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A Teacher Responds


Many thanks to ChinaSource and the committed, talented and wise contributors who put together the winter issue of China Source Quarterly on teaching in China. I smiled, laughed and even got teary-eyed as I read about the experiences, challenges, and lessons learned by those who spent so many years serving the students of China. Some of them echoed my own experiences during more than a decade of teaching English in the Middle Kingdom, while others gave me a different perspective on some of my own challenges and “successes.”

It struck me that almost all of the contributors touched at least briefly on one recurring theme: the need for teachers to approach their work with humility. This is especially true for Christian teachers, who are called to follow Christ’s example of service, love, and sacrifice. As Brad Baurain so eloquently points out, Christian teachers in China can best demonstrate respect for the host culture by learning Chinese and perhaps local dialects.

In a way, learning the local language makes us like Christ, who expressed his love for us by leaving his “home” and entering our human “culture.” It also gives us a deeper understanding of and respect for Chinese culture, since there is a close connection between language and culture.  And it helps us see why our students struggle with certain grammar or vocabulary issues, which are often connected to their native language.

Baurain’s reference to Philip’s “language lesson” with the Ethiopian eunuch also reminds us that Christian English teachers should keep their focus on the needs of their students, not their own agendas. Putting a student’s needs first can be a powerful way of expressing love for him or her and can lead to opportunities for sharing the source of that love.

As Laura Woodman points out, students will often open up to their teacher about personal problems—if the teacher has shown genuine concern for the student first. Woodman also points out that serving our institutions and colleagues is another important way of humbly serving in China. She reminds us that lasting relationships can be forged when we selflessly give of our time to both students and colleagues. Professor Wang also mentions the importance of caring about our colleagues as well as the students.

Finally, Brent Fulton remarks on the importance of being willing to humbly receive from our Chinese students. The most precious gift I received from my students and colleagues in China was the gift of their friendship, and it’s wonderful that these relationships have continued to be strong despite the physical distance between us now. I agree with Fulton that the best way to receive this gift is by making a long-term commitment to China and taking a very real interest in the people, their culture, their history and their language. This focus on others, as opposed to pridefully putting our own agenda first, is the essence of Christ-like humility and the source of immense blessings.

Image credit: Dictionaries: old and new by J via  Flickr.  

Willa Campbell

Willa Campbell (pseudonym) has spent more than two decades teaching English in China and the US. View Full Bio


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