As long as it is something that students will benefit from, I will totally pour myself into it.”

Jenny has taught for some years already, but she is even more zesty than a first-year teacher. She has inexhaustible energy for her work. She possesses a wide array of professional competencies, and has taken on a variety of curriculum leadership roles, but she will jump at the first opportunity to try something new. On top of serving her own school, she is now part of a Hong Kong University’s project providing school-based support for teachers teaching non-Chinese-speaking students.

When I probed further and asked her what gave her all that drive, she attributed it to her own character. I was not totally content with this answer, which is a purely innate quality. I wanted to look for some generalisable factors that can be applied in other work contexts and across people whatever their character. So I pushed Jenny to think harder. At last, Jenny came up with this example. If after going through some school-based planning with teachers, she sees that the teaching design works well in the classroom so that the students learn happily and effectively, this will give her a great sense of satisfaction.

This indirectly supports the current view of many writers on motivation who highlight 3 external factors that give people drive: autonomy (having the space to decide on how to go about one’s work); mastery (the possibility to get better and better at what one is doing); and purpose (being able to see the meaning of one’s work). For me, Jenny’s example is saying that if on top of these factors, you also have the right character – that will give you the lifelong passion.

Active vs Passive vs Ergative

Looks like it’s becoming a trend to use verbs ergatively:


Facebook: ‘This message failed to send.’ (vs ‘We failed to send your message.)
Amazon: ‘Your order has shipped.’ (vs ‘Your order has been shipped.’)

Windows: ‘Your application is installing.” (vs ‘Your application is now being installed.)


ESL teachers will have an increasingly hard time explaining the use of the Passive Voice.

Learning from e-learning students

They say we teachers can sometimes learn from our students.In the case of e-learning, there is no doubt about it. This is because technology is developing so fast that there are bound to be apps or e-learning strategies which have escaped the teacher’s attention.

Earlier on, I learnt about from an undergraduate student who was taking my CALL course. It’s an information and communication board for teams working together on a project. On each board are lists, which contain cards. I will spare you the details, but I’m using it as a very versatile to-do list, to juggle and prioritise and reprioritise the dozens of things (one thing on each card) I have to do every day and in the medium term.

Then, the other day, while marking the undergraduate students’ term papers, I came across an app,, which I immediately fell in love with. It’s like Padlet, which can be used for brainstorming, and displaying things, but it can also be used for team collaborations, and its many visual effects immediately outshine the dull-looking shared Google documents and folders. It’s so cool that I’m already exploring ways to use it in my own work, and also in teaching. ….

So, we e-learning teachers need to be humble – there are always apps, tricks, techniques that some students may know better than we do.

Lesson planning can be rewarding

I enjoy planning new workshops from scratch. This is a highly creative activity. At the same time, it enables me to make full use of my professional knowledge, and experience. The process of planning, however, is not always straightforward. It’s often messy, with hundreds of ideas floating in your mind, and dozens of practical considerations to make. But it gives me a great sense of satisfaction as gradually, the workshop design takes shape, and the ideas become more concrete. I hope that all teachers can share a similar satisfaction, and that’s why we must ensure they have sufficient time to do lesson planning.


(Written on May 4)

忍不住要批評香港政府回歸二十週年的宣傳語句: Together, progress, opportunity;政府內有很多英文高手吧,但竟然弄出這樣的行貨,如果是外判得來的,就太輕率收貨了。

中文原文是完整語句,英文要用三個單字顯示相同或近似的意思,本就並非上策,縱使著意用單字,問題是Together, progress, opportunity, 不但太cliche, 三字之間關係不明顯,最令人搖頭的,是連rhetoric的基本原則也漠視:progress, opportunity是名詞,together 是副詞, 在這情形下三個單元要用相同的結構,一是全用名詞,一是全用形容詞,一是全用結構相同的短語或句子,這樣讀起來才有鏗鏘的效果。

是以縱使對together 一詞情有獨鍾,也是togetherness 而不是 together 啊,而togetherness 意思亦太弱,何不索性用 Unity!

要選三個單字,打開thesaurus 便可以慢慢揀,可以選意思上的配合,可以採發音上的巧妙(例如number of syllables; alliteration, rhyming); 但Together, progress, opportunity 這樣的雜牌軍 ……唉!