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Teachers Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Hong Van Pham
By Hong Van Pham

Teachable moments

To commemorate World Teacher’s Day on October 5th, Too Small to Fail is dedicating a week to celebrate all the special teachers who make a difference in our young children’s lives. 

In my own family, I’ve learned that teachers come in all shapes and sizes, and that it takes a concerted effort from everyone to support a child so that she reaches her full potential. Most importantly, the process starts with a child’s first teachers at home.

Dylan and Emily, the youngest children in our family, recently turned five and two, respectively. Both of their parents work long and odd hours to provide for the family. Like many other working families, my aunt and uncle struggle to strike a balance between work and family responsibilities; their time is valuable, but also very limited.

As a result, the rest of our family has learned to chip in for my aunt and uncle wherever and whenever possible. Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, but alongside them are other family members who can also make a difference in a child’s earliest years. 

My grandmother - a former math teacher in Vietnam - dedicates each Thursday to teach Dylan the basics of numeracy, building on his math foundation that is vital to his long-term success in school. She will soon do the same for Emily. And when I’m home, I make an effort to talk, read, and sing to Dylan and Emily in English.

Most of the time, Dylan and Emily are engaged by the rest of our family – other grandparents, aunts, and uncles – in their native language, Vietnamese. The children are bilingual, with one foot in our traditional Vietnamese home, and another in America’s culture.

But there is another important teacher in our family that is easily overlooked because he’s smaller than most of us in size: Dylan. He’s both eager to learn and to teach Emily.

Dylan and his younger sister, Emily

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed Dylan explain shapes, letters, and numbers to his younger sister. He would also mimic my point-and-talk behavior toward Emily, pointing to the sky and saying, “Emily, that’s the sky!” and Emily would exclaim the new word she just learned. When I finish reading a book to Dylan, he would carry it to Emily and read to her, pointing out pictures and words. Most of the time, he’s doing improvised reading since he hasn’t learned all the words, but Emily adores listening to him “read” nonetheless.

Teachers do come in all shapes and sizes, so in honor of World Teacher’s Day, let’s celebrate all the teachers who make such a big difference in our lives. From parents, to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even siblings - we all play a powerful and important role as a child’s first teachers in the home.

Who are some of the best teachers in your own life, and why? Share your stories and photos with Too Small to Fail on Twitter using #MyFirstTeacher.

Hong Van Pham is a Research Fellow on the Children and Families team at Next Generation.