Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The large lecture hall at the Shantou Jintai Middle School was filled with middle school students. They had been sitting for almost two hours. And they were very restless. Polite but restless--they were small children. As a representative of Wake Forest University and in alphabetical order, I was the last of ten speakers to take the lecturn. I stood up to speak, the final presentation of a long morning. I knew that that I would have to work very hard just to keep their attention for ten more minutes.
I began my presentation by saying in Mandarin, "Wo shr laushr" ( I am a teacher). And the room quietened. No hushed talking in the back of room, no moving around in the chairs. They were so very quiet. You could almost hear a pin drop. Those three words quietened the room. They did not know me, but they knew the role of TEACHER! I did not need fancy powerpoints, no introductory joke, no cute story to catch their interest at the beginning of the speech. I just simply said, almost in passing, that "I am a teacher." That was enough to quieten the entire room filled with tired, restless, middle school students who had been sitting for several hours and were ready to move on. Something happened when they heard the word "TEACHER." What was it?
What is in this Chinese culture that would pay that much attention and respect to the title of teacher? What is in the Chinese cultural world view that mandates when the teacher enters the room, the students must stand in respect. I saw it in Taiwan in the late 1970s while visiting schools in Taipei. The students were sitting at their desks waiting for class to begin. The teacher entered the room after the class has settled. And every single Chinese student stood with head slightly bowed when the teacher entered the room that morning. The students stayed in attention until they were acknowledged. Then they quietly sat down. And the learning began!
So in this spirit, I stand up from my chair with a slightly bowed head this day to honor Mrs. Wilson, my first grade teacher who taught me the love of reading and how to appreciate the smell of books; to Mrs. Davidson, who helped me think about leadership; to Drs. Ralph McLain, Allen Page,and Roger Crook, who took my adolescent mind to a collegiate level; to Dr. Alan Culpepper, who helped me learn to write. To Dr. Jennings Waggoner, who opened the world of higher education to me and reintroduced me to his alma mater, Wake Forest University, and to all teachers everywhere.
And the Master Teacher placed this honor in right perspective: "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).
Think of that kind of world where students bowed to teachers, teachers washed students feet, and then students washed the feet of one other.