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The True Meaning of Teaching

April, 2011
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“We can’t draw!” whined the fourth grade class at Liming School. That Tuesday, three other seniors and I found ourselves in the position of teachers. As members of the Liming Service Project, we teach English every week to local migrant school children to supplement the instruction they receive during the school day. That day’s lesson was about body parts, and we had asked them to create paper puppets. This involved drawing three circles, four oval shapes, and a rounded triangle — hardly a difficult process.

“Of course you can draw,” I said, “Everyone can draw.”

I sighed, remembering similar past experiences. Because the students did not have regular art classes at their school, they had little confidence in their artistic abilities. When assigned a creative task, they would ask us to complete their projects for them, or, if presented with an example, would try their best to copy exactly what was shown to them.

The students protested that they couldn’t draw, that their drawings would be ugly. One girl was close to tears. Still, I would not concede their point; I would not draw for them.

Like the children, I used to be insecure about my art. I got frustrated when my drawings did not look exactly as I had intended. I understood their frustrations, which was exactly why I wanted to help them overcome them. I wanted them to realize that with practice comes — not necessarily perfect, but — better. I am still embarrassed about my earlier drawings, but I look at them as having been necessary to help me get to where I am today in terms of art.

I became aware that the true meaning of teaching extended beyond imparting knowledge to one’s students. With one of my co-teachers, I decided for the moment to drop the English lesson. We realized that we had to help the students recognize their own capabilities so that they could extend their learning themselves. We had to instill the confidence that would spark their creativity.

We explained to them that when faced with a challenge, that they had to have the confidence to at least try.

“Repeat after me,” I announced. “We can draw!”

The students quietly obliged.

“Louder!” I said.

“We can draw!” they exclaimed.

After that experience, my commitment to the Liming Service Project was solidified. I teach English at the Liming School because, though I come from a different walk of life, I see much of myself in the children, from their insecurities in art to their unwillingness to interrupt the teacher. Through teaching, I see that art is essential to a child’s education in that it teaches students the power of creative self-expression. By being able to express themselves, they are better able to learn English. Now whenever I teach classes, I know that confidence and self-belief must first be established. I hope, through my short interactions with the children, that I can help them realize their full potential — which is greater than even they would imagine.

My students still like to exaggeratedly criticize their own artwork, but now when I ask them if they can draw, they reply, with great volume and conviction:



By Max WANG,

Senior, Shanghai American School Pudong

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