How Professional Development Made Who I Am
Huajun Wu, Chongqing Nankai Secondary School
It took me hours to write this article specially for the English teachers who take part in this training program. In twenty years of my teaching career, never have I stopped wondering how we as English teachers could help our own children and the children of others to develop as holistic(全人的) human beings who are capable of loving others, thinking independently and creating a life full of joy, purpose, meaning and fulfillment. In this ever-changing world, no teacher is an isolated island. United, we could make a bigger difference to the way how English is taught which matters not only to our students but to ourselves. In fact, one reason why I choose to come to Harvard is to find something that I could share with my peers back in China, especially the young and promising teachers like you. Only by telling our educational stories and working together, can we go on this expedition of self-discovery journey to truly embrace teaching and enjoy the only one life we have to live as an English teacher. I also intend to share the article with my students to make them understand us teachers better, so I will use some synonyms and Chinese translations to make it easier for my students to read. I hope those synonyms and translations won’t get in the way of your reading. Thank you for your patience to read my article. I’m sorry it is a little bit long and may take you some time, but I assure you I’ve spent far more hours to write it. Thank you!
When I heard the term professional development, I used to quiver(tremble) when pictures of endless and pointless paperwork, lengthy and monotonous(dull) lectures, and intimidating(scary) and incomprehensible academic books and papers all jumped out for the darkest shadow of my memory, sending a chill down my spine. I couldn’t help asking the same question that has been asked by many of my peer teachers “Why are we do this?”
We work like crazy, waking up before the sunrise and resting after mid-night to look after more than 100 needy and attention-seeking teenagers every single day, even on Saturdays and Sundays. We are stuck at the bottom a very bureaucratic(官僚的) multilayered institution where there’s no hope of pay increases and promotes based on our dedication and teaching performances. Stress and exhaustion often creep in and hit us like a ton of bricks. Insomnia and constipation are our constant companies.
Is it fair to expect us to do more when we’ve already been struggling with one of the most demanding jobs in the world and are being underpaid for it? Why should we devote extra hours to continuous learning for the seek of the other people’s children, which could otherwise be spent on a visit to our aging parents, a movie with our beloved ones or a kid-friendly recipe for our own child? Who is interested in developing the professional skills when unreasonable workload and unpractical expectations from both schools and parents are burning our bodies and souls at both ends?
I don’t think we can find easy answers to these tough question which have never stopped baffling(puzzling) the minds of generations of teachers. However, I’d like to invite you to look at the professional development of a teacher through another lens by sharing my own professional journey. Of course, what I’m going to say might actually be of little value for some of you. After all, we live and work in different dimensions and all have our unique problems and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to our own doubts and fears. But I still cling to the hope that it will encourage you to think about what you really care about and find your own path to more pleasure of being a teacher and a lifelong learner.
To give you a clear idea of what I’m going to say, I think I should put my ideas in one sentence: keeping on developing professionally as a teacher has not only brought more joy and satisfaction to my work, but has also motivated me to explore my interests, to test the boundaries of my capacities, to try door to door for new opportunities and experiences, and to become a lifelong learner and educator. Now I will introduce you how professional development has helped to shape my perspectives and transit my life.
Professional development has helped me find the pleasure of reading
Believe it or not, I wasn’t much of a reader. I didn’t wish to find any excuses for my own passiveness. But sometimes I wonder if somebody had introduced, required or even forced me to read some books, could I have had developed a passion for reading when I was a teenager? That is one of the reasons why I am so stubborn to assign a book or several chapters of a book for my students to read whenever they have a holiday. I hope after treating their minds to a good book, they could discover the pleasure of reading and the breadth(宽度) and depth of thoughts and emotions of another human being as is reflected in books.
I started to read books for two reasons. The first is to bring more engaging(interesting) stories and books into my own teaching. I first began reading some books and stories on the Internet, I designed lessons based on short stories of O. Henry, Frank R. Stockton and Mark Twain, fair tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.
The second reason is to prepare for IELTS and TOEFL. I’ve had bitter resentment(怨恨) for studying for exams. Twenty years of teaching has taught me that obsession(沉迷) with test results has turned some students into victims of an exam-oriented education. When you use countless diagrams and charts to add, divide and analyze test exercises and to calculate the chance of next IELTS writing task in a crash course(速成课程), the beauty of this language fades. I decided to prepare for IELTS and TOEFL by reading books and taking notes. I am grateful for this decision I made, because that decision has led me to the joy of reading after I read several books like The Hunger Games, When Breath Becomes Air, The Kite Runner and To Kill a Mockingbird. What started as a step in my professional development has helped me become a more enthusiastic reader and note-taker.
Professional development has generated a passion for thinking and writing
I never enjoyed writing compositions, except once in high school when my Chinese teacher Mrs Xia at Fengmingshan High School assigned us to write a poem and read them aloud in front of the whole class. That was my most unforgettable writing experience in formal schooling which I often recall with a sense of satisfaction and the pride of being able to write creatively with true passion. I didn’t remember other things I wrote about, probably because they were all there for the tests, not for the pure need of expressing our own emotions and thoughts.
I started to write in the late thirties for primarily two reasons. First, I required students to write reflections for what I assigned them to read, and I edited students’ writing and gave them on-going feedback. I wanted to set an good example of effective writing for them, so I tried hard to figure out what they wanted to say and gave them some samples(examples) of how to write to express their ideas. Second, as I read more and sought the relevance(connection) between these books and my life, I felt the urge to express my feelings and thoughts in written forms. And the more I wrote, the more I was amazed by the inner music that words can make and the sparkles of thoughts generated when words are flowing from my pen. This is what I wrote in one of the letters to a former student about my reading and writing.
“I’ve recently declined(refused) many social activities, saying “sorry, I can’t make it” to friends who have earnestly invited me to go out for late-night drinks, coffee catch-ups, dinners, and parties. You know what. After locking myself in my “antisocial bubble” at home for some time, I’ve discovered the positive effects of solitude(being alone). I have increased the clarity(清晰) of mind, and I’ve become more productive in reading, writing, and teaching. I used to be afraid of saying no to my friends. Now I realize there’s no need to fear argument, confrontations with ourselves or others. ‘Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know that is life’, says Charlie Chaplin.”
Later I found one quote by Henri Nouwen which could be a vivid description of my exciting discovery about writing, “writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply(增加) in the giving. Once we dare to "give away" on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath these thoughts and gradually come in touch with our own riches.”
Professional development has brought more music into my life
I always admire those who can play a musical instrument, and unfortunately I am not born with admirable dexterity(灵巧的双手). I tried to learn how to play guitar when I was in the university and gave up in despair due to the complaint of my roommates that my music was “killing” them softly. Then several years ago when I was sitting in a low-key bar in a quite alley(巷子) in Fenghuang, Human province, listening the songs of a guitarist, the long-forgotten dream of playing a musical instrument came flooding back. I found my heart filled with both strong wishes and delicate feelings that were overflowing like the bubbles and foam(泡沫) of the beer in front of me. The only way to express these emotions was to write a poem. So here is the poem I wrote:
After I returned home from the trip, I was lucky to get to know Mr Zhang Wanxing, a skillful and experienced guitar teacher, who later became a very close friend. With his help, I made slow progress and was finally able to sing and play to entertain myself. But still I found my heart in my throat when performing in public. I came to realize the best way to conquer my fear was to meet it head on, not to shrink from its challenge. So I kept on practising and brought guitar into my classroom and tried to encourage students to learn English by singing English songs. My students turned out to be more sympathetic and supportive than my roommates. They tolerated my poor skills and dry voice and sang along with me as if I was an out-dated rock star. With their support, I got the chance to perform in front of a large group to wrestle(deal) with my nervousness. Now my hands still feel stiff when performing for others, but the positive response from my students has injected my heart with more faith and given me more expectations about bringing more beautiful songs and music into the curriculum. Striving for bringing more music into my English class has helped me to pick up the lost dream of a “street musician”.
Professional development has helped my child to become more creative
To prepare for IELTS and TOEFL, I read the book Lifelong Kindergarten by a professor in MIT Mitchel Resnick. It was recommended by one of my colleagues, Lisa Wu who studied at Harvard Graduate School of Education two years ago. Through the book, I got to know Scratch, a programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations. After finishing the book, I turned the first chapter of the book into a lesson because there are interesting descriptions about education in China. I actually did more than sharing the book with my students. I downloaded Scratch and created a short video together with my boy. He was fascinated and started to explore Scratch himself with the help of video tutorials, and he created flying cats and interactive games. Two months later, his school started to pick out students to take part in an after-school coding program, and Scratch is one of the tools they use. With the previous experience of using Scratch, my boy was selected and learned some basic ways of using Scratch to create projects and games. Last week, in one of the courses I take in Harvard, Designing for Learning by Creating, the mentor asked the students to submit a Scratch project and my boy helped me to finish my homework.
I’m telling the story not not impress you with my pride or his coding skills. What matters most to me is that I have spent some quality time with my boy to create a story together. Normally, we teachers are struggling to find the perfect point for our fulcrum(天平的支点) between work and life, but in this case, what started as part of my professional development ended up producing a very positive impact on the very person I care about most. And this feeling is getting stronger after my boy and I came to Cambridge and after I enrolled courses about human relationship and learning.
Professional development has helped to “make it possible”
For the most part of my life，I regard myself as an ordinary person with average intelligence. I failed in the final test in primary school at 12 years old, rejected by Nankai. I got better grades in middle school and high school, but still I felt I had to work harder than others to get equal amount of academic reward. Never have I imagined having a chance to study at Harvard when I am in my early forties. The impostor syndrome(自我否定) struck immediately after I received the admission letter, and I kept on asking the question “ Did the admission officer make a mistake?” “Why me?”
After studying here at Harvard Graduate School of Education for one month, I have become more confident and feel I belong here. It is not because I’m doing better than others. I’m still far behind my talented peers, not being able to understand their conversations sometimes, having difficulty in expressing my thoughts both in writing and speaking, and feeling nervous when making a phone call to schedule an immunization(疫苗) appointment for my boy. But people at Harvard have created such a wonderful sense of community and everywhere I go, I feel I am respected and valued. In every course I take, I feel I’m both challenged and supported. I feel totally secure in the classrooms where I can freely speak up my mind or just be a listener. There’s no worry about having to say something extremely smart to impress or please others, and I can just be myself. It’s the best learning experience that has ever happened to me.
My boy Jonathan is also having a wonderful time here in Cambridge. I don’t mean education is much better here in America. There are still problems. He is in the Sheltered English Immersion Program, an approach to teaching academic content in English to students whose English is not good enough to learn in the ordinary classes. I feel he is not challenged enough academically and there’s not enough exercise and assignments to consolidate(巩固) what he has learned at school. Now I’m trying to persuade him to take his binders home and review his notes, because most students leave their notes at school in the lockers.
However, life at Cambridge provides him with new experiences of a great diversity, the English-speaking environment, well-equipped libraries which offers free language lessons and STEAM programs, after school clubs about gardening, cooking, and magic, and a chance to play soccer in the Cambridge Upper School tournament. Most importantly, He has more time to read books, more interesting conversations with his dad and more interaction with peers from multicultural background.
All these won’t be possible if I lack the motivation to develop and be satisfied with my own teaching. The willingness to devote time to professional development has led me to where I am now. It has instilled a growth mindset in me and showed me the prospects(hope) of being a lifelong learner.
I think I’ve written too much. Finally, I’d like to put an end to my reflection by using one of my favorite quotes about education, “learning is not preparation for life; learning is life itself.” I hope every one of us can find our place in the circle of life and embrace a lifelong journey of learning and teaching.
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