Skip to main content

A recently graduated senior from Duke informed me both in speech and deed that his personal brand was his commitment to leave behind a legacy – a lasting impact – for everything he does. “Leave it in a better condition than when you first saw it,” he had emphasized. I do recognize that action speaks louder than words, but I have yet to truly milk this inspirational principle.

By the end of today, I will have finish teaching 96% of my English Classes. There is no standardized curriculum. This is an opportunity for the middle schoolers to exercise their English oral communication skills while experiencing a small-group learning milieu with an American twist. Some students seemed uncomfortable, others were relatively more engaged. There is usually at least one troublemaker in each class and at times, we’ll have to deal with their clique. It frustrates me to witness their lethargy and absolute apathy during lessons. They keep really quiet, or their eyes wander, or their fingers seem more interesting than our lesson plans, or they build castles in the air assuming that we’ll let such lassitude fester during that 45 minutes. At 14, there were times when ennui overcame me as a result of academic work, especially in a pressure-cooker environment. I had my fair share of mood swings as a teenager. But I had never shown any form of disregard or disrespect to my educators. One afternoon, an eighth grader refused to participate; he wouldn’t speak nor read despite our countless prodding. I could not fathom why – was it the lack of confidence, was it because our lesson wasn’t designed to his liking, or was it because he couldn’t be bothered at all? I restrained myself from reprimanding him in Chinese; I’m not a trained teacher. Rather, I thought I was unqualified to preach about attitudes and principles, especially since said student would have probably casted my words aside as inconsequential nagging. Other days, I am overcome by the strong impulse to make a change. There’s another eighth grader who week after week insists that he doesn’t know anything about the English language. Whenever we asked him to repeat after us, or if we posed him a question, his default response would always be “I don’t know.”

Have you eaten?
“I don’t know.”
Who’s your best friend in class?
“I don’t know.”
Do you want to do the banana dance as a form of punishment?
“I don’t know.”

Then, I told him in Chinese, that it is important one knows how to say yes and no at the right time. ‘I don’t knows’ cannot and should not be a perpetual excuse that impedes learning. When there exist so many ‘I don’t knows’, it becomes immensely challenging for me to communicate with them. At this 96% checkpoint, I remain unaccomplished. I highly doubt the possibility of me leaving behind a legacy: not everyone spoke up during our sessions, and I remain clueless of exactly how much they’ve retained since the last class – how many will remember the tongue twisters, or things to say at a restaurant, or the different cities and countries in the world?