MY THREE TEACHERS


MY THREE TEACHERS

Shengliver’s Note: Because of the difference between the Chinese education system and its English counterpart, it is hard to find an English equivalent for the Chinese term banzhuren. In Chinese schools, a teacher in charge of a class is called a banzhuren. I asked a Chinese PhD student studying in Liverpool to help me with the translation. She in turn consulted her professor, who said that no English word means exactly the same. I simply put the Chinese phrase word for word into class director. In this blog entry, Shengliver writes about his three class directors, who influenced him positively in the student days. Also Chinese Teacher’s Day (September 10 on mainland China) is around the corner. This entry is a tribute to my three former teachers. When it was published for the first time on the MSN blog, Mr Quan was still there. Today, he is long gone.

 

From primary school through college, I had 10 class directors altogether—4 in primary school, 2 in junior high, 2 in senior high, and 2 in college. Three of them influenced me more than the others. They played a significant role in shaping my life and making me what I am today. My outlook on life and my attitudes have been moulded, to a great extent, by the ways they were.

 

The first to come on the timeline is Mr Quan Guangfa. He was inferior to some other teachers in status in my primary school because he was a min ban jiao shi. The term min ban jiao shi is very Chinese, meaning a teacher who is not certified by the state and therefore works like a supply teacher. Such a teacher is not paid by the state, but by the villagers whose children are under his charge. There is a big gap between a regular teacher’s income and what a min ban jiao shi earns.

 

Mr Quan was different from his peers in that he used to be a regular teacher and to be employed by the state. For a mistake he had made in the political years (the 1960s), he was stripped of his teaching position and sent back to his home village to work as a peasant. He did become a peasant once again, but the village school was understaffed so the village head decided to take him on as a min ban jiao shi. The pay was paltry, and it was clear that everybody enjoyed talking about his mistake, including his pupils. The pupils did it behind his back, of course.

 

Mr Quan was poor. He wore peasant clothes, because he was a peasant and he had to toil on the farm after his teaching every day. He couldn’t afford cigarettes sold at the village shop but he was a habitual smoker. He put tobacco leaves on a paper slip and made a roll out of it. Tobacco was raised on the farm, and paper torn off his used textbooks. The handmade rolls brought pleasure to him. One evening, I found he had run out of tobacco leaves. He just made a paper roll and puffed at it at his desk. We students were doing our lessons under an oil lamp while Mr Quan seemed to be relishing his paper roll up there. What taste was it, Mr Quan?

 

His experiences cast him into a great teacher. He was soft-spoken, kind, and encouraging. My domineering father made me a timid boy, shy and confused about the world. Before he was my teacher, sitting in the classroom had been a torture. Lessons were dry and fell on my deaf ears. Arithmetic problems simple for my classmates were my headache. What I got from my teachers were largely negative comments. They said, ‘Shengliver is a good-for-nothing. He can’t even talk.’

 

Mr Quan was different. I liked his style. Instead of being intimidating, he mixed with us. He listened to us and chatted with us. He even joined us kids when we were brooming the classroom floor or removing weeds from the schoolyard. A picture pops up in my mind’s eye where he was scooping with both his hands dust and litter onto a dustpan from the dirt floor of the classroom when we were doing a weekly thorough cleaning.

 

His explanations of the lessons were lucid. Apart from that, he taught me there were three steps to follow in studies—preview, classroom learning, and review. In the country school, no pupil did the first and the last. They simply stayed the 45-minute session and said bye to their books and lessons when school was over. After he became my teacher, I started previewing and reviewing at home after school in the evening. My parents were amazed to find me at the dining table writing in my exercise book. What I did was nothing special—just copying the new Chinese characters and reading the next day’s lesson. This simple change changed me utterly. I turned from a rotten egg to a golden one. And just one year’s study with Mr Quan helped send me into junior high with flying colours. Among all the examinees in the entrance exams in my People’s Commune, I earned the highest grade for the composition section of the Chinese language paper.

 

From Mr Quan, I learned what difference an encouraging teacher can make to his pupils.

 

The next I will never forget is Mr Yu Zhengsheng. Well, is should be was, for he no longer is. He died several years ago of cancer, and yet I had no time to attend his funeral. I wish he would forgive me.

 

Mr Yu was my class director for two years in senior high. He was my geography teacher as well. I realize that he was my role model then, but I was unaware of it when I was his student. He was fair to his pupils—those who came from rich families, and those from underprivileged ones. He was knowledgeable. His geography lessons fascinated me. This is a lifelong benefit. I am still interested in geography. I read about world geography in English these days. He trusted me, too. He chose me as his assistant at the very beginning. I helped him with his teaching and in collecting assignments from my classmates. In the second term, a student leader in my class, who violated the code of conduct by kissing and hugging a girl classmate, was sacked. Mr Yu put me on the job—being in charge of academic studies for my class. It boosted my self-esteem and confidence beyond measure.

 

Each time I carried our homework over to his office and put the books on his desk, I was struck by the tidiness he maintained. His books were in a row between a pair of bookends, and the cup and pens and pencils in a holder were standing on the desk in an orderly manner. And the desktop itself was spotless. His desk made a sharp contrast with the neighbouring ones, which were pigsties.

 

Even after leaving high school I kept in touch with him by correspondence. His mentoring urged me on in my college years. I didn’t waste my time then largely thanks to those words of his.

 

Years later, Mr Yu was promoted to head of the County Education Bureau. He was too busy and I seldom managed to visit him. Then the out-of-the-blue news of his falling ill and his departure left me sad, empty, and lost.

 

Mr Yu taught me to be fair, to be knowledgeable, and to trust my pupils. And one more thing, to be tidy and organised.

 

The last on my list is as inspiring as, if not more than, the first two. She was my class director for one school year in college. Ms Huang Qin was also my tutor in Intensive Reading, a course that English language majors in China have to reckon with. Freshly graduated from university, she radiated enthusiasm for her career. I pronounced horribly when I enrolled in college. Studying with her for one year saw me laying solid foundations in English pronunciation. I remember the many hours that she took to drill us in those sounds we could not distinguish: Egg/Add; Fun/Fang; House/Horse, and so on. It was tedious and she was patient. A bit harsh, she was ready to point out the faults in my pronunciation. If no improvement was detected in my reading the next day, her harsher criticism would be piled upon me. I was ashamed; but I was strong enough by then to stand her reproach.

 

I made up my mind to better my pronunciation whatever the cost. In the spare time, I went to a quiet wood on campus and drilled like crazy there: Egg/Add; Fun/Fang; House/Horse, and so on. Twice a day, in the early morning and in the evening, I read all alone in the wood. I persisted with my effort, weather permitting. Occasionally some college sweethearts visited the wood, but their intimacies did not stop me from reading my texts aloud.

 

One day, while listening to me pronouncing in class, Ms Huang Qin all of a sudden became all smiles, ‘Aha, Shengliver has progressed. Listen, boys and girls, Shengliver has progressed!’ Praise from someone critical does not come easy. I intensified my efforts in the remaining days of college.

 

Ms Huang showed me that there is no limit to what academic excellence I could achieve if I set my mind upon it. She heightened my awareness that, to teach others, I would have to train hard, really hard. Thanks, Ms Huang.

 

I haven’t met Ms Huang for over a decade; where are you?

 

I am not a class director, but I will try to be a good teacher. The three teachers are always a beacon to Shengliver.

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