Teacher unions are constantly in contract negotiations around much of the world these days as contracts are constantly expiring and needing renewal in one place or another. Some of these can drag on and/or get rather unpleasant in nature. We are in the middle of a negotiation situation where I live. Some incorrectly perceive I’m not in a position to comment without being in conflict of interest despite having my individual rights of free speech, but I’m not here to discuss that. I don’t want that to be a distraction here, nor this to be the hill they die on. Instead, I’m here to share a familial story on teacher working conditions for perspective and documentation of stories not otherwise preserved beyond oral retelling in the family.
My Mother was a teacher in Viet Nam in the 1960s and 1970s. You might know there was a war there during that time, with the aftermath post-1975 even less pleasant for those in the South who were not generally subject to direct war being waged until the last days, but teaching during a war that lasted decades was still trying, to say the least!
Starting in the fall of 1975, my Mother had to work for a government who put her husband in a labour camp, uncertain if he would ever return alive. She had to work for next to no pay as there was some rationing system for the people. Most of the 50-100 students in the middle school classes she taught didn’t have all basic school supplies to even take notes or do homework. Yet, 40 years on, some of my Mother’s students throughout her teaching career are still calling her to wish her a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year! Some had kept in touch throughout it all. Others had reconnected after they had stabilized their lives after the war, either in Viet Nam or elsewhere around the world where they had settled after escaping the country. Myself, when I returned to Viet Nam 35 years after I had left, my Grade 1 teacher, Miss Hanh, who had kept in touch with my Mother, requested I make time to see her, which I was absolutely delighted to do because I had thought about doing the same.
In every profession, culture or general group of people, there will be those who stand out for good, and bad reasons. However, the type of teachers my Mother and my Grade 1 teachers were, and the respect they had earned from their students for their impact on the students’ lives, are more typical than not in Viet Nam. That’s the type of teachers we generally have, and that’s the general type of respect we give them, not only in trust to start, but in earnings after they influence our lives.
In today’s very different world of different time and place, contract negotiations over all kinds of issues will be what they will be. Perhaps things aren’t comparable. However, a little perspective for appreciation and for the record is still worth having.