As we came into 2018 Teachers’Day, Guangdong Province commended a group of outstanding educators. Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) had two such educators lauded in Professor of Physics Chen Lang and Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Cheng Chun. Chen Lang would continue on to win the honor of “Excellent College Tutor” at SUSTech’s 2018 Teachers’ Day Awards the following day.
"I was very surprised to get the 'Excellent College Tutor' because I didn't submit the selection materials. Later I realized that my students submitted it, which made me feel very warm." Chen Lang said.
Being a teacher requires responsibility to students and society
Chen Lang felt very happy when reminded of the two awards he won on Teachers’ Day. He found more happiness in receiving the numerous small gifts from students on Teachers’ Day. His office is full of flowers, potted plants, and cards from students, including some from now-graduated students. All his current and former students express their festive blessings to him in various ways. He said that this made him feel very fulfilled and felt very warm in his heart.
When Chen Lang first came to teach at the University, SUSTech was still in its earliest years, and the conditions were not as good as it is now. Like many other teachers,he could have gone to a better university, but they chose to come to SUSTech. Chen Lang said that the process of building SUSTech is a kind of blessing.
The Universityl's philosophy was the one that appealed most to Dr. Chen, who identified it as a future school. Compared with the mainland universities, Chen lang talked a lot about the advantages of teacher and student ratio, efficient small class teaching, and the double tutorial system of college and professional tutors.
Chen Lang has been in the school environment since he was a child. His father is a teacher, so it was clear that he was influenced by his father. The second person was a professor at the University of Maryland, who had some effect upon Chen Lang. He said with a smile: "At the time, the professor always called us Doctor. After a long time, we also felt that it was not bad for our own research. We might be able to do this in the future."
Now he has chosen his career path; he doesn't think much about why he stepped into this field. He should love and be responsible for his choice, as well as for students and society. He enjoys communicating with young people and keeping an open and young mind. Chen Lang likes keeping up with the times, learning and teaching new things, as well as making progress with students.
Putting new teaching methods into practice in his own way
Under SUSTech’s two-year general education program, Chen Lang believes that there are still great challenges in undergraduate teaching. Compared with the clear professional direction and professional learning content of graduate students, undergraduate students' learning is in the process of choice, especially for freshman and sophomore undergraduate students. They will be scattered to all departments of the school in the future and may study non-physics related majors. These students exposed to other ideas may find it more difficult to concentrate. There are many challenges for university teachers such as how to attract the students’ attention and how to teach them some of the most important things. Chen Lang does not narrowly use the subject matter to limit students, asking them to be interested in physics and then engage in physics research. On the contrary, he has a higher level of thinking. "Cultivating students' interest is more about cultivating an interest in learning itself." As a result, he pays more attention to cultivating undergraduates' learning ability and fragmented thinking.
“It’s not easy being a good teacher. It’s really stressful.” Chen Lang said frankly, “SUSTech’s teaching requirements for teachers are relatively high. It’s also very stressful when you first start class. Sometimes the course content is very large, and you’ll talk about it in a short time. If you finish it in the wrong way, students do not receive the best effect from it." Chen Lang gradually grasped his teaching methods and rhythm.
When talking about how to grow into a good teacher who is very experienced and loved by students, Chen Lang said: "I should be regarded as a more experienced teacher now. This process is to learn slowly." He thinks that no one is born to be a good teacher. You still need to take this simple career as a simple business. A teacher should slowly observe to gain experience, and teach students according to their characteristics.
In the classroom, Chen Lang’s teaching method is very mature. Grasping the rhythm, observation and interaction summarize his teaching characteristics. During the lecture, Chen Lang will often observe the students' reactions and asks them questions in order to evaluate the teaching effect. Sometimes, Chen Lang will take the research questions around him or the hot social topics as a classroom case. Such an approach allows students to think about or discuss physics principles together. “Getting students to express themselves is the best way to understand their ideas, and they may even come up with other ideas, or better ideas.” Chen Lang encourages students to express their opinions. He thinks it is very helpful to cultivate their confidence, which will benefit them a lot.
Chen Lang said that SUSTech students have a lot of content to learn every semester, which gets more challenging every semester. Time management is necessary. Students should learn to make their own arrangements according to the priorities of the matter. Otherwise, a student who started at the starting line may struggle once they get to the end of their four-year university degree. He suggested that students must first learn to manage time and also to have a positive attitude toward learning. This approach will help them establish a clear learning goal.
Get students out of their comfort zone as soon as possible
"The ability to attract students is a test of the teacher's charm, and abiding by classroom discipline is a test of the quality of students." This is Chen Lang's classroom creed. Chen Lang admitted that he was not obliged to sign in the classroom, but he asked students to listen attentively in class. Chen Lang finds it unacceptable for students to play with their mobile phones and computers in the classroom. He believes it interferes with other students’ study and is a mark of disrespect for those students who are willing to make an effort. He believes that universities should not only enable students to identify with their own student identity, but also cultivate students' adult thinking. Students need to learn to take responsibility for their own behavior and remain in awe of some things and principles.
While he appears strict, Chen Lang is always concerned about his students. It is only in the face of principle that his rigor is consistent. He believes that if you are too lenient in school, the students will suffer the most in the future. Therefore, Chen Lang hopes that students will aim to step out of the comfort zone as early as possible.
Chen Lang believes that there should be a sense of proportion and distance between teachers and students. He believes that teachers should not be too close or alienated from their students. Teachers need to grasp this measurement to be a good guide for students. As an educator, Chen Lang’s first requirement is to ask students to do it, and they must do it themselves. "In this way, students will be convinced of your rigor. This is also the most basic requirement of words and deeds."
"Ten years of trees, a hundred years of tree people. Training students is a long-term process, and all the teachers of SUSTech need to work together to make the brand better." Chen Lang said.
Interview: Miao Xuening
Text: Miao Xuening, Zhang Jiachen
Translated and Adapted: Chris Edwards
Proofread: Xia Yingying
Photo: Zhang Xiaoyan
Design: Qiu Jun