Friday, November 22, 2013

*****  AMAZING Teachers Day in Vietnam  *****

Student Dancers from LDnCD
First of all preparation for Nov. 20 Teachers Day starts BEFORE the actual day.  Handmade cards, banners, flower decorations were ALL over the campus.  Monday night (18-11-13) we attended a student performance on campus that featured groups from several departments who “competed” to perform the best songs, dances and art showing honor for teachers and learning.  The students write and produce their own shows: choreography, costumes, select songs, lighting, staging, audio and then direct the performance.  Although I will admit to some (actually a lot of) bias, I felt that our Labor Relations Trade Union Department had one of the best, probably the very best presentation Monday night. The judges agreed and we found out on Teacher’s Day that our department’s troupe won.  Our department's players used as their theme “We are one” and sang, danced and acted with a variety of costumes reflecting the wide range of cultural images of Vietnam: traditional songs and dance, modern student dress from casual through a variety of uniforms: military, Youth Union, and student volunteer uniforms.  Another element of the event was each department “competing” to have the loudest and most visible audience  -- and the Business Administration Department sure made a lot of noise (this is a HUGE department).  We sat in the midst of our student body in the audience and everyone cheered, clapped and hollered for each and every performance.    Although every department's performance was excellent the runner up, in our opinion, used the American War as the scenario for a patriotic performance.  And yes, there were Vietnamese fighters dressed in “black pajamas”, a form of dress based on traditional styles and that provided excellent camouflage in the jungle, forests and rice fields where the shadows are black against the multiple shades of green that surround you in VN.  Then followed Teachers Day…

*********    National Teacher’s Day – Wow!   ***********

Teachers Day begins with a ceremony at the front of the University
Wednesday this week (20-11-13) we celebrated our first national Teachers Day with the faculty of the university (FYI: In Vietnam the word faculty is very inclusive and includes the instruction staff (Professors, lecturers), Administrative staff and the staff that we refer to in the US as the Support or Classified Staff (Facility services and other services), and the student body.  The day could be divided into 4 main sections depending on the type of activity and the timing.  At 7:00am the instructional staff, administration and classified or support staff gathered in front of the administration building facing the statue of Ton Duc Thang.  After singing the Vietnam National Anthem and words from our Administration we filed up in columns with burning incense which we stuck into a large ceramic pot in honor of teachers and education.  This was a very dignified and serious measure highlighting the esteem of National Teachers Day in Vietnam. After we completed our incense placement we returned to the ranks we had formed earlier to wait for all the departments to finish.  There were no classes – all day teachers, workers, administrators, students interacted and shared fun OUTSIDE the classroom.
Then, almost magically a group appeared carrying signs on sticks and people began lining up by the signs.  Leanna and I had no idea what was happening and then Vinh, our extra-ordinary friend/fellow lecturer/interpreter/translator explained now people were forming up in new lines to take part in the athletic competitions among the entire faculty (except for students).  It was strongly suggested that I join the “running” event and after some cajoling (yeah, right – Leanna commentary) I consented.  The course was probably 2/3 of a kilo and I enjoyed running with my new friends from Vietnam.  I won a prize as the eldest competitor.  Students began joining in the fun as spectators, fan clubs, helping with logistics, etc.    
Ms Vinh and Hollis on tandem bike.
  Next Ms. Vinh and I competed as a team on a bicycle-built-for-two in a race that was probably about 2 ½ miles in length with 12 sharp turns.  We almost fell over at the start and ended up dead last out of six teams out of the gate so to speak.  We pumped hard and began to catch up by the first turn and made up our first place into 5th on the 2nd stretch.  Ms Vinh yelled to me to save energy for the end so we could finish.  We sprinted the last half lap and Ms Vinh brought us 2nd place victory with her power (I was bushed.).
Our Dean, on the left, playing football.
Now it was time to watch others “sporting” and we watched our    Dean, Professor Hoa, play football ( aka soccer in the USA) for the Biz Adm team since he also lectures for them. The game was fought furiously and it was getting hotter and hotter out on the field but after about an hour the other team pulled out a victory.  Final event was the “fishing contest” where Mr. Quang (LRTU Administrator) and Ms. Hien (recent graduate and probationary worker)   represented our department.  The fishing event was a wild affair held at the canal that cuts across the campus.  Alas our fisherman was assigned to the southeast side of the canal and the fish weren’t biting.
Our Fishing team,Mr. Quang in front of  Leanna and the
woman to the right side in high heels,  Ms Hien.

Once the fishing contest was over we rushed back to our room (everyone else used offices and bathrooms! )and got into serious clothes again to be ready for the 3pm Convocation where honors were handed out to many of the instructors by the University President and Vice-Presidents after a moving student performance including several from our department.   Leanna and I were presented certificates for our contribution to the internationalization of Ton Duc Thang University as part of UCLA Labor Center’s ongoing international solidarity work– it was such an honor in front of the faculties and students.  To work at a University named for the first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam who was also an educator and a comrade in arms with Ho Chi Minh – wow!  Ton Duc Tang is known as a revolutionary leader who taught literary and politics to fellow revolutionaries while imprisoned by the French.  You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution!
Thêm chú thích
At the conclusion of this stately celebration that included many special guests seated at the front of the auditorium: guests such as VGCL leaders, VCP dignitaries, retired instructors, government members and the Board of Directors members of our University we all went to a hosted dinner in the newly constructed Sports Arena. (dinner photo).  

  The buffet was an amazing selection of seafood, fish, vegetables, beef and pork, bamboo sprouts, and on and on plus excellent Saigon Beer for toasts to teachers, education and Vietnam.  It was a real gala event for everyone on campus.
Our Table Salutes Teachers Day
We share all these details to try to convey to you, dear friends, that education and learning are CELEBRATED and VALUED here in Vietnam in a way we have never before experienced.  While there still exists a formality in some teaching methods, we observe an underlying cultural (which includes the impact of the Vietnamese Revolution) and societal and economic respect for integrating learning into one’s life.  Increasingly this underlying respect and integration influences teaching methods, workplace organization (which is part of the challenge of Vietnam’s economic development, in our opinions), the role and structure of people’s organizations, evolution of academic policies – this is significant!  This is such a contrast in context and theory and practice to our experience of education in the USA.    We knew when we came to Vietnam that we would probably learn more than we had to share with faculty and students here at TDT.  We had no idea!  We now hope we will be able to share some of the education insights and practices we have gained here in Vietnam with our teacher and organizer buddies in the USA as we all continue our work for a better world of peace and justice for all workers.  Celebrate teachers and learning!

Check out the Ton Duc Thang University HCMC website,,  where you can click on the British Flag in the upper right hand corner for an English translation.  Not only will you see information about Teachers Day but you can get other information about TDT.


  1. What a great day-long event! It makes me so hopeful to hear about celebrating teachers (with so much bashing on this side of the world) along with the reminder of how much (more) we can learn from our own students. Thanks for sharing!! (and I can't even imagine running with 90% humidity).

  2. Thank you Mary for your comment. Perhaps there will be a progressive resurgence in the US and our population will demand that education funding be restored and our system honored.