Student Nomination Story

The songs that we learn as kids—like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Old Macdonald”—are the stepping stones for our knowledge of music and English. Mrs. Yao, or Laoshi, as we call her, allows us to relive this period of exploration, wonder, and fun, via Chinese. Ask any of her past Arrowhead High School students to sing “Ba Shou Ju Qilai” or “Dui Bu Qi” and they will remember it, guaranteed. Laoshi, or teacher in Chinese, is a customary title towards an educator. Mr. Johnson, for example, would be Johnson Laoshi. Because I called her Laoshi like everybody else, rather than the full “Yao Laoshi,” it was hard for me to see other teachers as Laoshi, because she was the only one! Like a child, I saw her as the Laoshi. How many high school teachers do you know cite studies to justify their teaching methods? To paraphrase her many references, “It is proven that creating stories with the language is more beneficial than memorizing premade stories.” “Look at and become familiar with the character, listen to the pronunciation, think of what it means, and then say it the same exact way you heard it.” Mandarin is a complicated language, so a specific strategy has to be established to learn what is important. Every day is a balancing act of teaching us listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The class system has been designed to not have to memorize outside of class. First we’re given a list of the vocabulary for the unit, then we make a fun story including them. The protagonist in the story? You guessed it, anything from Justin Bieber to the dragon from Shrek. Repeating the fun story again and again in Chinese not only helps us with the vocabulary, but also how to use them in sentences. Her laugh is a contagious songbird. She’ll laugh at her own mistakes, our outlandish ideas for stories, and funny translations. She will never, however, laugh at our mistakes. She’s taught me how to face criticism. Myself or another student will be corrected, and I will then acquire that language pattern or pronunciation. Language is making mistakes. Rather than becoming sycophants to our own thoughts, they need to be spoken to verify your understandability, pronunciation, and grammar. As a child, saying “that hurted” yields another individual to correct you. You don’t mourn your mistake, you move on with your life with another raindrop of intelligence. Now my reservoir of intelligence has gotten me opportunities that I never could have imagined. She takes those willing to China every couple of years, guiding them through the visa process, safety precautions, and planning. There I learned parts of China’s past and facets of its future. Finally, she introduced me to a studying abroad program where I can improve my language even further. I applied and got into the State Department sponsored NSLI-Y China Summer Program, as did another one of her students. After I had been accepted, I thanked her and let her know that she sculpted my future. “Hopefully it’s a good future,” she said.

Ethan Schlett

To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.