Portrait of a Teacher

Memories of an instructor change over time but remain beautiful in the hearts of every Vietnamese.

“Tôn sư trọng đạo.” The English equivalent is “Be deferential to the teacher and respect their morals.” The respectful attitude towards teachers comes from the studious Vietnamese spirit and the morality, “Uống nước nhớ nguồn,” which means when you drink water, think of its source. The role of a teacher involves not only imparting knowledge but also teaching morals and ethics to students. As time passes, the role and the image of a teacher change accordingly. However, a teacher’s role still embodies a strong connection between younger generations and knowledge.

The role of masters in Vietnamese past culture

For years, in the minds of Vietnamese people, teachers held the first position in school. In the past, masters were regarded as a sacred symbol of learning. They imparted the golden rule of morality, and were role models for students to follow in order to become a virtuous and proficient, with the capacity to support their country. The three crucial positions in the old society were king, master, and father. The teacher was second only to the King. Masters were highly respected, honoured and helped their students learn and succeed. Many proverbs are meant to teach people about a teacher’s role, such as “Không thầy đố mày làm nên,” “Cơm cha, áo mẹ, chữ thầy,” “Trọng thầy mới được làm thầy.” The English equivalents of those proverbs respectively are, “A young ox learns to plow from an older one,” “Father’s rice, mother’s shirt, teacher’s effort,” and “Respect teachers to be a teacher.”

Temple of Literature – Vietnam’s first University. / Credit Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin Shutterstock.com
Temple of Literature – Vietnam’s first University. / Credit Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin Shutterstock.com

Because teaching has been venerated for such a long time, teachers have great authority in schools and always have been a positive example to students. They are considered a symbol of “knowing everything.” In the past, students behaved modestly, showed their respect and fulfilled their responsibilities, obligations and duties towards their masters.

In the past, even when a student had become prime minister, every time he visited his master, he still had to stand at the bottom of the steps with his hands clasped tightly together and show his heartfelt respect. It was a must for students to visit their master frequently to show gratefulness and gratitude after passing the mandarin mandate. When the master passed away, it was the students’ responsibility to bury and hold a funeral. If the master did not have a worshiper, students would contribute their money to build a place of worship and buy a small field known as disciple field. When Master Chu Van An – who is known as “Van The Su Bieu,” a standardized teacher for eternity – retired and settled down at Phuong Son, many students still visited him. Whenever Pham Su Manh and Le Quat, who had been Chu Van An’s students and they both were “Hành Khiển” – a position that was only after Prime Minister in Tran Dynasty, paid him a visit, they were still very subservient to their master. Only when they were given permission from the master, did they dare to come in. If they were allowed to talk with their master, they felt extremely happy.

Chu Van An statue in Temple of Literature. / Editorial credit thi Shutterstock.com
Chu Van An statue in Temple of Literature. / Editorial credit thi Shutterstock.com

Vietnamese history has honored many teachers, such as Chu Van An (1292-1370), Nguyen Binh Khiem (1491 – 1585), Ngo The Vinh (1803 – 1856), Nguyen Duc Dat (1825 – 1887), Nguyen Van Sieu (1796 – 1869), and Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822 – 1888).

In addition to teaching students and imparting knowledge, these people were also recognized as influential poets, writers, educators, scientists, and famous cultural influencers, important in the country’s national history.

The image of a teacher in modern society as a representative of the intersection between Eastern and Western culture

Education is a crucial element in our society. It is embedded in every country and every stage of history’s development. Whether in Eastern or the Western culture, the teacher’s responsibilities delegated by the society are crucial. In Western countries, the relationship between teachers and students in schools is equal and friendly. While the students can communicate with their teachers freely, the teachers receive and evaluate the students’ opinions impartially and without bias.

When it comes to education in most Asian countries, the system is characterized by a hierarchy in which the teacher plays a key role in the success of the students. Communication between teachers and students requires seriousness and mutual respect. Openness is quite limited.

Modern society develops and changes every day. Thus, the definitions of learning and the relationship between teachers and students differ from those in the past. This has added new colour and meaning to the concept of learning. New teaching methods imported from Western countries, ​such as “Teachers design – students execute,” “Teaching cooperation between teachers and students,” “Students are the centre of teaching,” are applied as an innovative approach. Students now are free to discuss, debate and exchange with their fellows or even ask their teachers for the validity of the information given to them. The relationship between teachers and students has been equalized and opened.

Innovative trends in education, such as “Students are the centre of teaching,” elaborate students’ status by shifting the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. The teacher now plays the role of a guide who suggests and instructs students on the pathway to explore new knowledge. The relationship between students and teachers is parallel without being imposed or forced as it was in the past.

Despite the changes in educational methods, the relationship between teachers and students has always been upheld. The teacher has a particularly important position in society at all times. Because even when systems are more modern and up-to-date, they still reinforce the quality of the teacher’s lectures. The teachers are ones who ignite the studious spirit in each student, inspire them to have their own dreams and ambitions from which their high aspirations will be fulfilled.

By Thao Nguyen

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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