Genuine Empathy Through the Tears of My Child

Earlier this week, another great and unique moment happened in my world of fatherhood. It was the first time that I saw my 1 year old baby’s eyes water up. Not because she was angry or frustrated or crying to get attention. Her eyes welled up with tears because she felt sad for the “ugly duckling.”

Watching YouTube Videos in Different Languages

As she’s nearing 2 years old, we’ve been allowing her to watch some shows on YouTube. As a proud language learner myself and having experience teaching kids languages, and wanting to give her the gift of multilingualism, we’ve been letting her watch cartoons in English, Chinese and Spanish.

One day, I was searching for “dibujos animados” (cartoons in Spanish) when suddenly a cartoon was recommended called “El patito feo”, which means “The Ugly Duckling”. It was a Disney cartoon and I saw that it was really old. In fact, I think it was made in the early 1900s.

We watched it together, along with my wife and child, and I was disappointed when I found out early in the cartoon that there actually wasn’t any talking in Spanish at all in the cartoon, not even English. There were only duck and other animals sounds. I figured, oh well, might as well finish the 8 minute cartoon.

Enjoying Cartoons Without Any Verbal Language at All

As the story continued, the baby “ugly” duckling used its animal sounds and gestures and facial expressions to communicate its feelings. As it was rejected by its mother and siblings because it was different from the others, and began exploring the world on its own to find a new home and family, I could sense that my daughter was engrossed by the story. She didn’t wince or scream “No, no!” as she usually does when she doesn’t like the show.

In the end, the “ugly” duckling finds a beautiful mother swan and other siblings (different from his original family) and realizes that he is very similar to these new birds. Unlike his duck siblings who “quack”, the swans “honk” like him. Instead of laughing at his “honk” sound, the swans make the same sounds and accept him for who he is. He finds happiness in being like them, and is worried when they leave. But in the very last scene, he is relieved that the mother swan take him in as part of their family, while the duck family look on, baffled. It was really a beautiful story, and made me tear up.

My wife and I were more surprised though when we peered at Zoe’s face. Her eyes had watered up too. They were slightly red, and her face was blank but intense because she had been concentrating so much on the storyline. She had been sad for the little “ugly” duckling, and had been touched that it had found a new home even though it was rejected by its original mother, father and siblings.

Even after the cartoon had ended, Zoe still felt sad and a little awkward because she didn’t know how to react after feeling such a strong emotion.

Understanding My Child Through Her Body Language & Emotions

It was such a beautiful moment. It was the first time seeing her like this, and Fufu and I had to talk about it later on. The beauty of those tears was that it was raw and innocent. Unfiltered and real. She had felt for one of the first times in her life a sense of genuine empathy for the baby duck in the story, and I think it was because she could relate to the human need for belonging, family and ultimately, love.

Even though she has trouble saying words and sentences, she can still comprehend higher levels of language, such as emotions and body language. That really struck me, and we were amazed that even though she can’t yet uttereven 1 sentence, she can still understand when others feel hurt, afraid, lonely or sad. And she can empathize with them… even when they are little ducks in short cartoons.

I never want to forget this moment. I too was touched, not only by the cartoon itself, but by the overwhelming reaction by my 1-year-old baby daughter.

I guess it brought up my own feelings of wanting to be loved, accepted and the importance of family…

I think Zoe will also like Finding Nemo and Dumbo, and I can’t wait to watch them with her, but I think we’ll take a break for now from those really emotional storylines!

Check out El Patito Feo / The Ugly Duckling below:

I Love You, Teacher Matthew: My Experience Being a Teacher

I love you.

These 3 little words have such a significant meaning in our lives, and many of us live our whole lives striving (and even yearning) to hear these words and experience them.

That Awkward Moment When a Boy Said “I Love You” to Me

This week a 6 year old boy, Mars, in one of my English classes said this to me, and at first I felt uncomfortable.

“Happy Teachers’ Day!… I love you, Teacher Matthew.”

I was thankful when he said “Happy Teachers’ Day”, but when he threw in the “I love you” part, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was amazed that not only was he able to say it in English, but that he knew the meaning of it, too. Mind you, my students are all Chinese native speakers, and he was a 6-year old boy in one of the beginners classes of English.

I didn’t remember teaching him to say “I love you”, and I didn’t think it was in the textbook! That’s also why I was taken aback by it.

On the other hand, I felt awkward, and I’ll talk about that later in this post…

A Special Day for Teachers

Confucius Temple, Taiwan (Teachers’ Day also commemorates the historical Chinese teacher Confucius)

First a little background. It was culturally appropriate at the time because this week it was Teachers’ Day in Taiwan, which coincides with the day commemorating the historical Chinese teacher Confucius. Several kids in many of my English classes greeted me with a fervent “Happy Teachers’ Day!” because I’ve been teaching English to elementary and high school kids in Taiwan for over a year now.

It was a little strange to me at first, but it did bring a huge smile to my face and it did brighten up my day and really motivated me to teach with much more gusto and enthusiasm than usual.

I also saw a lot of other teachers being greeted, even showered with gifts and praise from parents and students throughout the day. I must admit that it really was humbling, and I appreciate that there is a day that honors teachers in Taiwan. I’m even more amazed and glad that parents and students actually take the time and effort to recognize the day as an official day for teachers, and greet them.

Why I Was Weirded Out By the Words “I Love You” From a 6-Year-Old Boy

When I walked into the English class where I teach bright-eyed, hyped up 6-year old kids, the kids there were still arriving and getting ready for the class. Mars slumped into his desk in front of me where he sat, and greeted me, while also professing his love for me.

I’m going to be honest, here.

Even members of my own immediate family have an awkward and difficult time to say those magical words “I love you” to me. Admittedly, I also have a hard time saying it, too. Of course with my wife and child, I hear and say those words often, but with other family members it’s usually assumed that you love them, and it becomes awkward to actually say those 3 words to their face. Isn’t that interesting?

But for Mars, the words “I love you, Teacher Matthew” just easily flew out of his mouth. At first, my body jerked and my face winced and blushed. I didn’t know what to do, what to say.

Should I say, “I love you” back to him? Would it be weird? Or should I just simply say “thank you”? Would he feel offended if I didn’t say “I love you” back?

Adults Are the Ones That Make The Word “Love” Weird. Kids Are Cool With It.

All the personal understandings I have about relationships, social norms, and cultural questions about using the phrase “I love you” came flooding through my head, and before I had any time to respond to Mars, he quickly scurried away to say hi and whack his friend – as little 6-year old boys do.

Then it was time to start the class.

I guess I didn’t have time to say “I love you” back, or “Thank you” to him personally, but I don’t think it bothered him in the end, so it was fine and I was happy.

At the end of the class, Mars and the other students waved goodbye to me and chanted aloud in unison, “Happy Teachers’ Day, Teacher Matthew!”, to which I bowed sheepishly and said “Thank you” to all of them.

The Highs and Lows of Being a Teacher

Teaching English in Taiwan

In Australia, the US and other Western nations, I know that there actually aren’t dedicated days for teachers as far as I know, and if there are, students and parents don’t really make the effort to do anything about the day.

I know I didn’t have that growing up as a student in Australia.

Having been a teacher for a few years now, after transitioning from running my own business and wanting to simplify my life more and discovering my interest for languages, I can say that I do have more insights about a teacher’s life.

There are days when you feel like you are really making an impact in the lives of your students. You feel glimmers of hope when you see them succeed and excel, and learn. You feel like you contributed to that. Those days are awesome. It’s awesome because you feel like you’ve changed a young person’s life for the better. Those magic moments are what drives a lot of teachers, and I’ve felt it too (even sometimes it may feel like there just aren’t enough of those moments).

Then there are the days where you hate being a teacher, and you feel like crap. You feel frustrated by the curriculum you’re stuck with. Why do we have to teach this? It doesn’t make sense. Or you feel stressed because you have a lot of work to do to prepare for a class, and there just isn’t enough time to prepare for it. Or you feel annoyed and even angry when little boys and girls go bat-s**t crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs, running around and waving their arms and legs, unable to stay still and quiet. Or you feel unsure of yourself when you try to motivate emotional teenage students who feel bored, don’t care, and are slumped in their seats.

Throughout all of this, as a teacher, you stand in the center of the room, bearing witness to the chaos and emotional roller coaster of it all. Yet, we do it because we know there is meaning to it all.

Confucius knew the value of education several years ago. And today, teachers still have an important role in shaping the minds and lives of young people today. I’m convinced of it, having spent hundreds of hours in the classroom with my students.

What I’ve Learned By Being a Teacher

I think I’ve also learned a lot as a teacher. I’ve learned a lot about people, how they learn, what motivates them, what excites them. I’ve also learned how to be more down-to-earth and connect with young kids and teenagers. Before being a teacher, I was actually really awkward around them. One of my goals for being a teacher was so that I could connect better with younger people, so that I actually could be a better father, and learn to connect with my own kids.

I especially wanted to be a teacher in English as a Foreign Language because I realized that I love the language learning process. I’ve been teaching myself Chinese and Spanish, which I absolutely love. Through teaching, I’ve been able to learn more about the methodologies and theories behind second language acquisition – what works and what doesn’t, and how to put them in practice for my students and for myself.

So, I think I’ve become a better person by being a teacher.

A Shoutout to My Own Teachers

Although there have been times where I reached out to thank teachers who made a profound impact on me personally. In light of being thanked this week, and being showered with love and praise, I want to give a shoutout and express my own personal gratitude and admiration for the teachers (many of them English teachers) and other inspirations (both inside and outside of formal schooling) who have positively impacted me in my own life.

Thank you.

Oh, and I love you too.