Artwork by Rachel Jiawen Yang
Every teacher wonders: how effective are they? How much are their students learning? Do their students remember them?
To receive this letter from Rachel Yang was a joy that surpasses words. To find out she submitted it as her entry into a writing competition astounded me.
Joys for “Dummies” by Rachel Jiawen Yang
I picked up a pen and started to write about Ms. Kathryn. It was hard, because I had so much impression about her that I don’t know where to start. I haven’t seen her for almost six months, but everything about her stayed vivid in my mind. To me, she is a teacher, a librarian, a storyteller, a writer, an enthusiastic scholar, a motivational speaker and a true optimist. And all these words could not describe what a marvelous person she is.
The very first impression I had for Ms. Kathryn was—always laughing, optimistic and sometimes dramatic. Her class was relaxing and interactive. We read, played games and listened to stories about herself, literature, western culture or just some of her new discoveries. Maybe these are not something that grade 10 students would usually do, but our class was comprised of newbies who were first introduced to an English-immersion programme, and her classes had been vital in preparing us for the further study in this programme. At the beginning of the semester, she assigned us with many activities that some of us found ridiculous. Once we were asked to write a list of all the students’ name in the class, and five hobbies we have in common. At first we found this task was completely a waste of time and meaningless, but when we really started doing it, students cooperated and communicated with each other. We really felt the bond connecting the members in a community being built between us. More importantly, we made friends quickly as students getting to know each other in a much more creative way.
Another unusual class experience we had was one day when she suddenly asked us to laugh for one minute, non-stop, in class. She even timed us with a stopwatch. The whole process was awkward and puzzling. Our faces soon became stiff and sore. When the time was up, she told us a story about how laughing had saved herself when she was alone in the apartment, having a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius.
That day she was ill and felt all the energy had been drained out from her body, and there was no one around to help her. She had no more energy than just move her mouth, so Kathryn told herself, since this is the only thing I can do now, I might just as well laugh. She was not happy, not happy at all, but despite of that, she just made an expression that resembles laughing. But here is how the miracle happened: as time went by, she started to feel better, physically. After discovering this she laughed even harder and she got even better. She conquered illness just by being happy.
Most of us didn’t believe her. How could this phenomenon ever be able to be explained by science? However, later time in my life, when I was depressed and didn’t have the energy to smile, I would force an ugly and awkward smile and tell myself, “Things are gonna be okay”, and they were. Maybe this does not need to be explained scientifically at all. It is just the power of strong will.
In the summer of 2017, she decided to leave our school. As the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, I organized an interview for her with the members of the staff. We asked her about her feelings about China and her future plans. When she told us the real reason that drove her to China, we were astonished. In fact, she wasn’t always a happy person. Her last marriage did not go well and got herself in serious depression. In despair, she had never given up the hope of retrieving her happy and optimistic self. So she made a bold decision and went to teach in China. Here she met students who lit up her spirit and the man who she decided to live together. Now she is going to live with her new husband in Canada, which is a brand new journey for an American like her.
On the last day of school, I went to see her in the campus and said goodbye. We had a long talk about both of us—future, past and whatsoever, just like those talks we used to have in the past two years. Then I received a present from her—the book Little Women which she read when she was young. I have treasured this book and kept it as a reminder. The brave and optimistic girls in the book convey the same message that Ms. Kathryn had taught me with her own experience.
Later I heard from Kathryn that she had started a channel on the internet called “Joys for Dummies”, teaching people how to be happy. I saw her in the videos, wearing her familiar smile and teaching more people the tricks we have learned from her. I can imagine more people being lead by her, stepping out of the shadow and facing the sun.
A real optimistic person is able to get back even when her life is surrounded by negativity. Kathryn has always been my personal inspiration and a reminder to me that even when the difficulties in life hit you on the face, hard, you need to smile back and keep on. She was never a “dummy”, but someone who really understands the quintessence of life and conquers the bumpy parts of it, with a big smile on her face.