Giving teachers respect

The American notion of education as a right is getting turned on its head.

Quynh Nguyen

Not surprisingly, a lot of instructors liked my column on bored and apathetic students, and a lot of students hated it.

I admit, I painted Sudoku students with a broad brush. There are some really nice ones who mindfully tear out the Sudoku before lecture, conceal it in a notebook and quietly do the puzzle while they’re waiting for a juicy part of lecture to come up. When a bulk of lecture is review of stuff one already knows, it’s fair to keep one’s mind sharp by doing something on the side while waiting for new content to come up.

However, I still feel that students fail to understand the perspective of the instructor. Instructors are on the receiving end of a ton of whining, rudeness and spiteful reviews on RateMyProfessor.com. They dedicate a chunk of their time to teach, to make lesson plans and to keep their schedules open for office hours. Do they receive any recognition for their efforts? Hardly.

In U.S. society, the concept of student versus teacher is as old as “us versus The Man.” In Asian society, students revere teachers for the simple fact that knowledge is power and that it is generous of teachers to share it.

My mom constantly tells me how lucky I am to have education given so freely, when it was a huge financial and family sacrifice to simply put one kid through school in Vietnam. Everyone in Vietnam has to pay for school out of pocket or go without. Even this is a rosier picture than what my grandmother experienced.

In my grandmothers’ time, it was taboo for women in Vietnam to even learn how to read or write. It was believed that allowing women to learn how to read and write would permit them to communicate with men outside of their home. This is back in the day when women were sequestered in the home entirely and never left.

My grandmother was beaten harshly for eavesdropping on her brothers’ lessons. She desperately wanted to learn how to read and write, not because she wanted to correspond with men but because she wanted to enjoy literature and write stories.

With these stories in mind, I go to every class with an open mind and a welcoming heart for my professors. It was wrong of me to feel antagonistic towards my peers when they do not know any other kind of life except one where education is a right. It won’t be long until they understand where I come from.

The fact is, in the United States, we are facing a teaching shortage in math, science and nursing. As more teachers are retiring, the shortage grows more deadly.

The U.S. notion of education as a right is getting turned on its head. Those who live in underprivileged areas know this already from experiencing schools hugely deficient in quality educators and facilities. Yet the culture of teacher-bashing lives on.

I see teaching as no different from nursing, in that they are both professions desperately needed to maintain the health and prosperity of a nation, but do not receive the support they need to continue thriving. There are a lot of states backpedaling and providing more money for teachers and nurses, but the shortage is being felt every day.

It does not take anything away from a person to simply respect and give honor to the ones who teach us. Teachers are not perfect, their lectures sometimes go on and on and they often fail to convince us that what they’re teaching us is useful and important. But without them, we have nothing.

Quynh Nguyen can be reached at [email protected]