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September 7, 2021

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The importance of dedicating a day to the teachers

The Teachers’ Day (September 10) is around the corner. In the We Media era, there are few surprises, but I do not expect some are calling to abolish the Teachers’ Day, and among the advocates are teachers. As a teacher who has been teaching in the University of International Relations for 31 years, I would like to explain why I disagree.

I graduated from Beijing Normal University, whose motto is: “Learn, so as to instruct others. Act, to serve as example to all.”

This motto was written by Qi Gong (1912-2005), a prestigious professor, calligrapher, a connoisseur of painting, and writer. His 72 years of teaching career demonstrated what a good teacher should be like.

I was so lucky to be one of his students 40 years ago, and his amiable smile and the motto he wrote would still come to my mind from time to time, reminding me to be a good teacher.

Teachers have to “Learn, so as to instruct others.”

The second Taoist sage Zhuangzi cautions, “Alas, my life is limited, while knowledge is limitless! To pursue the limitless with the limited is dangerous. Knowing this but still pursue that is fatal.”

I find this rather pessimistic. I always told my students: “Learning should be a life-long journey, it is limitless but not hopeless, and every step forward is a step further away from ignorance and stupidity.” We should all keep learning, whether we are students or teachers.

Teachers have to serve as example to all.

As Qi Gong once explained, “A teacher should be a model for all. Such a model does not wait for others to elect you, but you should ask yourself whether you have done anything you should be ashamed of.”

My course, the History of Western Civilization, is one of the first batch of Chinese international courses on the XuetangX international platform of Tsinghua University. A few days ago, Rodolfo, a student from Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, Brazil, commented online, “The west which created the great Aristotle also created colonialism. The same men who travelled through the Atlantic Ocean were also in the slave trade, one of the most terrible crimes in human history. My country Brazil was exploited by the Portuguese Empire, which took gold, diamonds and left the nation without any development from the Discovery to the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in 1807.”

I feel proud, because my lecture helped this Brazilian student think.

As German philosopher Karl Theodor Jaspers observed, “The essence of education means that one tree shakes another tree, one cloud pushes another cloud, and one soul awakens another soul.”

As a teacher, we should not content ourselves with instruction, explanation, and demonstration.

The more important thing is to make your teaching inspiring.

Rodolfo might not know there is a Teachers’ Day in China, but I took his comment as a special gift.

There is a line by the Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin, “The silk-worms of spring will weave until they die, and every night the candles will weep their wicks away.”

Like a candle

A good teacher is like a candle, which consumes itself to light the way for others. Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. Mencius believed “the superior man has three things in which he delights … That he can get from the whole kingdom the most talented individuals, and teach and nourish them — this is the third delight.”

I believe for most teachers including me, to be a teacher in this life is our good fortune and delight.

As early as in 1994, the Article 25 of the Teachers Law of the People’s Republic of China stipulates, “Teachers’ average salary shall not be lower or shall be higher than that of state public servants and shall be gradually raised.”

Since then teachers’ average salary has been increasing, but in some areas the law has not been fully enforced, especially regarding the salary of teachers in some remote rural areas.

And this day could be a burden if students have to send gifts to teachers.

There are some bad teachers whose conduct compromises the image of teacher. But the Teachers’ Day observed properly should make these teachers ashamed of themselves.

September 10 was chosen as the Teachers’ Day in 1985, and some think the day not a good choice because it is in the busy first couple of weeks of the autumn semester.

Some propose that September 28, the day on which Confucius was said to be born, as a better choice. I agree, for Confucius is the model for all teachers.

I think the Teachers’ Day is a great day. Abolishing it is definitely not a good idea.

The author is associate professor in the Culture and Communications Department, and research fellow at the Sino-Denmark Joint Research Center on China and International Relations, University of International Relations.




 

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