Chinese education instills professor phobia

Rensi Ke

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I have  been considered a “good” student since kindergarten.  I’m active in class, conscientious after class. I  excel in quizzes  and exams; I  stand out in activities and contests. But I  get nervous every time I run into  my teachers and  find it impossible to totally open up in dialogues with them. I have a teacher phobia.

A  more specific definition of my  phobia: I never want to be criticized by my teachers, because I saw how teachers punished my classmates in China. They made  them  stand outside the classroom, copy out textbooks over and over again, write down self-criticism reports and  pass on  a message to  their parents: “The  counselor wants to talk to you.”

The message tends to freak out every parent.  It’s almost as scary as “you are fired”: for not being  a qualified parent. Fortunately, my parents never got messages like that, but  every year when they went to the parents’ meeting and  routinely asked the  counselor about my “performance,” they earnestly looked at the teacher as if they were waiting for an evaluation of their parenting “performance” of the year.

The word “teacher” in Chinese, Laoshi, is the  combination  of the characters “old” (lao) and “mentor” (shi). Thus, the image of a teacher is an old mentor.  My image of a “Laoshi”  is always an old man wearing thick glasses and  speaking in an authoritative voice of which I could never disprove.

An old mentor never makes mistakes or gives wrong suggestions. If  I  had different opinions than my teachers, I would  almost never tell them. Instead I would put myself in  their  shoes.

Supposing that they assigned me too much homework, I would never complain like my American housemate, “Oh! It’s so awesome when professors think their course is the only course you are taking! Yay for 75 pages of boring articles!” Isn’t there a Chinese proverb saying that  “A strict teacher produces  outstanding students”?

Supposing that they said hurtful words to me, I would weep because those  are the last things I want to hear from my teachers, but  I would never refute  their criticism  because  it would be  considered arrogant. Even if  your teachers were wrong, a mature student would take it this way: “Correct mistakes if you have made any, guard against them if you have not.”

For me, getting recognition from teachers is the best part of studying. Getting a good grade is everything. A good grade would make my day, my family’s day and the teacher’s day. In order to please them, I would even pretend to know what I didn’t know.

At some point, my teacher phobia is actually  a phobia of seeing a teacher’s sulking face and also my family’s.  I am not self-motivated; I am teacher- and family-motivated.

Now, I can’t help imagining how my teachers at home would comment on  this column: I am just so good at guessing what’s on my teachers’ minds, which is the key to my Chinese academic success.

They would be surprised  that  my two-month  experience of the  teacher-student relationship has brought out something that I had never written about. I am surprised too, seeing  words flowing out of my inner world, so stupid but so true.

“Is that really what’s on her mind?”

“She is not supposed to write about such things abroad.”

“The  teacher-student relationship  in China is not like that. She is wrong.”

I am confident about my speculations, and I would probably therefore never  let them know the Web links to my Whitman columns.

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