Being a Confucian Educator at Truman

This is the essay submitted to the 2019 Educator of the Year competition.

Prompt:

What is your vision of the ideal educator, and how do you embody this vision inside and outside of the classroom? Please respond with an original essay or a non-traditional submission of your choice.



因材施教。

‘Teach students in accordance with their individuality.’

——The Analects of Confucius


Each group of students, and each student, has different temperament. My experience indicates that a single teaching approach, valid for all situations at all times, simply does not exist. Rather, my selection of teaching methods is always accommodated to what and whom I am teaching.


Interest is the best teacher. This is particularly true for language classes because unlike science, students have to get enough input to speak a language. Undoubtedly, students are much more willing to receive language input related to their interest. Therefore, I always try to relate the vocabulary and grammar points to American pop culture, and in the meantime encourage my students to watch Chinese movies/dramas/TV shows and to read Chinese stories/news/poems of their own choice. For the research projects in higher level Chinese classes, students are encouraged to conduct research on topics that truly interest them, without worrying about the language barrier. It turns out that with little help, they are able to comment on complex issues including the character of Mulan in comparison with other Chinese heroines, the import and export of holidays, and migrant workers in big cities around the world. Working on these projects, they also improved dramatically in their vocabulary, grammar, and more importantly, the ability to process and to use Chinese.


In addition to interest, students also have different learning styles. Some students learn a foreign language as they learn math, by memorizing syntactic rules out of context. I direct their attention to real language use in this case by pointing out some pragmatic principles in combination with many examples. In other cases, some students have regular exposure and communicate with their families or friends in Chinese, but are not accurate in standard Chinese grammar and are not able to write Chinese characters. I then emphasize the rationale underlying the structures of Chinese characters and sentences. Some students like studying in groups, and participating in student organizations or other group activities to help them to study; yet some students prefer a more laid-back style from the professor: they need time and space to process the knowledge on their own.


All in all, I try my best to understand individual students, and then adjust my teaching accordingly.


教学相长。

‘Those who teach, learn.’

——The Analects of Confucius


Every time preparing for a class is like an exploration. I think of myself as directing a movie, trying to make every class period as attractive and informative as possible. I rehearse different ways to present class materials and to interact with students, so when I walk into the classroom, it is always exciting to see how the design turns out. After years of practice, the dynamic selection of appropriate teaching techniques has become an instinct. In the meantime, I am more and more confident speaking in public.


I am humbled to receive the 2019 Educator of the Year Finalist Award.

Besides, as an international faculty member from China, through interaction with students I am able to know about different perspectives and cultural differences. For example, it was interesting to hear students think of the history of imperial China as “tedious” compared to the “manifest destiny” of the United States; students compared Confucianism to Christianity because 己所不欲勿施于人can exactly be translated as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I also learned a lot from my students: every time I do not know how to express myself accurately in English, students never hesitate to help me. My knowledge of meritocracy, dharma in Buddhism, the book Ninety Eighty-Four, rags-to-riches stories in American literature… all of these first came from students. In many cases, my students and I inspire each other. In the Chinese culture class, when we talked about the Chinese novel 水浒传Shuihu Zhuan‘Water Margin’, one student pointed out that it is similar to the English story Robin Hood. Then I conducted some brief research into Robin Hood, and found that a closer counterpart of it in Chinese modern literature is the fictional Kungfu master Chu Liuxiang, described as the “chief of bandits/thieves” by the famous wuxiawriter Gu Long.


Furthermore, teaching helps me to know more about human beings. As I am constantly observing and trying to understand my students, different learning styles, characteristics and personalities can clearly be seen.


夫仁者,己欲立而立人,己欲达而达人。

‘Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.’

——The Analects of Confucius


Teachers should be facilitators. I believe the purpose of a teacher is to create self-sufficient life-long learners. The mission of a teacher is to build students’ confidence, competence, and independence to face problems on their own and to give them the ability to explore the uncharted territory. This can be a bitter part of teaching: being a teacher means that you are doomed to be unneeded one day; if your students always need you, it simply means that you are not doing your job.


However, is it so bitter?


You see a group of students leaving, smiling in their gowns and caps. Thinking about the past springs and falls with them, you feel like crying, mourning for the ending of the bond that you dedicated yourself to. But after a summer, new faces will come to your life. Year after year, you are always seeing new young, vigorous, curious and enthusiastic individuals. You begin to wonder what they are like, and what miracles they can create. You begin to understand them, teach them, lead them, direct them, and spend time with them. Importantly, you also explore life, and explore the world with them. You cannot help dedicating yourself again. Students come and go. Your efforts therein, and your bonds with each generation, constitute your life itself. Is there anything more amazing than this?


If what matters in life is experience, then what highlights experience is the bond between human beings. The life experience of an educator records, and also shines from the interaction with different groups of students.


仁者,爱人。

‘The benevolent one loves others.’

——The Analects of Confucius



The 2019 Educator of the Year Finalists

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