Thoughts from Shenzhen

1. Getting to Louis

Took a cab. Went to the wrong place. Uh oh.

Nobody spoke English (the sheer gall!)

That’s easier to solve these days. Get a bilingual friend on the phone, then hand it to someone nearby. Everyone will take a phone proffered to them.

Boom, the magic of translation. I’m guessing: “Hi. You’re standing next to my dumb American friend. He is lost. Can you tell me where you are?” And everything gets sorted out.

2. Lunch with Louis

He is 49. My age. Parent of 3. Oldest is at a boarding school in the USA.

“He loves it there. He has figured out his life’s passion: world history!”

We noted how the typhoon was approaching us in Shenzhen as the hurricane was approaching his son in Virginia.

I asked him why American school. “The teachers there care about the students. The teachers here care about the test scores.”

As usual, I didn’t eat much – lots of tea and cold water. I don’t think he approved of the cold water. He’s a physics major and a billionaire tech/auto guy, but he loves him some Traditional Chinese Medicine, and cold tends to have negative connotations.

(In fairness, a Chinese mom made an observation to me later. “Louis is very successful, so his son’s future is assured. He can afford to worry about…inspiration. My son’s future is not assured. He needs to top scores on exams to get to a good university. Or his prospects are not good. So I want teachers to care about test scores.)

Louis was gracious. He insisted on getting some moon pies cakes I could take home to N and D. Moon cakes are a traditional Chinese treat for the Mid-Autumn festival, which starts September 22.

Now I just need to learn Mandarin for “peanut” and “sesame,” so I can scan the ingredients for allergens.

3. Chris Duffy

Chris was a (great) 5th grade teacher in Boston. He’s now a comedian in NYC. He writes:

The excitement and expectations of a new school year is something I find myself thinking about and missing every September.

This twenty minute profile of teacher and children’s book author Daphne Kalmar captures the magical feeling perfectly. She talks about making sure each of her students feels seen and what it’s like to “fall in love with a new batch of kids every September and then let them go.”

4. Daphne Kalmar

So I gave it a listen. I enjoyed it. If you have 20 mins…

The story captures some of what Louis’s son is experiencing: an inspirational teacher. There’s no transcript, but here’s my quickie version of one of Daphne’s stories (not exact quote):

Kyle was a kid who couldn’t sit still. So I let him stand at his desk. We also had an arrangement, he would signal me by tapping his forehead, and if I said okay, he would walk outside quietly, and then run around like crazy chasing little lizards. We had a great year.

In the next grade, Kyle had a traditional teacher. He got destroyed. Put out in the hallway, etc, for disrupting class. I’ve never been so angry. I ended up teaching him again the following year, and we had piece to it all together.

Quick thoughts:

a. There’s a beautiful bit about why 5th grade is the perfect age. As the dad of a 5th grader, I have to agree.

b. I wish Daphne K taught my son’s best friend “A.” A was/is a Kyle type.

c. I would love to hear a follow-up podcast pairing a Daphne with another excellent teacher who happens to be traditionally “strict” in style, and has succeeded with Kyle types in different ways.

I bet Erica Heilman, the producer, could generate a fascinating conversation.

d. Louis’s idea is that a “blockchain school” might allow more “Daphne type” teachers to flourish. But that’s quite a complicated vision, and a story for another time.