Tong Chen

Teacher of the Year - Vermont


I am a teacher, not “just a teacher”.

No words can accurately define what teachers do within and beyond their classrooms. Teachers are not “just” teachers – they are teachers! As a teacher, I know I carry responsibility to be there with my students, to accommodate their needs, to witness their achievements, and to learn with them. I am a proud teacher who goes to school everyday just like my students do, sees their potential before they do, and watches students grow and succeed.


Teachers matter because our students matter.

When I was a student, my teachers said, “You are the future!” Now, I tell my students what my teachers told me. They matter in every way! Teaching is not a job; it is my way to reach the future! Our students matter! How they learn matters, how they grow matters, how they live matters, they matter! Teachers matter! How we work with students matters, how we provide them pathways to success matters; we matter because we are shaping our future.


Reach each student.

Good teaching does not happen if teachers do not reach their students to know their lives, their needs, their goals and their dreams. Effective teaching happens when each of the children is reached, their voices are heard, and their needs are met. I remember my first grade teacher, Ms. Li, who spent hours with me establishing my confidence to speak in front of the whole school. She also spent a lot of time reading stories to me, and told me that speaking to others is like telling stories. She reached me, and I want to be her, to reach my students to help build their confidence, and make them shine.


Each student has great potential.

Each of our students is a special gemstone. However, not all gemstones come shining in the beginning. We teachers are there to remove the dirt on the surface of the gemstones, to shape the gemstones, and to polish the gemstones for them to shine! When we teachers make our students shine, at the same time, they make us shine! Our job is about teaching how to learn, and learning how to teach.


Make learning joyful.

What makes us smile? Joy! What will make our children smile? Joy! To our children, a lollipop could be their joy, a sticker could be their joy, or a star on their homework could be their joy. A little something can be very joyful for our children. Pay a little bit more attention in our everyday teaching, find things that would make our children joyful for them to enjoy coming to school, enjoy coming to our classrooms, and enjoy learning. If our children lose their joy of learning, doesn’t matter how well we plan our lessons, it’s meaningless. Make learning joyful for our children!

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


In 2002, Tong Chen came to the United States to pursue her master’s degree in education from Fujian, China. After graduation from College of Joseph in Rutland, Vermont, she became a Chinese language teacher. This year is her 8th year serving at her current school, Leland and Gray Union High School, as a language instructor since graduation, and she loves her career.

In order to assist her students to learn more effectively, and to make connections between learning and living, she composed three Chinese textbooks (Tong Chen Chinese Learning Series – Chinese I, Chinese II and Chinese III) for the Chinese program at her school. In the summer, she serves as the language instructor at Vermont’s Governor’s Institute on Asian Studies, which offers her a great opportunity to expand teaching and learning beyond the classroom, and to collaborate with other educators. In addition, to assist more students in learning Chinese as a second language, she teaches Basic Mandarin at Virtual High School for students across the nation. As the first and the only authorized Advanced Placement Chinese language and culture teacher in Vermont, she actively participates in professional development workshops to strengthen her skills in teaching, and is an active member of the Vermont Foreign Language Association and New England Chinese Teachers Association.