Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Teacher's Day

Here in Mongolia we have many a holdover from Soviet control. Massive amounts of vodka, concrete Bloc-inspired architecture and the Cyrillic alphabet are just the tip of the iceberg. The Russians also revised the calendar so that it includes annual occasions like Children's Day and Soldier's Day. Today, as it so happens, is Teacher's Day. This auspicious occasion is normally marked by performances, competitions, awards, canceling classes and the subsequent pounding of booze. I was asked to judge a teacher's talent show earlier in the week but today I am exempt from the festivities since I don't work at a school; I'm the only teacher at the library. However, it has still turned out to be a heartwarming day. I haven't even had class yet but I've already gotten a transferred donation of phone credit, a large can of peaches, fancy chocolates and handmade felt slippers. How did I get to be so lucky?! Right now I am unfortunately mired in a battle of wills and bureaucracy over a complicated issue involving my future students. The details don't bare publishing but there is an angry fire burning within me to set all of the absurd rules right; to make fair what is ridiculous, arbitrary and harmful. I hope this is the mark of a good teacher: the willingness, or even need, to make the education system better. The day and my struggles bring to mind a quote I read recently. It ties in very well with both the profession of teaching and development work. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." True, on the flip side, discretion is the better part of valor, as Mr. Shakespeare reminds us. But I think teachers, if they are good teachers, care about students, know that they matter and speak up for them. I have had many a wonderful teacher do just this for me and the results were life changing. Regardless if it is something as small as an extra lesson after school or as broad as instituting new education legislation, teachers are the ones who do this on a daily basis. So thank a teacher today and fight the silence. Happy Teacher's Day everyone!

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