Truly a Great Teacher

The first time our Chinese teacher walked into our classroom, looks of panic and dismay immediately registered on all of our faces. Although most of us had never been taught by him before, Mr Leaf’s ‘notorious’ reputation at school is well known. Equally famous are his overly-expressive expressions. The look on his face was one of indifference at our similar reactions. Then again, he probably receives the same reaction from his students at the start of every year as he enters each Form 4 class.
Without wasting any time, he proceeded to brief us on his method of teaching and expectations. He warned us to expect harsh grades from him and sky-high expectations. He also told us that as the youth of today are very much clueless about what happens around us, he wants us to read the newspaper and be up to date about recent news and issues. He hoped that each and every one of the forty of us would get the chance to share our opinions and ideas with the class, even though the syllabus is quite lengthy and covering it requires us to not waste time.
We were certainly apprehensive at first, but Mr. Leaf has certainly won most of us over with his stories, his humor, his gift at speaking, his exaggerated hand gestures and his tongue-in-cheek attitude. We were aghast when we received the grades for our first piece of calligraphy homework, in which all of us got C-‘s. We were stupefied when he announced the practically ‘unwritable’ title of the first essay of the year – ‘I’m Angry’. We were horrified when he laid out his requirements for our argumentative essays, which were very much different than where our standards were. We shook in fear whenever we were called upon to share our opinion on a recent happening of our choice with the whole class, causing most of us to read the newspapers daily religiously, even with our busy and tight schedules. But Mr. Leaf is a natural teacher. He tells the old Chinese tales wonderfully, and has the best way of analyzing the Old Chinese language I have seen to date. He actually makes Chinese class the most enjoyable class of the year, and possibly in high school. And he is the first Chinese teacher I have met that doesn’t tell us that we have to ‘love’ China. He actually encourages us to continue our studies in Western countries to broaden our horizons.
There was one time Mr. Leaf had taken a three-day-long leave due to ‘personal reasons’. Some of us cheered gleefully, but I was not happy at all. I had already known that his absence was due to the passing of his mother. My heart kind of went out to him. The three days of free periods instead of Chinese were painfully long. When he came back, he was uncharacteristically somber but it looked as though a huge weight had been lifted off his chest. For the first class since he came back, he used the whole 35 minutes to tell a very long story of the Three Kingdoms. It seemed as though it was ‘teaching therapy’ to him. As he finished the story, someone actually started clapping, and soon, the whole class had joined in and gave a rousing applause. He was somewhat embarrassed, and shook off our praise. But I know he was secretly pleased. It was quite an achievement of his, as it was the very first time (and will probably be the only time) we gave sincere applause to a teacher.
Mr. Leaf is certainly not perfect. But he is real. I have finally understood why he ‘forces’ us to read the newspaper and voice our own opinions, why he has stopped grading most pieces of homework and the reason behind his sky-high expectations. It is pretty simple. He just wants us to do well. It is up to us whether we continue reading the newspaper even after our turn at ‘opinion-sharing’ is over. By introducing this ‘opinion-sharing’, he has taught us how to develop our own opinions and voice them convincingly. It is up to us whether we give our very best when doing Chinese homework, even though it probably will not come back with a grade. It is our choice, whether we play our part and try our best, to be able to learn and grow in life. He is presenting us this golden opportunity; it is up to us whether we go that extra mile to grab it. He is doing his best to prepare us for the future. And it is not often where you meet a teacher willing to risk his job and safety by voicing his opinions and encouraging us to voice ours, without buttering it up, on political issues and issues labeled ‘sensitive’ in this country.
Our relationship with Mr. Leaf is certainly a love-hate relationship. Some of us detest him due to his outrageous attitude and heartbreakingly blunt criticism. But I’m glad that I’m on the ‘fan’ side. After 15 years of learning and not loving Chinese, Mr. Leaf finally made me understand and appreciate the beauty of this 5000-year-old native language of mine. I only have one and a half years of learning Chinese left, and he has made me realize that I have to cherish the little time I have left. I am and will be eternally grateful for the fact that I have the chance of being taught by such a wonderful teacher. Thank you, Leafy!

*For anonymity purposes and my own safety, ‘Mr. Leaf’ is not his real name.





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