Chinese Resources

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Classes are over but the lessons carry on.

Two weeks ago my friend and student left Taiwan (for now), returning to America to take a teaching position at UW-Milwaukee. While our last lesson certainly had elements of a typical language class, or at least our typical language class, it was more about asking what's next? Instead of spending two hours introducing new grammar patterns and new vocabulary, we decided to take a break from the Chinese and develop a plan for moving forward.

We spent time discussing short-term and long-term goals, and more importantly how to execute them. Rather than simply looking for end results, we tried to break tasks down into the smallest conceivable parts. Once we had the parts we put them all together with deadlines, expiration dates, and expected outcomes. It was awesome!

Ever since that last class I've been thinking a lot about the role of teachers, especially in the field of foreign language. While some teachers might take pride in how many chapters of a book they taught, or how many grammar points they covered, I left my last class simply hoping that, over the course of 14 months, I'd giving my friend a few tricks and insights into becoming a more independent language learner. I hope that my student left Taiwan knowing how to make her own decisions about what is considered critical, "must know," vocabulary. I hope they better understand the power of context in all forms of communication, and how to use this skill to learn even more. I hope my student learned that there are plenty of ways to talk about (and around) something, even when you don't have the word you're looking for.

These skills, to me, are far more important than me sharing every little bit of Chinese that I've learned over the past six years. Because, let's face it, there is never enough time to teach someone everything (especially when there is so much we don't know ourselves). We should, however, do everything in our power to make sure that students have the necessary tools to go on learning once the bell rings and class is over.

I truly believe that my role as "teacher" is about so much more than simply teaching Chinese. My goal, rather, is about making sure that my students don't make the same mistakes I made; to inspire (at least a few students if I can); and to provide the tools necessary to carry on once class ends and they step into the real world. I don't want to be a teacher, I want to serve as a guide. A guide who walks with students on their own path to self discovery. And I hope for my students sake that I lived up, at least in some way, to this lofty goal.

Actually, I take it back. I don't want to just be a guide... I want to be a guide that knows when to step aside and says "now it's your turn to teach me."


  1. I really like your attitude to teaching and I think this applies to any kind of teaching, not just Chinese or language learning. I think all teachers should have the attitude that they are there to make themselves obsolete. That makes a good teacher.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I like the idea of having the goal of making myself obsolete. As a non-native speaker of Chinese there will certainly come a point where I can no longer teach the content my students need, that is why I think that re-shaping the ways we approach learning is so important.

  2. Aw, Jake. You are a great teacher already and you have barely begun. I love what you have written here and I think that this is what you have done. You make a great guide for many reasons, but this post here is the one reason I feel is most important. You know when to let the student lead. Each student is unique and will respond differently. A good teacher is one who will recognize when they need to listen and when they need to speak. It is a back-and-forth dance you execute beautifully :)


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