Dubbed the "most beautiful rural woman teacher" by Chinese netizens, Chen Qiuju, 25, has caught the attention of people across China since she received the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award. Presentation of the award, named for Ma (one of the founders of China's e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group), was held in Sanya (a city in South China's Hainan Province) in January. Why did Chen win the award? During the past eight years, Chen has strived to realize her value as a teacher with Leyang Primary School in Lezhi, a county in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Many Chinese wonder how Chen, a beautiful, fashion-conscious woman, is able to both devote herself to her work and endure the hard, simple rural life. If they learn about Chen's experiences, especially during the past eight years, they might understand why she is so ardently enthusiastic about her rural lifestyle.
Blubbering, Like a Child
Chen will never forget how bitter she felt when she reported for work at Leyang Primary School on that summer day in 2008. Then 17, she had just graduated from a teachers' training school in Lezhi County. She was the youngest rural teacher in the county.
After she got off the bus at Zhongtian, the town in which Leyang Primary School is situated, she carried her luggage five kilometers, along a muddy road, to get to the school. Her heart sank as she looked at the school's shabby stone teaching buildings and teachers' dormitories for the first time. The dorms did not have kitchens and bathrooms.
As she sat in her dorm room, which was less than 10 square meters, Chen felt abandoned, as though she was alone in the world. That feeling overtook her, and she started to blubber, like a child. "At that moment, all I wanted to do was run away from the place," Chen recalls.
'Miss Chen, I Love You'
With the help of the school's leaders and teachers, Chen gradually adapted to her new surroundings. However, she still hoped to leave the faraway place. It was her students' heartwarming, loving gestures that made her give up her plan of "escaping" the deserted mountainous area.
One day in 2009, Chen had a fever, and she took some sick days. After she recovered and returned to the classroom, all of her students surrounded her, and she noticed the kids had covered her desk with pictures and wild flowers, which they had picked for her. Chen's eyes filled with tears when she read the words "Miss Chen, I love you" on the picture created by a mentally challenged student.
After that, Chen's students often decorated her desk with wild flowers. Whenever a festival or holiday neared, the students drew pictures on the blackboard. They also wrote "Miss Chen, I love you" or other kind sentiments.
Turning Down Opportunities
Chen was glad that the children treated her like close friends, and she began taking delight in teaching them.
"I lived happily in my small world. However, my life took an abrupt turn in 2013, when my grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer," Chen recalls. "At that time, I happened to receive a job offer from a company in the town. My grandpa got very angry when I told him I wanted to work near my home, so I could look after him. My grandpa, who was a retired teacher from a rural primary school in the county, told me that I should treat my students fairly. Eventually, I turned down the job offer.
"I was overcome with grief when my grandpa died soon after that. I still miss the dear old man, who brought me up … I have kept my promise to my grandpa. In 2014, I rejected a job offer from a government organization in the town."
Education of Love
"Chen is our school's youngest teacher. We have 18 teachers, whose average age is 43," says Jiang Liping, Headmaster of Leyang Primary School.
The school has 268 students. Chen is class adviser to 37 of the fifth-year students. More than 60 percent of those students are left-behind children (whose parents have left home to work elsewhere).
Chen, who has taught the children for five years, has come to know each student well. "Some rural children live fairly well-off lives, but they need to learn how to respect and love others," says Chen. "I'm trying my best to teach my students how to show gratitude and love to their loved ones."
Broaden Students' Vision
About four years ago, when Chen explained the text about Guilin's scenery to her students, many of the kids asked her how beautiful the scenery was. That inspired Chen to travel to Guilin, a city in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, during the summer vacation. During the autumn semester, which began in September, Chen showed her students the photos she had taken of the city's beautiful scenery. The children were overjoyed.
During summer and winter vacations over the past few years, Chen has traveled to many of China's historical and cultural cities, so she could share her photos of and diary entries about the places with her students. "That helps the children have a better understanding of the textbooks," says Chen. "I hope in this way, my students, who live in the mountainous area, can learn more about the outside world."
(Executive Editor: TONG XIN, Women of China English Monthly September 2016 Issue)
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