From The 1st Step to 2nd Generation

The journey of educator, parent and child, is a very important one. You can imagine the dynamic of that journey when the educator becomes almost like a part of the family after so many years.

In my country, every high school graduate has to give back to society. Every student must give some time from his/her youth to serve the country, whether in the military or in other social programs. “Alfabetización” was one of them; it was the national literacy campaign where students from elite schools who disliked the military option—as I did—volunteered to teach students in deprived areas. Soon-to-graduate students had to teach every Saturday and Sunday morning, for two full academic years.

The year was 1987, I vividly remember standing right outside my assigned classroom before my first lesson ever. I remember how sweaty my hands were, my heart racing in my chest, my mouth dry, eyes glued to the floor, my mind completely blank. For an insecure youngster like myself, the idea of standing in front of 30 kids to teach them English, was simply petrifying. The bell rang. Time for class. I opened the door and avoiding eye contact, focused on getting to my desk. However, before I was even able to put my books down, the whole class were running toward me, every single one of them beaming. Before I knew it, I was at the heart of a group hug, as they giggled and cheered and celebrated my mere presence. Some of them had ragged clothes, some clearly hadn’t showered, some had visible rashes, and some, as I would eventually learn, had been victims of abusive parents. None of it mattered in the moment. I was overwhelmed by their love and positivity. All I could think at the time was why is this happening?

The answer hit me like a bolt of lightning: even at such a young age, that grade two class knew English could change their lives.

They were just ecstatic to be given the opportunity to learn a life-changing skill. I knew then and there that their dreams deserved my very best. That moment gave direction to my life. It gave birth to my professional motto, “To teach is to touch a life forever.” As a traveling teacher, I taught for seven years in a couple of countries before landing in China, and even then, I taught in six different cities before arriving in Dongguan during the summer of 2000. But there was something about teaching in Dongguan that brought back memories of my first ever lesson. Granted, I was not teaching children at the time, I was teaching young adults; but I could see the same eagerness to learn, this time through sheer diligence and interest.

Fast forward 18 years and I’m now experiencing something new, as a result of choosing to remain in Dongguan to develop my career. Over the last couple of years, several of my new students are the children of my former teenage and young adult students. Jinny is one of them. She’s 5 years old, about to turn 6, and has been learning English with me for 18 months now. Her mother, Alice Cheung, became a student of mine back in 2004 and came to me with a request to start teaching Jinny at barely 4 years of age. At my center, we normally take children from 5 years of age and above, but I decided to make an exception for a single reason: bilingual parents.

That moment gave direction to my life. It gave birth to my professional motto, “To teach is to touch a life forever.”

Jinny has at her disposal something Alice never had: unlimited exposure to English. Working with children whose parents have a decent command of English is an unmeasurable yet noticeable advantage. These parents understand the work we are doing. Not only do they understand the path we are taking, but they fully understand the rationale behind the methods we implement. In addition, they are capable of complementing the teaching process by guiding children through the homework we assign, be it written or oral, and they’re able to provide additional practice in ways other parents can’t.

Jinny represents my first step toward teaching the second generation of Dongguan students. It is an honor and a privilege to be chosen by these parents. To have this opportunity is a testament to a job well done. The sad thing is, come to think of it, I doubt I will be able to teach Jinny’s children…