Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (May 7, 2015)
Just this week, I received one of the most touching messages from a student. It was from the first student I ever taught as a fresh graduate. I had spent the first 6 months of my graduated life teaching English to students in Yau Ma Tei. I remember walking through the markets to get to the community centre, where I would walk up the stairs to find the simply decorated classroom. Every week, I would go there to teach a group of primary school students English. And they were all lovely kids but one student stood out in particular. It was a girl named Jenny and I remember her staring at me wide-eyed during class, always eager to learn more. She wasn’t afraid to try saying things in English, even if it meant making a mistake. She would come up to me to ask for me to correct her work and to teach her more. I had a particular soft spot for her.
And when it was time for me to wrap up my volunteer job, I continued to teach Jenny. I asked my boss at work whether I could teach her pro bono and because he had said yes, I was able to teach Jenny for an additional 2 years. She was one of my best students – not necessarily in her English but in her attitude. She was always willing to learn, to improve and to show kindness to me and others. And just this past week, she messaged me this:
“I thought of you when I watched Little Big Master!”
It had me in tears. Just that past week, I had gone to watch the movie and I think is the best film I’ve watched all year. Not because of its cinematography, casting or music score, which were all great, but because of the story. The true story of a school principal of a prestigious kindergarten who gave up her job because of her values and went to work at a rural kindergarten that was on the brink of being shut down. She only had 5 students.
The principal was known as the ‘$4500 principal’ as that was how much she was paid on a monthly basis for her job. In addition to being the principal, she had to be the teacher, the janitor and much more. And despite being misunderstood by people and laughed at by others, she stood her ground and gave all 5 students the very best.
Without giving away too much of the movie, one of my favourite parts was when she tearfully confronts a businessman who offers her a financially attractive job. She retorts his offer by saying, education is not about making money but about 生命影響生命。 It’s about role modeling and relationship, about love and mutual respect. With a similar cry in my heart, I found myself wanting to get up from my cinema chair to cheer for her.
What impresses me about this headmistress is not just her willingness to sacrifice her monthly salary. What impresses me most is her willingness to give each student her best, irrespective of their background or ability. She was willing to go out of her way to visit students and their families in their homes. She used her personal time to make resources for her students. She gave her heart to each of them. And that’s what education is all about. Not just about giving student knowledge, but using a life to influence another life.
Oh, and now Jenny is a flight attendant, travelling the world. And I hope her English is now coming to good use!