Teaching occupies a special place in the Chinese psyche. As recorded in Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian, 91BC): “Respect always as your father he who teaches you if only just for one day”.
一日為師，終生為父。yi ri wei shi, zhong sheng wei fu.
The special place of a teacher is also conveyed in classical Chinese term of “shifu” (師父，master, mentor). The direct linkage between shi (師，teacher, master) and fu (父，father) denotes the fusion of the two roles that are otherwise separated in contemporary thinking regarding teaching and parenting. Teaching, in the process of professionalisation, is treated as a salaried job.
Then, the demand on teachers to take on additional roles – including those of other professionals – always put more pressure on teachers who are already under great pressure. Teachers are not happy.
This phenomenon brings me to consider the underlying differences between the two cultures as suggested by the two Chinese references. The fundamental difference is attitude: teachers are respected as one would his father in the East; teachers are not in the West. Whilst my observation may be a sweeping generalisation; nevertheless, it has much truth in it. Many in the West will be able to report incidents to prove how teachers are disrespected by students, parents, politicians, policy makers, even fellow teachers themselves. But I want to draw my focus to this special day for you and me as teachers.
Today is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in many Chinese communities in the world.
Let us teachers unfamiliar with Chinese culture pause and celebrate our many achievements. The grateful letters that a parent sends you, a “thank you” card from a past student, a passing praise that another teacher pays you on the corridor or even an unflattering picture a child draws of you. People remember how you have made a difference in their lives because you are a teacher, a father, a. . . .
Remember, you are all these whether you choose to be or not, whether you are paid to do or not, whether you know it or not. They will always remember, to them, you are more than just a teacher!