Anna and the King, or when I learned my boss was a king

First, a true story. Before my trip in 2003, I perused the local library for any information on China, and all I could find were pictures of men and women dressed in blue uniforms, riding bikes from a book published in the mid 1980s. China wasn’t in the news, wasn’t a rising power, but most importantly to me was different, a literal Wild West for a native Californian who had grown up in the Silicon Valley during the 80s. In many ways, my experience mirrored Anna Leonowen’s experience in Thailand during the 1860s (she also thought her employment in Siam would be a romantic excursion), and continues to mirror the experiences of expatriates working in China even today. I would like to explore the dichotomies presented in the story of Anna Leonowens (told by Peter Krikes, Steve Meerson, and directed by Andy Tennant in the film, Anna and the King) through three rules (or quotes from the film) as well as the impact of those rules had I known and practiced them during my first year.

Rule #1: “Best not to assume too much.” In the beginning of the film, the prime minister of Siam chastises Anna for jumping to conclusions she may be swaying the king towards changing his policies, when in fact he was just being polite. In her book, Leonowens remarks with stunning audacity (even to the end of her five-year stint in Siam) at the brutality of the culture, the uncivilized manners of the king and his ministers, and the horrifying treatment of the common people with an attitude that would do her contemporary Harriet Beecher Stowe proud. Even in the film, Anna (portrayed by Jodie Foster) presents an image of a woman far more interested in securing the rights of women forced to serve as wives for the king than the bloated attitudes she taught her son to convey to appointed princes, illustrated when he shoved the prince of the country because of an insulting remark.

When I first arrived in China, I came saddled with a college education (worth around $100,000), a three-month EFL certificate to teach English, as well as six months teaching experience in a local community center in Chicago. However, when I arrived at the city where I was supposed to teach, my guide told me to stay on the train. Five hours later, I got off the train in a tiny mountain town near the border of Russia, escorted to my “apartment” (the operating room of the school’s former dental clinic, complete with chair and instruments), and a day later I was dumped unceremoniously in front of thirty-five toddlers and told to teach them English. No book. No introduction. No experience.

Little did I know that my boss knew as little as I did. I was selected for my position through a third party. When arriving at the newly-built school, they did not even have enough time to prepare a room or the prescience to issue me a proper visa; they were forced to bribe the police just to keep me in-country. Just as I made wrong assumptions, Anna was far more concerned with the rights of the women under her care, and she seemed to care little that Thailand was suffering from the brutal border violence in Burma, or hardly respected the stress of a man with thirty-two wives and eighty-two children. During Anna’s five years with the king, he also lost his favorite daughter to cholera, saw his beloved younger brother die, and even through his trials managed to turn Siam from a medieval kingdom to a country that embraced free trade and European education.

Rule #2: “Most people see the world as they are, not as it is.” Perhaps Anna should have shone the mirror back on herself, rather than criticizing the people of Siam for their acceptance of slavery. Her conclusion shows promise of transformation: “…or perhaps that is my weakness.” Even King Mongkut, according to Anna’s book, viewed her little more than a servant, having no concept of the suffragette popularized from John Stuart Mill. However, the world must be seen from both perspectives, the observer and the observed, as in the space between observer and observed is reality.

When I returned to the United States in 2004, I remarked to my family and friends that during my employment as a kindergarten teacher, I was little more than an indentured servant. I was locked behind the gates of the school (much as Anna was in the palace compound). Services were forced outside of my contract (similar to Anna’s translation and editing services, in addition to her tutoring of the prince and her teaching of the king’s 82 children and wives). I was also used as a marketing ploy for the school because of my white face, blond hair, and blue eyes (just as Anna was used when asked to serve as a third party to the governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring).

After ten years of living in China, perhaps I should not be surprised that the way I was treated was much the same as any other employee. At the time I saw corruption and nepotism; I now understand the realities of an ancient culture suddenly forced to adopt suits and ties. Just as there is beauty in the culture of coffee shop meetings and neighborhood potlucks, there is also beauty in morning employee exercises and the midnight blaring of disco boomboxes in the community square.

Rule #3: “They are the ways of one world.” By the end of the film, Anna has grown, throw aside her colonial attitude and adopted Thai life. While Anna’s real life was starkly different (she left Thailand a sick, tired woman, and a royal court that breathed relief at her departure), the film presents a vision all foreign workers should embrace. One culture is no better than another; difference must be judged according to the fruits, and fruits must be sampled carefully with an open mind.

When I left China in 2004, I had been through a gauntlet: moved to three different schools over one year, never teaching the same students for more than four weeks at a time, one fired colleague, one colleague that fled the school during the middle of the night, police raids on the school campus, and learning how to jump the school fence during the night so I could write e-mails to my parents. Seven of my colleagues angry, bitter, disillusioned or fired by the Chinese leaders who simply reflected Chinese values, and me? I had no desire to return to that country again.

Years later I realized that had I kept a more open mind during my time, I might have had a stronger impact on those I touched. King Mongkut’s final words about Anna were that she was a “difficult woman,” and while his son Chulalongkorn appreciated Anna’s diligence, he agreed with his father her impact was minimal, given her frequent desire to accost and challenge the king on matters of court legality. During the last month of my employment, I was also called “difficult” through my attempt to speak for those I felt were being unfairly charged by my boss.

Or when I learned my boss was a king. Midway through her service to the king as governess in 1864, Anna plead from the king to have an increase in salary, to which he bluntly refused and then followed up shortly after with a request for her resignation (feeling he would lose face if he fired her, as he did hire her). She denied him and over the years the king grew to bear her, culminating her time in Siam with a refusal to act as an intermediary in the writing of a letter to Sir John Bowring, a source of sensitivity for the king given his close relationship with the governor and desire to not hurt Bowring’s feelings (Bowring, 2011). After being forced from the palace by armed guard, Anna finally deigned to write a letter to Bowring, but only of sentiment (not of any substance). She returned to England; a year later, the king died, giving the throne to his son Chulalongkorn (Anna’s pupil).

Real life clashes harshly with the romantic image of Anna in the film, which ends in a slow waltz under a moonlit gazebo, the king and Anna embraced, tears rolling down their faces, the forbidden love of a god and mortal woman hand-in-hand hidden behind their eyes. King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) sadly recounts in the last line of the film of the love his father held for Anna, and the good she did for Thailand, giving power and authority to Anna’s transformation.

Near the end of my first year in China, I remember walking into my boss’ office to say hello. He was sitting behind his desk wearing his favorite turtle-skin glasses, playing Counter-Strike (a popular computer game among Chinese youth). I asked him how he was doing, and he gruffly looked up at me, smiled, nodded, and then went back to his game. Leaving the office almost as quickly as I entered, I could hear the bullets clatter from his gun to the ground, and the sound of his rifle reloading. I had caught my boss in a rather unrefined moment, yet was also reminded of the enormous authority he wielded. He knew he had power. I judged, to my shame.

The assumptions foreign workers make discredit them; their insistence on viewing the world through their particular cultural lens becomes a burden; but their transformation into holistic learners to respect and even admire culture, is the defining characteristic that sets them apart from others. Kings may be kings, servants servants, but beauty is always found when one is neither, but a learner.


Bowring, P. (2011). Sir John Bowring: The imperial role of a lifelong radical. Asian Affairs, 42(3):419- 429.

Leonowens, A.H. (1870). The English governess at the Siamese court: Being recollections of the six years in the royal palace at Bangkok. Retrieved from

Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).


Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.


Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Holism and idealism: a different paradigm

Standing in front of a crowd of around 600 students seated in an auditorium, I held up my hand to silence them. In the quiet atmosphere of nervous silence, one of the girls sitting in the front row looked at the test and began to explain (in a rather loud voice) her displeasure at the nature of the test, speaking in a loud voice and prompting students behind her to peer over their desks like curious cranes at the little squawking bird flapping her wings. In all my years of teaching, that girl wasn’t the last outburst during a test I encountered – but never had I witnessed such an emotional reaction to an exam. Little did I know how important the test was in Chinese culture, even as I angrily told the girl she had to leave the auditorium (and therefore, I most likely sealed her fate). I probably should have realized the importance the next semester when one of my students (again, sitting in the front row) began crying over her test paper as she stared with huge weepy eyes at an abstract diagram of vocabulary and pictures, continuing her sad session until she had to pull out a handkerchief and wipe away her tears.

According to Gao and Watkins, student achievement is a public event in China, measured chiefly by the exam at the end of the year. Most teachers (according to Gao and Watkin’s research) view their job as teachers in five key areas (listed from student-centered to teacher-centered): Conduct guidance, attitude promotion, ability development, exam preparation, and knowledge delivery. To generate data, the authors used a mapping-plane as well as Kember’s “conception of teaching” as a guide (1997), then based on interviews and a questionnaire (School Physics Teachers’ Conceptions of Teaching, SPTCT) generated responses from student-centered to teacher-centered from keywords and phrases. Kember’s “conception of teaching” involves six separate categories: the essence of learning, the essence of teaching, the role of the teacher, outcomes, content, and teaching methodology.

While the authors are critical of China’s test-culture, they also recognize that the system has lasted for more than 1,000 years (from the Tang Dynasty), when the Kefu was used in order to promote scholars into positions of the government, and lasts to this day known as the gaokao (high school test). Gao and Watkins suggest two different orientations from their research: a cultivating orientation (composed of conduct guidance, attitude promotion, and ability development) and a moulding [sic] orientation (composed of exam preparation and knowledge delivery). While the authors do show comparisons between the variant orientations and western models of teaching, they also recognize the uniqueness of the five key areas, due to the complex context of China’s history and culture. However, while western models of teacher are generally centered around knowledge transmission, they do not contain the holism embedded in Chinese methods. Hence, for the teacher aiming to work in China a new paradigm of teaching must be recognized.

Teachers of Chinese students (even Chinese students abroad) would do well to remember Han Yu’s words from the Tang Dynasty: “What is a teacher? A teacher is the one who shows you the way of being human, teaches you the knowledge and enlightens you when you are confused” (Shi Shuo, published 1973). In China, the teacher is admired; this admiration does not come from vacant authoritarianism, but from the tradition of teaching as an Ideal. Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, considered the goal of teaching to achieve ren (or humaneness, a self-actualizing state that can only be achieved through holistic scholarship). Teachers from the western tradition look back on Socrates in admiration: a man constantly surrounded by eager learners, seeking to unravel the secrets of the universe who in his self-centered idealism caused so much disharmony in his society that he was forced to commit suicide; his pupils continued his tradition of critical scholarship, breaking down structures and unmooring their minds from the proverbial dock of history, into Aristotle’s dream. Confucius, on the other hand, relished in harmony, died an old man happily surrounded by his pupils who eagerly copied his words into what would become the most powerful continuation of culture on the planet.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching; Learning and Instruction. Journal of EARLI, 7(3):255-275.

Liu, Z. (1973). The way of being a teacher in China – the way of teachers. Taipei: Chung Hwa Book Co. LTD.



Professional isolation: the mysteries of teacher collegiality

A city is a lonely place. Towers of steel and artifice, standing side-by-side in the horizon, surrounded by throngs of hearts and souls all begging for some semblance of meaning to be found in passing shadows. In many ways, teaching in a class is much the same – a profession of multiple shifting persona, learners filtering through the educational system to some mysterious end, staying awhile and then walking out the door. For the teacher, Fallon and Barnett argue, professional isolation is a reality. Teachers become experts in their particular environments, astride mental carriages of their own design; while they may pass by another carriage on the road to learning (and perhaps throw a wave or two) they remain safely ensconced in their particular spheres. Fallon and Barnett argue, however, that the professional isolation of a teacher is supported by the organizational structure of the school, and so with restructuring that isolation can become collaboration. The authors set about an experiment wherein they conducted interviews at a school, prompting the teachers to use their weekly meetings not as trials-by-fire (as faculty meetings go) but as creative and collaborative storytelling sessions, devising ways to build leadership capacity and begin the “shifting of professional boundaries.”

Fallon and Barnett’s goal was to encourage the teachers at the school to move from Little’s weak collegiality into strong collegiality (1990). Weak collegiality is defined by the literature as sharing, storytelling, and assistance, while strong collegiality is defined as joint work. To do this, the teachers restructured the leadership at the school, endowing those with power and authority as “sponsors” while lifting up normal teachers as “champions” (intending, of course, to encourage sponsors to uplift the teachers rather than use their authority to demean them). In their weekly meetings, they discovered new strategies to interact more frequently, although perhaps not to the end the authors desired.

Fallon and Barnett recognized that the key failure in the experiment was the lack of value. When instituting any change, the members of that change must have a value commitment, as values are core to critical discourse, which in turn is required for what Lavie calls a “discourse of possibilities” (2006). Smith (1996) also argues that “critical collaboration” is necessary in order to, as the authors explain, increase the level of collegiality from weak to strong as “critical collaboration” allows for collaboration to grow rather than fester, or what Fullon and Hargreaves term “comfortable collegiality” (1992). Of the five discourses Fallon and Barnett discuss (culture, effectiveness, school-as-community, restructuring, and critical) I believe the foundation is effectiveness, with school-as-community as a goal, culture/critical as mediators, and restructuring as methodology.

In my work as a teacher, I fully recognize the simplicity and ease of weak collegiality. Encouraging another teacher to change without the necessity of a systematic restructuring towards effectiveness is like trying to move a mountain. Furthermore, in a multicultural setting culture acts like temporal variables altering the streams and paths constantly lending credence to a critical understanding of how culture interacts with effectiveness. The restructuring model must be centered around the goal, if the goal is for the school-as-community.

I have often shared my ideas with other teachers, and they have shared their ideas with me. We have “comfortable collegiality,” but in order to truly be effective we need organizational restructuring. Setting up classes so that we can visit other teachers’ classes, writing personal evaluations, meeting school standards, and being able to critique department rules in a positive, encouraging, and non-threatening capacity are all key to an organizational restructure. Lightening the load of the leadership by delegating tasks (with reward, such as reputation/additional pay), squashing the vertical threshold by inviting leaders to informal events, but most of all creating community as a role model within the cohort of teachers and encouraging community within the classroom – with using culture not as a hammer but rather as a language, learning to communicate with each other through the heart.

Fullan, M.G., & Hargreaves, A. (1992). What is worth fighting for? Working together for your school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

Lavié, J.M. (2006). Academic discourses on school-based teacher collaboration: Revisiting the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(5):773-805.

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teacher College Record, 91(4):509-534.

Smith, B. (1996). What did we mean when we argued for “critical collaborative communities”? In J. Smyth (Comp.), Schools as critical collaborative communities. Adelaide, Australia: The Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching.