Dedicated teachers are true blessing
The Kansas City Star
During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke eloquently about national issues, including education.
While I have doubts about his call to all states to keep students in school until they graduate high school or turn 18, I agree with him that dedicated teachers deserve recognition.
Adolescents have ability to choose what they want to learn, when to learn and what they want to do with their lives. The assumption of Obama — a graduate of Harvard Law School and Columbia University — that all dropouts are potential government headaches who must be kept inside a school fence is not surprising. At the same time, Mao Zedong’s anti-education policy during his 27 years of ruling China, which created millions of illiterates, isn’t surprising, either, because he was a peasant’s son who hated the old feudal China that had been ruled by “stinking” intellectuals.
Education is a privilege, but too much of it can cause social problems. The South Korean government is suffering migraine headaches these days because too many citizens have college degrees and too few jobs are available for them.
South Korea might be the only country whose college graduates work as ticket masters at train stations, mail deliverers, low-level office clerks and common laborers. If President Obama understands the degree of frustration these Korean college graduates endure daily as they work at low-paying jobs that require only high school education, he’d not make such an unpractical demand on American youngsters. Learning takes the will of learners. What American youngsters need are reasons to learn.
But dedicated teachers are the salt of the earth.
Stella Jocoby taught English in public schools for nearly four decades until her retirement in the early 1980s, and a decade later she began teaching South Korean immigrants. This year, at age 100, she has six students and teaches five days a week. She gave up driving and uses a walker to get around, but she does everything I do daily; she reads, cooks and takes care of her apartment, beside teaching.
There is more; she writes her memoir these days. “For my family only,” she insisted while she and I had lunch together a week ago.
“A hundred years is a long time,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “I want my family to know who I was when I’m gone.”
Her memory is quite vivid. She talked fondly of her childhood in a four-room house in Moberly, Mo., and her high school years during the Great Depression.
It was her high school principal, Mr. Meredith, who encouraged her to go to the University of Missouri and get a teaching degree rather than going to the junior college in Moberly. At a time when teaching wasn’t a well-regarded profession for men, and women believed that their mission was keeping their homes in order, her decision to pursue a teaching career surprised her peers as well as her family. She not only holds a B.A. in English education but an M.A. as well.
“When I interviewed for my first teaching job, they asked me whether I plan to marry soon, and if so, would I start a family right away? You see, back in those days, teaching was considered as a vocation similar to that of a Catholic priest. I was fully aware of what I was getting into.”
I shared with her my memories. I grew up with a proverb: “A student must never step on his teacher’s shadow.” Influenced by Confucianism, the Korean culture demanded that kids display respect toward their teachers by bowing, at school or on the street. Some teachers overused their power and punished kids for just about everything they did by slashing thin bamboo sticks on their hands.
“On second thought,” I said, “American kids today have too much freedom and not enough respect for their teachers.”
“There must be a medium,” said Jacoby. “Most of my Korean students are adults who appreciate learning their second language. Their greatest asset is the will to learn.”
One of her Korean students told me that her teacher has a genuine passion to teach her and other Koreans she knew.
Before we parted, I said to Jacoby, “I want to be like you when I’m 100 years old.”
“You will be,” she said, without hesitation. “And I might be still around.”
If she is, I know she’ll be still teaching.
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