My English teachers – Jimmy and his wife

I feel very lucky I had so many great teachers all those years.  They inspired me, and guided me to the right direction.  I want to say:  “Thank you, my teachers.  You made a huge difference to my life”.

Today I like to share some of the stories.  This is about my English teachers Jimmy and his wife (sorry I forgot her name).

Jimmy enjoyed teaching and smiled everyday

In mid 1988, I just started working for an UNDP project in Beijing.  I was going to be a consultant providing training to the engineers from Asian and Pacific regions.  The project was in its initial preparation phase.  The training would be in English.  I was sent to an English training program.

The training was hosted by the college where I got my degrees.  I was so glad to meet Jimmy and his wife.  They graduated from a college in Canada, and came from Quebec.  Both were teaching English in the same college.  Luckily both were my English teachers.

Jimmy taught us how to speak English, and his wife taught how to read.  I loved their teaching styles, so relaxing, and fun.  I learnt a lot from them.  The class had about 23 students.  All of us were engineers from the different cities of China.

Jimmy was energized, friendly, and a straight-talk guy.  He had the big smiles every day.  If I remember correctly, many of my Chinese teachers didn’t smile much in the class.  Their faces were always business-like.  Sometimes if students didn’t behave, the teachers’ faces could be intimidating.  Don’t take me wrong.  Some of my Chinese teachers were very friendly and humorous.

Jimmy was well liked by my class.  He was able to explain a complicated word in a simple way.  Here is one example:  the word “cheese”.  My classmates heard about “cheese”, a kind of dairy product.  But few ate one. That was 1988, when China was not that open yet.  How does cheese smell like?  Jimmy explained it in this way:  “cheese is like the smell of running shoes”.  We all laughed, very hard.  Even now, when eating a piece of cheese, I’m thinking about Jimmy’s analogy.

Jimmy encouraged the whole class to open the mouth and talk, in English.  No matter how awkward and broken our English was, he was always patient, listened to us, and guided us step by step.  This is another way he was different.  Many of the Chinese teachers didn’t encourage group discussions, and the communication was one way in most of the cases:  from the teacher to the students.  At first, I was not used to the open discussions.  Gradually I became confident, and participated into more, and really liked it.

One time, the class got an assignment from Jimmy:  everyone had to do a public speech.  Each of us was very nervous, as few had any experience of public speaking in English.  I remember my topic was about the archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.  At the end of the session, most of us felt comfortable. It was great learning experience.

It’s totally fine to think in a different way

Jimmy’s wife was a very good teacher as well.  One time, she was teaching us a poem.  That was the first time I learnt an English poem.  After going through each short paragraph, she asked each of us:  “Use your imagination, in this paragraph, what was the author trying to say?”  Everyone had a different answer.  To my surprise, she didn’t say what the right answer was. Her point was, everyone had a valid point, and everyone was right.

This totally contradicted the way I was taught by the Chinese teachers:  for many of the questions, only one answer was correct.  All the others were simply wrong.  This might be true in some cases, like for math or science.  But for arts or humanity subjects, you can’t standardize the thoughts.  Students should be encouraged for imagination and creative thinking.

They taught me that, it’s perfectly fine to think in a different way.  It’s great to be different.

Christmas carols

In December 1988, Jimmy and his wife taught our class to sing the Christmas carols.  It was really fun.  I learnt “Jingle bells”, “Deck the halls”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Silent night”, etc.  The class had a great Christmas party with them.  We had Christmas tree, did some decorations, sang the carols, and danced.

29 years have passed.  I don’t know where Jimmy and his wife are.  I wanted to thank them for their hard work, passion, and friendship.  The interactions with them opened my eyes.  I miss them.

Do you have any teachers who made a big difference to your life?

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