Posted by: sharemore1 | December 14, 2010

Showered with Flowers

What national holiday is celebrated with flowers?  The week before, prices rise as florists struggle to keep up with demand.  Afterwards, garbage workers complain as they haul away mounds of wilted blossoms.

Valentine’s Day, you say?  Maybe in the U.S., but not in Viet Nam.  Here Teachers’ Day, celebrated on November 20, is much more important than Valentine’s Day.  All schools hold ceremonies to honor teachers.  There are speeches, singing, food and, of course, flowers for the teacher.

Students Singing to Teachers


Moshe's Flowers

It’s bigger than Valentine’s Day because you don’t give flowers to just one or two people.  You honor all your teachers.  If you’re at the university, you go back to your secondary and primary schools to pay respect to former teachers.  Dozens of  these students converging on a school or teacher’s home can create motorbike jams.

Respect for teachers has a long tradition in Viet Nam and other Asian countries and is learned at an early age.  When they enter school, children are taught: “first learn manners, then learn knowledge.”  There is a children’s song that goes “At home mother is a teacher, at school teacher is a mother.  Teacher and mother are two teachers.  Mother and teacher are two kind mothers.”

Teacher with Flowers

Curious to see where teachers ranked in the United States, I looked at a 2009 Harris Poll.  They were number six in the list of top ten respected professions, behind firefighters, scientists, doctors, nurses and military officers.

Then I examined a recent assessment of 15-year-old students across 65 countries conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The US was solidly in the middle, 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, most scores not statistically above average.  Our students did score above average in reflecting and evaluating what they had read.

Although Viet Nam did not participate in the study, five out of the ten highest ranked countries or cities were Asian:  Shanghai-China, Korea, Hong Kong-China, Singapore and Japan.

It would be a stretch to equate outward displays of respect for teachers with superior academic progress.  In fact, as my husband Moshe has discovered, a deferential attitude can sometimes interfere with learning if students are reluctant to participate in class or to question what they are being taught.

Moshe's Class

Yet Moshe has found the students highly motivated in his honors math class at Viet Nam National University.  They have excellent class attendance, work to solve problems on their own and everyone participates in an optional tutorial that keeps them in class an extra hour.  These students have the added burden of listening, speaking and writing exams in English, a decidedly foreign language.  In his class at least, respect for learning and for teachers lasts long after the flowers hit the dumpster.

Too Much of a Good Thing

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