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Teaching & Learning

Teaching, care and growth-an interview with Prof Lau Yin-ping of Department of Chinese

Teaching, care and growth-an interview with Prof Lau Yin-ping of Department of Chinese

In her career at Lingnan, Prof Grace Lau Yin-ping has received a Certificate of Merit for Teaching and the Teaching Excellence Award no less than three times. She is also the first recipient of the Master Teacher Award at Lingnan. According to Prof Lau, when imparting knowledge to students, it is important to cultivate their character and moral values, with a view to practicing the liberal arts ethos of "inspiring lives with lives".

Aspiring to teach and nurture

Since joining Lingnan University (formerly Lingnan College) in 1994, Prof Lau has served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Associate Vice President (Student Affairs), but what she enjoys most is teaching.

Prof Lau emigrated to Canada at a young age and had worked in other fields before realising that her true aspiration is in education. She recalled that she joined Lingnan primarily because of her passion for teaching and concern for young people. She was deeply saddened at the time to see numerous cases of Hong Kong students committing suicide, which triggered her sense of mission to take up teaching. When she returned to Hong Kong in 1993, she immediately enrolled in a doctoral programme at The University of Hong Kong. She joined Lingnan by chance, and teaching and nurturing Lingnan students have since been the focus of her attention for the past 22 years.

Dual implementation of pedagogy and soul cultivation in teaching

Prof Lau has taught courses in history of Chinese classical literature, classical fiction, mythology and literature, and Yuanqu. She teaches with wit and humour in class, interacting with students and employing the dual concept of "pedagogy teaching" and "soul cultivation" to inspire their learning. Prof Lau is conscientious and meticulous in preparing for her class design, from powerpoint files, careful choice of textbooks and essays, to nonverbal skills including eye contact, voice projection and pace of delivery.

Prof Lau believes that effective teaching would motivate and inspire students to learn. The classroom is the arena for teachers to enlighten and challenge students intellectually. Students should be encouraged to exercise their critical thinking and become their own teachers. If we focus too much on pedagogical approach, students would be alienated from the real meaning and value of the text and merely consider it as material for assessment purposes that would be quickly forgotten afterwards. The complementing approach of soul cultivation, however, induces students to read the text closely with deeper appreciation. Students would then be drawn much closer to the authors. This has shown to be effective in critically learning from the wisdom of the past masters and practicing it in life. In her selection of class materials, Prof Lau takes into consideration not only the artistic value but also the messages they convey to students.

Memorable teacher-student rapport

Over the years, Prof Lau has treasured numerous precious memories with students. She remembered most vividly a mobility-challenged student who suffered from a rare disease and had to rely on a ventilator to sustain life. The three years of university life alone was a challenge, and he often had to move in and out of hospital for treatment. He could neither walk nor move between bookshelves in the library in his wheelchair. He also had difficulty speaking because of his ventilator. Nevertheless, he didn't feel disheartened or wanted to give up. He worked even harder and insisted on completing the oral report for his tutorial class, although he was in fact given exemption from the department. It was an immeasurably huge and touching accomplishment when he finally graduated on schedule with good results.

Prof Lau recalled that the student had been admitted because of his notable passion for learning. It was also hoped that his indomitable spirit would inspire other students as well. It is not that she has given the

student a chance; rather, this student has given Lingnanians an invaluable experience to witness how one could thrive in face of adversity. He completed his master's degree afterwards but encountered difficulties in finding employment. Prof Lau encouraged him to write down his thoughts and feelings for publication. After the publication of his book, he donated all his royalties to the Department of Chinese and set up a scholarship as a token of his gratitude to his alma mater. His accomplishments not only epitomized his efforts but also testify the importance of education to whole-person development and the liberal arts ethos of "inspiring lives with lives".

Naturally, not every student can deal with adversity with perseverance and an indefatigable spirit. Perhaps as a mother with teaching experience in secondary school, Prof Lau has a better understanding of the difficulties and anxiety students often face. She admitted that she could not look after every student but hoped that she could try her best to help those in need. Despite her heavy workload in teaching, research and administration, she is most willing to listen to the inner thoughts of her students and will take the initiative to reach out to them. This has brought her many sweet rewards and appreciation from students, such as postcards and knickknacks picked up during their travels. She taught the tale Liu Yi Chuan Shu in her classical fiction class. Once, a student sent her photos of the scenery and the statues of the protagonists Liu Yi and Dragon Princess during a tour of the Dongting Lake as supplementary materials for her classes. Such gifts may be inexpensive, but they mean a lot to her. They speak volumes about the close and affectionate bonding between teachers and students built on Lingnan's liberal arts ethos. Prof Lau treasures each and every one of these relationships very much.

Looking back at her years of teaching at Lingnan, Prof Lau is grateful for her good fortune. In her, we see not only a caring, dedicated and versatile scholar but also a teacher with an insatiable desire to learn, share and nurture. As the saying goes, both teachers and students benefit from each other in the teaching and learning process. This is how it should be.