These connections are possible, because we are teachers

Yesterday morning while I was presenting certificates and awards to the graduating students at Bishop Ford Memorial School on the stage, Miss Winnie was watching intently from among the audience. She had been their teacher and was content to see her students reach this milestone of their education.

About 2 months ago on April 29, I attended Miss Winnie’s wedding at Chung Chi Chapel on CUHK campus. I had been Miss Winnie’s PGDE teacher, and was content to see her reach this milestone of her life.

Back in 2003, one day while I was thumbing through the timetables of the teachers on the PGDE programme, in preparation for the upcoming Teaching Practice visits, I saw that Miss Winnie was a teacher at Bishop Ford Memorial School, the school that I went to as a primary kid.

The next week, when I saw Miss Winnie in class, I said proudly to her, “Winnie, did you know that I went to Bishop Ford Memorial School as a student many years ago?”

Miss Winnie replied, even more proudly, “Paul, did you know that I also went to this school as a student some years ago?”

All these miraculous connections are made possible, because we are teachers.


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.

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.


昨晚和兩位小學老師閒談,他們告訴我這陣子各式各樣的duties, 我邊聽邊想,今天做小學教師真不簡單啊,應付排山倒海的工作量不在話下,除了學科知識和課室技巧外,還要懂得百般武藝,例如:

要有美術修養以製作美麗的壁報,識唱歌跳舞演戲以便訓練學生演出variety show和參加各式比賽, 教英文又要對STEM 有一點認識,要懂得接力跑步以便在運動會娛樂學生,要有公關技巧以便和一眾家長週旋,要有旅行社領隊的技能以便帶學生往外地比賽或交流,要有救傷證書以便急救學生,要對TECHNOLOGY 有相當認識以便推展電子教學……。想到這裏,更加敬佩他們。今天還有一些人以為教小學很容易,他們是大錯特錯。

Teachers who switched to teaching from other jobs

Today, I caught up with 4 students from last year’s fulltime group over lunch. One of them, before joining the teacher education programme, had already completed a management trainee programme with a major company and had a promising career future before her. Yet, she quit her job, and applied to the PGDE programme, hoping that one day she could find meaning working in the teaching profession.

As usual, this afternoon over lunch, I asked her whether she regretted the change having worked as a real-life teacher for 8 months. It is my usual practice to pose this question to former students who have worked in other fields, because I know the (harsh) realities of working in a school today may not match their previous expectations especially if they have aspired to find meaning and purpose in the work of teaching.

So, I was delighted when this former student told me she was sure she had made the right decision. When I probed further and asked her why she was standing by her previous decision despite the heavy stress of being a teacher today, her answer did not come as a big surprise: “It is gratifying when I see my students are learning and making progress, and that I can have an influence on their lives.”

Many young adults enter teaching out of a desire to do good for other people’s children. We should cherish their altruism. Let us remember that and create a school environment in which they can continue to find meaning and purpose in their work.


前天和去年pgdp 數位學員茶聚,她們剛體會了七個月有血有淚的教師生涯,於是我們在㗎啡室有說有笑之餘,我也探問她們怎樣回顧這七個月的辛酸,遇到什麼困難?和同事家長相處怎樣? 能否在工作中找到意義?怎樣回顧入行的初衷?有沒有滿足感?對現時的教育實況有什麼感想……



A ‘shabby’ farewell card from a student

On seeing my post yesterday, a student teacher who had just finished his practicum shared with me the following personal story, which once again illustrates the impact that teachers who connect with their students as real persons can make:

“I have a similar experience in the TP I’ve just finished! I came to know the students without any knowledge of how they usually behaved. There was a student who always couldn’t hand in his homework on time. He needed to submit his work separately for the teacher to check but despite repeated handbook “notes” to his parents there was no obvious improvement. And he tended to shout and say silly things out in class (he was arranged to sit in one of the corners in the classroom on his own).

At first, I asked if he could promise submitting all his work on time the next day and keep quiet in class. However, after a few days (or less!) he fell back into old patterns. Then I invited him to have lunch together and got to know him better (and other teachers told me he was very happy to be invited – he kept telling others). It turned out that it was somehow related to his family, and their support is rather weak. He didn’t like English either. I could not say now English is his favourite subject or he always behaved in the “expected” way, but we were so glad to see his significant and continuous progress.

On the 2nd last day, this student wrote me a card he made (just using the paper from the school’s single line book + the badge from the school he cut from notices, etc + some simple pictures he drew, but it is already good enough). And I wrote back to him and said I’ll always support him, giving this to him together with a print out of the photo taken during our lunch. From other teachers’ observations, his writing in the card and the photo we took on the last day, we all witnessed how his behaviour improved and he treasured my “gift”….plus my colleague told me some students cried after they knew that I’d go.

I’d never imagined that I’d got more than 10 farewell notes / cards students made and wrote (and I replied). Some teachers said I was too nice to students and wasn’t stern enough. And sometimes I wondered if I should resort to scolding, but I’m glad that I didn’t as I can now say confidently that students (esp those nowadays) need more love and support, and my job is not to make them feel afraid of me or my subject, but to build positive relationships with them and see them as real persons. This is definitely my privilege! How blessed I am! ^^”