My teaching job was crippling me with anxiety and frustration. My marriage was on the brink of collapse. And my health was deteriorating day by day. That was six years ago, in 2012.
As an idealistic young teacher at the time, I was deeply disappointed to witness all kinds of conduct that was far from being professional and ethical. It was not only at my school, but also in the educational environment in general.
This situation totally contradicted my view of teachers as moral educators imparting high standards of behavior to their students. Due to the general decline of morality in society, many of my students were unruly and defiant, further contributing to my distress.
Instead of rising above the situation, my negative thoughts and energy spilled over and hurt everyone around me, from my students to my husband, from my children to my in-laws. I also began to come down with a host of stubborn diseases and conditions.
Fortunately, what could have been a devastating downward spiral turned out to be just the opposite, thanks to a life-changing path of self-improvement that my husband suggested to me after discovering it online.
It was simple yet profound, suggesting that improving one’s character is the key to resolving one’s problems. As I gradually improved myself, my relationships began to heal, both at home and at school. Professionally, it helped me tremendously in my efforts to fulfill my responsibilities of imparting not only knowledge but also values to my students.
I share my story in hopes it can provide new perspectives to other teachers facing similar challenges. May my experience help them dissolve those barriers and be better able to educate their students to become responsible, upright citizens contributing to a more civil and ethical society.
A Disillusioned Young Teacher
I graduated from teachers’ college in 2006 at age 22 and was fortunate to be able to find a stable position right away, teaching 16- to 18-year-old students in grades 10 to 12.
Having studied the examples of great teachers in history, I always believed that a teacher must have high moral standards and take fame and fortune lightly.
Yet, I saw around me many teachers who were violating the ethics of the profession. Some focused on making money and put their priority on private teaching outside of school. Some, in their longing to be promoted, were more interested in making themselves shine than meeting the needs of their students. Some even had affairs with their students.
The students, for their part, were disruptive and disrespectful, and it became painfully apparent to me that I wasn’t qualified to teach young people exhibiting such poor behavior.
Over time, negative thoughts began to flood my mind. If such improper conduct can even run rampant in schools, then where is society going, I thought to myself.
I felt disillusioned and helpless against the tide, but teaching was my chosen career and I saw no way out. Slowly but surely, I found myself being unable to hold firm to my ideals, and in the end I myself got caught up in the rat race to make money.
Anger, Frustration Spilling Over Between Home and School
I married in 2007 and my first child was born the following year. But due to my growing preoccupation with making money, I gradually began to see my husband as poor and weak. That made him the most convenient target for venting my pent-up anger and frustration.
By 2012 we’d had our second child, but our marriage was on the verge of falling apart. Conflicts intensified between us, and the relationship between my parents and my parents-in-law was reaching the breaking point.
I could no longer control my bitterness. I constantly complained about my life and fought with others. At home, I was always shouting at my children and arguing with my mother-in-law. At school, I resented my students and frequently lost patience when they made mistakes. I was rude and irritable and went so far as to throw chalk at my students when they did something wrong.
In my heart, I knew I was sliding down a dark and selfish path. I tried to lift myself up by going to Buddhist temples and seeking out fortune tellers, but it did not take long for me to learn that they were only interested in taking my money.
My emotional pain and stress started boiling like fever, manifesting into physical illnesses and conditions. I developed blood pressure problems, vestibular disorders, stomach aches, insomnia, and more. Sometimes my physical symptoms became so bad that they were unbearable, and I would have to call my father or uncle to come to my school and take me home.
Waking Up From a Bad Dream
In the end, it was my husband who helped me find a way out of my anguish and misery. In 2012, just when our marriage was on the brink of collapse, by chance he came across a book online that offered him hope. After reading it he suggested I read it as well.
Called Zhuan Falun, it is the main book of teachings of a traditional Chinese “self-cultivation” discipline called Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong. The book explores Falun Dafa’s overarching principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance for improving oneself. As a teacher who indeed cared about my students despite my flaws, those concepts resonated with me.
The first two times I tried to read Zhuan Falun, I succumbed to fatigue and stopped after only a few minutes. The third time, I resolved to read it through to the end and I was astonished that its contents spoke straight to my heart, shaking me to my very core.
It was as if I had woken up after a long, bad dream. The book helped me understand what good behavior is and why it’s important, and helped me realize that I needed to change and that the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance pointed the way.
Reflecting on my behavior over my past five years of teaching, I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed to recognize that I was a teacher who lacked virtue. At the same time, I was optimistic that I finally found the path to becoming a good person and a good teacher.
Character Improved, Family Relationships Healed
I earnestly put those principles into practice right away. I stopped complaining to everyone around me. I stopped talking back. Instead of criticizing and fighting with others, I listened to the other person’s point of view and put the other person’s feelings first, before my own. I took to heart what I learned from Zhuan Falun about the deeper consequences that come about when we are selfish, or when we are unkind or rude to others.
By improving my character as guided by Falun Dafa’s principles, I saw my family relationships gradually heal, including those within my immediate family and those between my parents and my parents-in-law.
The next year, in 2013, my mother-in-law also began to practice Falun Dafa. My mother, who had been worried about me for a long time, was no longer worried, and overall my family relationships became warm and harmonious. Today, six years after I started practicing Falun Dafa, nearly 20 of my relatives on both sides of my family are also practicing.
Positive Changes in My Students
In today’s educational environment, managing the classroom is often highly challenging for teachers. Society’s rapid moral decline has led to many young people becoming unruly or even out of control, in general not as respectful as previous generations toward their elders including their teachers and parents. Some teachers resort to stern reprimand and punishment, and it’s a vicious circle that no one seems to be able to find a way out of.
I also felt stuck, tired, and helpless. However, after learning the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance and applying them to my own life, I gained greater confidence that this was the bridge that could help me reach my students and encourage their inner good nature.
Some of my students were addicted to video games and often cut class to go to internet cafes. I started looking for them in these cafes during breaktime so that I could sincerely advise them to come back to school. Over time, the number of students skipping class to go play video games dropped dramatically.
I did my best to set a good example by following the principles of Falun Dafa in my own behavior, always listening and demonstrating caring, kindness, and courtesy while being calm and confident yet firm in my teaching. Most of all, I encouraged my students to be good people themselves by following the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Gradually, my students’ behavior changed for the better. They became more polite and helpful. Some took time to clean up the classroom on their own initiative. Others stopped swearing and didn’t use bad words anymore. There was no need for me to resort to strict rules or harsh punishments.
Many of the parents were touched to see the positive changes in their children. They came to thank me privately and wanted to give me gifts of money to express their gratitude. Each time I encountered this, I declined politely while also using the opportunity to explain that as a Falun Dafa practitioner, I didn’t seek any reward but was only doing what I should to fulfill my responsibilities as a teacher.
New School, Troubled Youth
In 2014, I moved to a new position at a continuing education center closer to my home, again teaching 16- to 18-year-olds in grades 10 to 12. The center was a high school focused on career skills and was mainly for students who had failed to advance in the regular school system.
Many of the students had learning disabilities and were troubled youth with behavioral and emotional problems, such as stealing, gambling, and addiction to video games. They displayed a whole range of challenging behavior, such as defiance, disruptiveness, and lack of discipline, not to mention often neglecting their lessons.
Sadly, many were at-risk youth who came from difficult home situations, with parents who were separated or divorced or who worked away from home with little time to devote to their children.
On my first day at the center, I was shocked. The classroom seemed more like a battlefield, and it took me half an hour to stabilize the class. The students fooled around, fought each other with straw brooms, jumped on top of the tables, and swore and cursed as if there was no teacher in the room. They didn’t listen to me or cared what I had to say, even when I raised my voice in an attempt to control the class. They laughed at me when I tried to reason with them.
After many days, I still did not know how to manage the class. I was routinely exhausted by the end of the day and so disheartened that I often cried after I got home and wanted to quit.
Changing Myself, Transforming My Students
What saved the day was Zhuan Falun. By reading the book daily, it gradually lifted the burden from my mind and strengthened my conviction that my only solution was to bring the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance to my students. I wanted to teach them to become good people who will benefit society and make the world a better place, and I had no doubt that these principles were the best gift I could ever give them.
Once I was clear and determined, everything became simpler and more straightforward, and I was no longer blocked but better able to maintain kind thoughts and think of generous and benevolent approaches to teaching.
I explained to my students the ancient belief of cause and effect in life, that good will be rewarded with good and evil will meet with retribution. Whenever a challenging situation arose, I took time to analyze what was right and wrong based on the principles taught by Falun Dafa and discussed the situation with my students, letting them deeply understand the proper behaviors that are worthy of good people.
To foster civility and moral values, I wove stories and lessons from traditional culture into my lessons. I paid honor to moral ideals and age-old universal values whenever there was an opportunity, even as I sometimes still had to use appropriate consequences in order to instil discipline.
In general, I used simple ideas to teach complex subjects and showed how the skills and knowledge being taught were relevant and meaningful in my students’ lives. I took care to make my lectures interesting and engaging, enlivened by humor and not dry and complicated or too hard to understand.
These changes in the way I interacted with my students resonated with them. Because I listened to them and was genuinely interested in their lives, even the most trying students began to listen to me attentively.
When I myself sometimes became upset, the students would remind me and say, “Teacher, remember truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance!” That always helped me calm down right away, and each time I would analyze the situation with them and repeat the rules. I was gratified to see them quickly able to adjust their behavior.
Some students borrowed Zhuan Falun to read and soon gave up bad habits like smoking, playing video games, and swearing.
Grateful to Make a Contribution as a Teacher
After three years, it was time for my students to graduate, yet they turned their graduation day into a special day in my honor instead. Somehow they learned it was my birthday and secretly planned a party for me. Then those students who had been the most defiant in the past quietly cleaned up the classroom after the celebration.
I was touched to see how much they had all grown up and transformed into young adults who cared about others. It showed me that they were ready to enter the world as responsible citizens whom their families would be proud of and who would be good for society.
I’m grateful to have this opportunity to share my story and hopefully reach other teachers who might be facing similar challenges in the classroom. I hope Falun Dafa’s principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance can help them as much as they have helped me both in my profession and in life generally.
Kim Thi Han lives in Vietnam.
Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.
For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.