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Speaking Up for the Future : Learning Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese will help Asian American children get jobs as adults, a teacher says.

March 13, 1994|Tommy Li | Attendance has dropped at the Vietnamese-Chinese School in Lincoln Heights in recent years, and Holly Tran, a 23-year-old volunteer teacher, is determined to reverse the trend. Tran says the school, which caters to ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, is more important than ever because the Chinese population has doubled in the surrounding area since the school was founded in 1979. Students attend public school during the week and the Vietnamese-Chinese School on Saturdays and Sundays. Tran, herself an immigrant from Vietnam, graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1992 and is in her second year of the teaching credential program at Cal State Los Angeles. She was interviewed by Tommy Li. and

A lot has changed at the Vietnamese-Chinese School since I was a student here more than a decade ago. I liked learning Chinese, its language and its culture. At that time, I guess, the kids at the school had barely immigrated over here or had been here just for a few years, so they were still into their Chinese backgrounds. The kids were really interested in studying Chinese.

Now a lot of them don't seem motivated. They just sit there. They're only here because their parents wanted them to be able to understand the Chinese culture and the language.

We also used to have a large number of students--200 to 300. It's getting less and less to only more than 100.

After noticing these dramatic changes, I was disappointed. So when I heard that they needed someone to teach the first-grade-level class, I was interested and asked them if I could teach. I volunteered because I just wanted to help out.

Even though we're primarily teaching Mandarin, we do speak Cantonese to the kids, too, and Vietnamese. I tell the children, you might not think it's important right now because you're not working--you're a student. But once you start working, you'll find out that even though a lot of people are unemployed, you'll be able to get a job because you speak more than one language.

In teaching, I use some of the techniques I learned from college and from my experience in working as a teacher's aide in an American school.

If students behave well, I give them rewards. I give them coupons made out of index cards. I just cut them in half and stamp my signature on it, accompanied with the phrase "Keep up the good work!"

By the end of a school semester, students receive prizes for collecting the most coupons. What I did was give everyone a chance to get a gift even though they may not be the top students.

I give them something they can use for school. I have bought pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and folders. Students are really interested. They like getting something. It's a little motivation thing. Now they're staying in school.

But rewards aren't the only things that keep students focused. Those who don't behave need to learn discipline as well.

True, some of them come to Chinese school without any respect for their instructors and without any interest in their own culture. They are more into rap and all those types of music. They try to act cool. To them, it's cool to be rebellious.

But I think there's hope.

At a Chinese school, one important aspect for students to learn is to respect teachers and their classmates. Every time when we come into class, when I say, "It's time for class" in Chinese, everybody has to stand up and afterward they have to bow to me to show their respect.

If there's one student who is always running around, usually if I give him some sort of a punishment he will behave all day. Whenever someone in the class gets out of hand, I would just raise my hand and everybody would raise their hand and be very quiet. They know that once I do that, if they're not quiet, I would take their coupons away or I would make them stay for recess or after school.

I'm going to stay here until there's no more students left, or as long as they will have me. I like teaching.

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