By Hyon O’Brien
As the New Year 2011 is upon us, I am thinking of all the good teachings I have received over the years as well as the role we play as introducers of something new and significant to someone during our lifetime.
I have five brothers and three sisters. All of them have inadvertently played unique roles in shaping me as a person. They introduced me to the diverse worlds of reading, the English language, cooking, sewing, fishing, hiking, flowers and trees, art appreciation and music. It was a crowded household with too many of us, but when I look back on the positive influences my siblings have had on me, I am glad for the large family. The benefits far outweighed the burdens.
The other day I came upon a clipping of an article from the Boston Globe titled ``Teaching Moment” in which the author writes glowingly about his teacher’s influence on his life: she spotted his musical talent early on, even before he had any inkling of it himself. This amazing teacher unearthed the hidden gift in him and introduced him to the world of music. Many readers responded to that article and shared their own stories of amazing teachers. In this day and age, when society doesn’t seem to be able to value properly the importance of teachers as a profession, it was refreshing for me to read so many people’s accolades of their teachers.
As I watch my older daughter introducing our two grandchildren to the diverse worlds of books, gardening, dinosaurs, art and so much more. It is beautiful to see their keen interest being kindled and nurtured.
My junior high school P.E. teacher introduced me to tennis when I had no interest at all in anything remotely physical. I was dismally uncoordinated, awkward in movement and well below average in speed. However, the delight I tasted at first hitting the ball with a racquet set me on the path of a lifetime of enjoyment of that sport. I will be always thankful to that teacher.
My mother-in-law introduced me to the joy of watching birds and opened a brand new aspect of the living world around us. That was nearly 40 years ago. Even now when I see a flock of birds flying by, I stop and watch them in awe. She instilled in me an amazing sense of wonder about them. The other day we took our grandchildren to Jungle Island in Miami, a family-oriented commercially-run Nature Park with many interactive shows. We had an enchanting time introducing all the living things there to our grandkids: the herons, egrets, and cranes roaming around, the goats, cows, lamas, and pigs to pet, the condors, cockatoos and parakeets flying by, and lots of other cute living things.
This got me to thinking about the absence of good public manners that constantly bothered me during the five years I lived in Seoul. Who failed to teach good public manners to people on the subways, buses and trains as they talk loudly into their cellular phones oblivious of others sharing the public space? Why aren’t they embarrassed about being so rude in public? Who failed in the responsibility of introducing proper etiquette? Why do so many people in Seoul bump obliviously into other people without a word of apology? Why are parents overly obsessed with good grades and good schools and yet fail to teach their children good manners?
One of my good friends never stops reminding her children, family and friends about being quiet in public places so as not to bother other people. We need more people like her. Another good friend told me when she was using a library frequently last winter, she noticed a young student habitually turning the pages of his books loudly near her desk where she was reading. She wrote a note on a piece of paper and went over to him with a smile and handed that note to him: ``Maybe you don’t notice but you are turning pages rather noisily. Could you turn your page quietly? I do appreciate your help.” That student promptly complied. Another friend never loses a chance to teach young ones she encounters: whenever she notices any group of young children passing by throwing candy wrappers or other trash on the street, she always stops them to teach them about not littering. I hope it has some effect.
We will do well if we can apply in everyday life the African saying that ``it takes a village to raise a child.” It is about time that we all participate in raising our children properly whether they belong to us or not. Capturing and utilizing good teaching moments is sorely needed to create and preserve a civilized society.
This year let us all be good teachers and learners. Indeed, it is correct what Benjamin Franklin observed about being taught. ``Genius without education is like silver in the mine."
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.