In a culture that puts such huge value on education, the role of the teacher is held in high regard. Thus, Vietnam puts aside a day to celebrate the hard work of the country educator’s: the snappily titled, Teacher’s Day.
It’s a day that sees the nation busy preparing gifts (bribes?) and planning trips to former schools. Whether teacher’s pet or a rowdy troublemaker, our school days wouldn’t be complete without our teachers. For many, the presence of a good teacher is a life-changing experience, and Nov. 20 is a time to thank them.
Known for her constant jokes and blasting out Radiohead before class Ms. Trang, a young professor teaching Portuguese at Hanoi University, has a quirky and quick-witted personality, naturally grabbing her student’s attention. Carefree and relatable Trang is known for putting her students at ease and they approach her for anything with help in their studies right through to relationship advice.
“There was this one student, they gave me a phone call before heading abroad. They asked ‘Miss, are you at school right now? I want to say goodbye before I go,’” Trang says. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t at school at that time. I had even prepared a gift for them but since they were in such a rush, I didn’t have the chance. This was about six years ago, still, I can’t help but feeling a bit of sadness when I think about it.”
Teachers’ Day finds lots of former pupils visiting Trang. “Post-graduation, some have jobs and some have a family to take care of. I really don’t care if they can meet up with me or not, I appreciate all the time I can spend with my former students. There are ones who I lost touch with throughout the years, but I believe that they still remember the good times we had while in school.”
“November 20 is the time for the students, including me, to show our gratitude to the teachers. When I think about my time as a teacher, I feel happy as I can play a small part in shaping my students. For my students, I only wish them to find happiness in their life.”
For Mrs. Khoi, a former middle school teacher, there are many stories that still resonate from her teaching days. Thinking back her time teaching, she gives a chuckle: “Oh being a teacher, how can I not have any memorable stories!”
Yet, her first story is more teary than cheery. As a young teacher, Khoi remembers walking into her new class, with lines of students immediately standing up to greet her. But she noticed one who didn’t follow suit. Young and inexperienced, she approached the student after telling the class to sit down, demanded to know why he had refused to stand. Instead of answering he simply began to cry. It was only they then she realized he was disabled and couldn’t stand properly let alone walk. At this point it was Khoi’s time to cry. To this day, she still blames herself for jumping to conclusions.
Khoi assumed the student would never forgive her. But, now an artist, he visits her every year and gifts her one of his artworks. She says it is often the students she had issues with that visit her the most.
“Is there any real loss if I don’t receive those envelopes? Gifts from the heart, now that is true appreciation.”
“It is as if the more troublesome they are the more they miss me,” she laughs. “They even bring their boyfriend or girlfriends along with them to meet me!”
Throughout Vietnam, it is a custom for students to make artwork for their teachers, which is then pinned on the walls to express gratitude. Typically, pupils will write poems or song lyrics, then decorate their work with cutesy or flowery images. Khoi keeps lots of her student’s artworks, and appreciates the effort. “Some even make their own post cards; are filled with scribbles but it’s cute nonetheless,” she says.
Speaking of Teachers’ Day gifts, Khoi has mixed feelings. In Vietnam, there’s an ‘envelopes culture’ that effectively sees parents giving bribes to teachers, an act she feels is problematic despite understanding why some teachers might accept. She fees it taints the profession. “Is there any real loss if I don’t receive those envelopes? Gifts from the heart, now that is true appreciation.”
On this note, she brings out a small faded gift box that’s dusty and pink. Inside is not an expensive watch or piece of jewelry but a series of small tokens: a clay Russian doll and two beautiful paper flowers stand out. “I still look at this sometimes. A little girl called Nhi Nhi who loved drawing and crafting made the flower for me one Teacher’s Day,” she says. “I remember taking it back to the teacher lounge and I couldn’t stop admiring it. Others thought it was silly but I still cherish it.”
She reminisces over the Russian doll too. A little boy’s father brought it back from Russia, and the child said it was his favorite toy. I said: “’If you like it then why are you giving it to me?’ and he said, “I gave it to you because I like it so much!”
Walking down memory lane, I am reminded of how much teacher’s do and the respect they deserve. In Vietnam, we have a saying: “School is our second home,” which in many ways makes teachers like second parents. Teaching not just about imparting knowledge—though that’s important—but helping to prepare people for the big bad world out there. They play a huge part in our lives, and it is fitting that Vietnam has a day set by to honor these heroes.
Words by Hai Anh.