Good morning, Teachers.

One of the things I love most about Paris is being greeted by a “bonjour” when you pass people on the street, in the lift, in shops. In Singapore you may get a smile or a curt nod of the head when you pass someone, but rarely are words exchanged.

The greetings are different in the schools I have visited.

This has been true in every classroom I have visited: At the beginning of class in primary and secondary schools, the teachers greet the class, and the students return the greeting by standing up and giving a slight bow, saying: “Good morning, teachers.” The end of the class is signified by the teacher saying, “Good-bye, class.” And the students responding with a little bow and : “Thank you, teachers. Have a good day.” (Or, “God bless you” in convent schools.)

I love this ritual. It signifies the start of class, it is a reminder of the teacher / student relationship, and it is an acknowledgement that everyone in the room is a person and should be treated with respect.

After class today I talked with a Secondary 1 student (13 years old) about this greeting. She was really surprised that my students in the US don’t do this. I didn’t get into the facts that they don’t wear school uniforms, don’t take national exams, can use cell phones and ipods at school, and share bathrooms with the faculty. All of this may have blown her mind.

She was a really lovely person and I enjoyed speaking with her. I have had a blast meeting the students at the school I’m currently attached to. Some of them salute me, a lot of them ask if I own a gun (horrid, isn’t it? – the answer is no no and NO), and others just want to hear my accent. They have especially enjoyed hearing me say the word, “bigger.” I don’t get it.

When I pass students in the hall, most of the time, they bow their head to me as a form of greeting. Some say, “Good morning, Dr. Jen (I am introduced to the entire school when I come to visit so they all know – and remember? – my name.)” Or smile to me as they bow.

I am still not sure how to respond to the bow as a greeting. At first, I bowed back, but then I realized that might not be culturally appropriate? Is there a certain way the teachers are meant to respond? So I asked a teacher at a secondary school. She had to think about it for awhile. And then she explained her response is usually an upwards tip of her head when she sees a student. Or she just says “good morning” back. I tried this, but it didn’t feel right to me. It didn’t feel like enough. I want to say in my response, “Thank you. Good morning. I respect you, too.”

Next week I’m going to make a point of observing how other teachers respond to this beautiful sign of courtesy…

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