to n. n.

Dear N. N.,


I rarely shed tears for a letter. Yet yours was one of the recent two that made my eyes well up. I found my tears running down the cheeks while reading your sincere words.


Encouragement and support from my e-pals leave me with only one choice —- to push ahead with my English studies and teaching. I have come a long way in my endeavor and years of hard work has enriched my understanding of life. I have saved your letter permanently on my computer and I will use it to give further impetus to my effort. When temptation arises to lure me off the right course, I will read it to give myself a warning. Thanks, my dear friend.


Let me come to the practical matter first. Your kind advice warmed my heart but I have to say that I would not go there. First of all, I am not a conventional teacher. Should I present a resume, it would be shabby. Nothing I have achieved would impress those watchful eyes. Under the current system, the so-called GOOD teachers I do not trust. And of course I would not pretend to be one. Lying about my performance goes against my principle and certainly it is out of the question. Secondly, right here I have the opportunity to work firsthand in the classroom and problems here would also be found in that school, I am afraid. ELT in China is riddled with similar problems all over the country —- monster classes, poor teacher proficiency in the language, cramming, teaching solely for exams, misleading educational policies, to name just a few. I don’t believe that school is exempt from influences of the problems. If I couldn’t overcome these problems here in my school, do you think I could over there? The experience gained through years of work here will enable me to perform well in my teaching here and I will be able to reform gradually. Furthermore, though my ability to use the language has tremendously improved, I am still not happy with it. There is still room for improvement and I am working hard on a daily basis toward my goal. In time, when I feel my English is powerful enough, I might consider moving or switching my career. Whatever I do, it will be related to the English language.


You might have known something about me from my conversations in the UC chat rooms but I am afraid there must be something you are not aware of. Here is some info about myself. Of course I will keep something back for reasons of privacy.


I attended a 2-year program in a local teacher training college if it may be named such. My excellent performance during those two years earned me a teaching position in one of the most prestigious high schools in the area. I was grateful for being given such an opportunity for most of my college classmates were sent to work in remote country schools. Compared with them, I was lucky enough to work with some decency in a town. And my students were selected through high school entrance exams from the satellite counties. And they were good. My first year into the career made me aware that I was not qualified enough to be a teacher in such an institution. Since then my effort to improve has never for a day ceased. I might sound a bit exaggerating to you, but it is true, it is really true. To know about the language is an easy matter, and most learners of English do know about it. The biggest challenge is to use the language, and use it for meaningful purposes and in real life situations. The best teacher of English in China should not be a grammar and/or a vocabulary book. He/She should be a living example of the English language. I bet large numbers of teachers in China can claim they are grammarians and lexicographers (I wish the title were fitting), yet how many can declare they are a living example of the language?


It is not the fault of the teachers, of course, if we take into account the fact that in China the English language is merely a foreign language. And the teachers do not have ample opportunities to use it. What is most worrying is that the so-called normal universities are not capable of turning out qualified potential teachers. English majors may pass TEM-8 but what will such a certificate mean if the holder cannot use the language proficiently? You might not believe me, but I did meet with those TEM-8 certificate holders who stumble a great deal over a simple daily conversation. Ridiculous, isn’t it?


I know these problems well and I know clearly what I should do to avoid getting stuck in such a condition. Since the system doesn’t help very much, I have decided that to reach my goal largely relies upon my own effort. I don’t believe in the efficiency of the established. All through the years I have focused upon upgrading my ability to comprehend spoken English, to speak, to read and to write. Switching my teaching style from teacher centered to student centered, from grammar based to content based, and from exam oriented to catering to the developmental needs of the teenagers has benefited me not only in my language proficiency but also in my way to look at the world. Teaching in such a style naturally requires me to use the language constantly for daily communicational needs. I conduct my sessions in English and after class I chat with the students in English, too. I have got some cooperative colleagues, too. We have started an English speaking program in the office. We have made it a rule that English be spoken in the office when we talk with each other. All of us have keenly realized how correct the cliché is, “The best way to learn a language is to use it.”


However, despite my hard work and my bettered abilities, I am still haunted by the deeply-rooted problems which, I am sure, are common to other teachers in China. When the only concern is a high score in the final exam, that part of your work seemingly not contributing to that goal is jeered and looks so irrelevant to “the popular cause”. Thus most teachers’ energy is channeled into maximizing the students’ performance in the exam. Whenever I think about this, I worry about the nation’s future. If the education system is not able to arouse the interest in learning and exploring, if large numbers of students are bored to death, where will the nation go for the youngsters are OUR future?


I am afraid this letter will take you some time to read. I have to stop here. Thanks again, dear friend, for your kindness.


Best wishes,





5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sophia
    Jun 04, 2006 @ 07:44:06

    hi, Shengliver !last night i was moved by this letter , a man  who is full of ambition represents before me ,i appreciate ur deep insight of the best teacher of English .Majority ppl cant understand themself and their occupation well, but u can !
    i really benefit a lot for ur thinking and writing .


  2. Shengliver
    Jun 05, 2006 @ 00:35:44

    Thanks, dear Sophia.


  3. Huang
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 09:30:43

    i donot agree all you talk about the TEM-8. current TEM-8 test includes all aspects for basic language skills such as vocabulary, grammar, reading writing, linguistics, lexics, history n’ anthology of literature. i donot think one student with fluent spoken english in senior high school will know better than one undergraduated student with TEM-8 certificate.
    i admire all your harding working and what you have achieved, it seems you never give up what you aim at. As a teacher, you do have full feelings with responsibility, however, it’s not neccessary for you to worry the future fo our nation. anyway, language is language, someone can use language does not stands for someone must speak this language fluently, what’s important is how to communicate with limited language (here language does not only mean language), am i right?
    moreover, "what is real is rational, what is rational is real", we should hold something, but we can change something too.


  4. Shengliver
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 12:23:05

    Thanks, dear Sammi.


  5. Lisa
    Aug 09, 2006 @ 05:54:17

     Dear Sheanglive
        I  read your letter once by once these days,I have many thoughts in my mind,i feel a short passage  couldn’t say it clearly so i wrote to you this morning,i’ve sent it to your e-mail address that i thought it should be,maybe it’s only my guession,if i ‘m wrong please tell me,ok?


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