In our lives, we go through many teachers in our years of schooling. Since I started learning, I have had:
– 2 pre-school teachers
– 1 kindergarten teacher
– at least 10 teachers in our 5 years of elementary school
– at least 45 teachers in our 3 years of junior high
– at least 100 different teachers in our 4 years or high school
– and at least 100 different professors and instructors in our 4 years of college.
That is over 250 teachers in my lifetime!
And I don’t remember many of them.
I do not remember their names and I definitely don’t remember 99% of the specific lessons that they teach.
But once every few years, you get lucky and bump into a great teacher who provides a huge positive impact on your life.
I want to share with you one amazing teacher that I had at Columbia University and her name is C.P. Sobelman (Su Tai Tai).
She Gave Me One of My Lowest Grades Too!
When people talk about their favorite teachers, they often tell stories of a teacher who gave them a good grade. For me, my favorite teacher did NOT give me the best grade…
Ms. Sobelman was my Advanced Chinese teacher (4th year Chinese) at Columbia but it was not the Chinese lessons that made her a great teacher. Anyone can teach Chinese but it was the real life lessons behind the lessons that helped me in life.
I have a confession to make. I took Chinese at Columbia for the SOLE PURPOSE to get an easy “A.” Chinese was my first language and I was fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I also went to over 10 years of Chinese school in Chinatown so I basically took Chinese in college so that it could boost my overall GPA. Chinese was a 5 credit course so it weighed a lot in calculating my GPA and it would balance out the bad grades that I was getting in my other classes.
I had no real intention to “learn.” It’s funny how at 18 years old, I did not care about learning. All I wanted was to take classes to boost my grades!
The ironic thing was that my favorite teacher, Ms. Sobelman, turned out also to be the teacher who gave me one of my LOWEST grades at Columbia!
I still remember the grade I got in the second semester of Advanced Chinese but the grade did not matter to me because what I actually learned from that class was way more valuable than the “A”s that I got in my other classes. Today I don’t remember a thing about what I learned in my other “A” classes but the lessons that I learned from Ms. Sobelman will be with me for the rest of my life.
The Lessons I Learned from Ms. Sobelman
After 50 years of teaching at Columbia, Ms. Sobelman is retiring and the world should know the impact that she made on not just me but for the thousands of students that she has had over the years.
The 3 ways that made Ms. Sobelman a great teacher:
1) She forced us to always speak and communicate in Chinese
Whether it was a vocabulary test or writing an essay, EVERYTHING had to be in Chinese. No English was allowed! For example, in most vocabulary tests, you are presented with a Chinese phrase and you could give the definition in English. But it was different with Ms. Sobelman’s class. We did not need to give the best nor exact phrase when we gave the answers but it HAD to be in Chinese.
This was a huge challenge for me in the beginning but what Ms. Sobelman taught me was that even though if you did not know the best terms or Chinese vocabulary to describe something and had to resort to “simpler and baby words”, as long as you were confident in your explanation, you would do well. It taught me that it was okay to communicate as if we were talking to a 6 year old as long as you were CONFIDENT and was clear in your communication. The style was not important as long as the content and meaning was delivered correctly.
The lesson learned was very valuable later on in my career working at the NBA (National Basketball Assocation) and even more importantly after I started my global network marketing business in 2003. Even though my Chinese was not as good as the businessmen that were brought and raised in Asia, I had tremendous success in sales and leadership because I was able to communicate effectively and not be intimidated.
2) Interesting and Lessons that are Applicable
I must admit that throughout college I was not the best student because I saw no future in what I studied. Maybe I was too young or too immature but I could not see how the lessons I learned in my textbooks could help me in my life. College was simply going through the motions to get the good grade so that you could get a good job.
Ms. Sobelman was the FIRST teacher I had who used teaching materials that were interesting and applicable. I was able to see how I was able to apply what she taught and this made the content relevant. I saw a purpose in what I was studying and her class was more than “just getting a grade.” I loved the excerpts from magazines that she used and almost 2 decades later, I still remember some of the articles that she used!
This lesson has helped me become a more effective mentor and network marketing trainer in my business. Whether it is 1 on 1 mentoring or speaking to thousands at a conference, I always remember to follow Ms. Sobelman’s footsteps and craft my lessons so that my students can see how they can apply the lessons I teach.
3) Unleashing my Hidden Potential
Ms. Sobelman helped me overcome my shyness and gave me my first platform to be a good speaker. I was always shy but found out that somehow I could speak confidently in Ms. Sobelman’s class. And the more I spoke, the more I liked it! Maybe I was naturally a better speaker because I had over 10 years of Chinese school background but by giving me the platform and encouraging me to speak in front of class, I realized that my fear of public speaking was ALL MENTAL. I was a shy and quiet kid and I had always labeled myself that way. For the first 20 years of my life, I believed that I was “born” shy and good communicators and good speakers were “born” and not made.
Our beliefs lead to our actions and as long as I believed that, I was not good.
But Ms. Sobelman somehow made me realize my potential…
She gave me the platform to speak… and the more I spoke, the more I enjoyed it.
I enjoyed it because I was confident.
I was confident because I knew my Chinese was better than everyone else’s.
And then one day I realized…
I realized that my shyness was all mental. I just did not have the right platform to speak. I was not “born” shy. I asked myself this, “Why could I become a great communicator in Chinese but NOT in English?”
It was all because of confidence… and my limiting beliefs…
That was my big revelation which I discovered in Ms. Sobelman’s class.
She showed me that I could be a great communicator.. and I could be a great speaker… and that all the fears and low self esteem of speaking in front of others and my shyness were all fabricated limiting beliefs. They were all lies that I told myself. I could be a great speaker and I had the potential. I just had to clear out my head.
That revelation was the first step that I took in breaking out of my shell and allowed me to be the communicator I am today.
For that, I am eternally grateful to Ms. Sobelman.
Tribute to a Great Teacher
To see a former student succeed in life is a teacher’s ultimate compliment and I would not be where I am today if it were not for Ms. Sobelman.
The fact that I can still remember how Ms. Sobelman made a permanent positive impact on my life is simply one example of how Ms. Sobelman’s contributions to thousands of students and to the Columbia Community. Ms. Sobelman is retiring and will no longer be at Columbia but her legacy will last forever.
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