Mon, September 10, 2012
Lifestyle > Society

Saluting rural teachers

2012-09-10 03:53:12 GMT2012-09-10 11:53:12(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Zhang Baofu teaches many students in a cornfield in Xiaodianhe village outside Henan province's Xinxiang city because the school is in a remote mountainous area. (China Daily)

Middle school teacher Zhang Leipeng, who lost his left arm in a childhood car accident, gives math classes in Pinglu county, Shanxi province. (China Daily)

Retired teacher Lin Jianping still gives physical education courses in Dazhe county in Zhejiang province's Lishui. (China Daily)

Li Ling reads books with her students in Xuwan village, Zhoukou city. (Chang Liang/China Daily)

Editor's note: Today is Teacher's Day. On this special day, China Daily is honoring the country's rural teachers, who face incredible challenges to offer underprivileged children brighter futures.

The page's photographs are collected from an exhibition organized by China Central Television and Guangming Daily newspaper. China has 8.4 million teachers working in the countryside, according to the show's organizers. Each image has an incredible story behind it.

On Sept 8, they were unified for the first time by an online platform that enables them to share teaching materials and methods.

They need all the help they can get. Rural teachers and students face formidable challenges. They must often make treacherous journeys to their schools, combat high drop-out rates exacerbated by poverty and deal with the absences of parents who are working in cities.

These teachers not only provide instruction to their students but also care for them like parents. Such hardships have led to a shortage of teachers in the countryside.

When the earthquake struck Yunnan province's Zhaotong on Sept 7, one rural teacher saved four of his students by digging through the ruins with his bare hands.

This heroic deed is perhaps a metaphor for what these teachers do every day - work for which they deserve tribute.

A woman who started a school for migrant workers left-behind children in rural Henan has inspired the country. Zhang Yue reports in Beijing.

Many migrant workers' children from Henan province's Xuwan village are left behind - but, thanks to Li Ling, they're not left alone.

Upon discovering so many children stayed in the village while their parents work in cities when Li returned for holidays after graduating from a teachers' college in Zhoukou city in 2002, she gathered many of the children and began to teach them in her spare time.

She discovered many of the kids didn't go to school or kindergarten. Instead, the kids, who were ages 3-6, stayed home all day with their grandparents.

The situation is typical of the children of Henan's 15 million migrant workers and of those in the rest of the country.

Li says she was amazed at how the otherwise naughty children reacted when she opened their worlds by teaching them.

"Watching them become obedient and follow my lessons made teaching so exciting," she says.

After a month of teaching the village's children, Li was ready to job hunt in Zhoukou city. But the children protested her departure. They continued to gather at her house, even when she wasn't home.

"Who will to teach these kids if I leave?" Li thought.

That question has kept her in the village for the past decade.

"I work all day for the kids, especially those whose parents aren't around," she says.

Li founded a school for left-behind children in surrounding villages with her family's support in 2002. More than 300 students attended in the early days.

"Local kids usually missed school for two reasons," Li says.

"One is that their grandparents couldn't afford tuition. Another is that the kids were too young to go to school far from home."

Li's mother and aunt cook for the students, and her father takes care of the daily lives of more than 100 children who live at the school.

Li used her life savings and borrowed 80,000 yuan ($12,600) to build the school.

"All we had were textbooks," the 30-year-old says.

"But they were far from enough. The students needed more books to learn about the outside world."

When she visited her aunt in Henan's capital Zhengzhou in 2009, a neighbor gave the school dozens of children's books. About half were new, and the others had only been read once.

"I was amazed by the number of books," Li says.

"Then I thought: All of these are just from one kid. What if I visit some other families and collect their unwanted books?"

The following morning, she set out with a tricycle and a cardboard sign on which she wrote: "Collecting secondhand books for students for a high price."

Usually, used books sell for 1 yuan a kg. But Li offered 2 yuan.

"I was too shy to shout like other peddlers at first," she recalls, smiling.

"I wasn't sure what people would think of me."

But she felt confident after her first deal, which she made with a 70-year-old woman.

"Within half an hour, she had given me all her granddaughter's books," Li recalls.

"I didn't feel self-conscious after that. I just concentrated on collecting more books for my students."

She had no idea a photograph of her collecting books had gone online a few days after she started. A pedestrian snapped the photo and posted it on Tianya.com's forum. It later appeared in a local newspaper.

"Hundreds of thousands of people commented on the post," recalls newspaper photographer Chang Liang, who later followed Li home and shot a photo series about her life.

"I was waiting for Li in the rain the first time I visited her in Zhengzhou. Li was riding her tricycle and was soaked. She'd used her raincoat to keep the books dry."

Chang followed Li when she brought hundreds of used books to her school a week later.

"The school was shocking," Chang recalls.

"The building was dilapidated and the desks had holes. But when the kids saw Li return with the books, they rushed to her, grabbed the books and sat on the ground to read."

Li decided to build a library for the kids and completed it three years later. She was able to fulfill the goal after the publication of her photo in the newspaper brought donations of hundreds of new and used books from around the country.

Li has remained in the media spotlight. She appeared as a representative of the country's rural teachers in a video promoting China overseas that was shown in New York's Times Square.

But now, her school is facing a new problem - teachers.

"Most of our teachers are older than 40," she says.

"Younger teachers aren't likely to stay in the village because development opportunities are limited. But we need young teachers to bring contemporary instruction to the children."

Li smiles when she talks about remaining single.

"We now have more than 500 students in the school, and more than 70 percent of these kids' parents are migrant workers," she says.

"My life is connected with them every day. I'm happy to be a mother to all of them."

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