Shengliver’s Note: A couple of years ago I came across an interesting post on a Sina blog site when googling some key words. The blog has only one entry in it. After reading I was infected by the writer’s emotions. The high school featured in the entry currently enjoys worship from many educators and school bosses in China. Its behaviour has been emulated by many other Chinese schools; it will be aped by more. I leave it to my readers to make their own judgement of the school by reading the post. To help readers of other countries to get a picture, I have rendered the Chinese post into English as follows.


A Chinese high school is located by Hengshui Lake in Hebei Province. It is Hengshui High School (HHS). It is renowned for its students’ stunning performance in the annual National Matriculation Test—every autumn large numbers of its graduates make it to Tsinghua and Beida. Behind the dazzling feat, however, lies the difficult life of its teaching staff, which is little known to outsiders.


Working hours at the school appear to be normal at first glance: 7.50—11.05 mornings and 2.05—5.05 afternoons. However, the administration puts in place what is called ‘flexible office hours’, which lasts 5.05—10.00 pm. It is officially termed flexible office hours in the sense that the staff can opt to work in the office or to go home as they please during the time. Most teachers believed that evening hours after 5.05 pm was at their disposal: they could do housework at home, or stay with family and friends and relax. The truth is that the administration has the grade cadres check and log which teachers are in the office during the hours. The checking and logging is done every hour, five times an evening. Then at the weekly staff meeting, the bosses will glorify those who did more hours in the office and name and shame those who did less. Their conclusion is that the hours a teacher does in the office reflects his work ethic. At the end of the day, the so-called flexible office hours is de facto inflexible office hours because no teacher wishes to be named and shamed at the meetings for the sake of face.


If you are a class director or a grade cadre, then your working time is stretched even beyond the normal hours and the flexible office hours. Early in the morning you have to clock in by 5.30 when the students get up. You have to keep order around 12.45 when it is time for the students to go and have a sleep after lunch. At 10.10 pm you have to go and monitor the dorms when the students go to bed. That is, a class director or a grade cadre works from 5.30 am to 10.30 pm with just half an hour for himself during the lunch break. Every night when you come home and wash yourself, it is in most cases past 11 pm. In conclusion, at HHS a subject teacher does no less than 11 hours a day; a class director or a grade cadre around 15.


At many staff meetings, a lot of teachers touched upon their life and work in their speeches. They said that they could not afford the time to look after their family. They said that they could not spare the time to go and accompany their parents the time they fell ill, and that they could not even make it to the funerals when the parents passed away. They said that when their kids were taken ill, they had to leave it to the grandparents or the spouse to take them to the doctor, which was against their own will. When they were talking on the podium, tears flooded the audience’s faces as well as their own. The school bosses pointed out that this is the spirit of HHS and that those teachers who were not as dedicated should learn from it. We teachers toil day and night for the students, for the prestige of HHS, and for the people’s education cause, yet how many of our own children make it to the best unis and become talents of China? Senior teacher at HHS as I am, I still have to go and face the music when I attend the teacher-parent meeting at my kid’s school because of his shameful performance in his lessons.


A star school, HHS has cultivated so many bests over the years—the best students in the city and the best students in the province. Every year over 50 students from the school are admitted to Tsinghua and Beida, but who on earth cares about the life of us teachers, our health, and our psychology? Exposed to hours of radiation from the PCs and doing unreasonable hours of work day in and day out, many frontline teachers contract bizarre diseases. Some teachers, who appear robust, suffer from acute heart disease, which makes it impossible for them to have even a game of basketball. Some teachers, while working on the podium, collapse by the teacher desk. It is not uncommon that some teachers have to be on sick leave again and again. Among the most pressing issues is the young female teachers’ maternity. Some go through abortions or miscarriages; some even have difficulty conceiving.


If a couple are both teachers at the school, then the nurture of their baby will have to be entrusted to the grandparents. Before the baby is weaned, it is normally sent back to the hometown, where the grandparents take charge of it. The teacher couple meet their baby once a week if they are lucky. They cannot see it even for a fortnight if their luck is out. The other option is that the grandparents come over and look after the baby. In this case, the teacher couple still have few opportunities to be with the baby for it goes to bed early and wakes up late. Some teacher says, “I haven’t met my kid this week.” You might find it incredible because the teacher goes home daily and the child is right home taken care of by the grandparents. It turns out that the hours the parent is home are the hours the baby is asleep. Therefore he ends up with no more than a hasty glance at the sleeping child, lest it is disturbed. Were you a parent of this lot, would you feel heartache?


Single teachers at HHS often have problems finding a date and fixing up a steady relationship due to the work and life style. Some had several dates, yet none would go steady for the simple reason that there was no time to be together. So a lot of teachers have no choice but to marry a colleague or simply to quit the job. Otherwise, they would have to enjoy their bachelorhood or spinsterhood for good.


You might say we teachers still have two vacations at our disposal—the winter and summer holidays. The fact is that the summer vacation here is often less than a month and the winter one at most 10 days. Should you happen to be teaching graduating classes, then you will have to grit your teeth and get on with a winter vacation that lasts no longer than a week. Teachers in other places can go sightseeing in the holidays, but we cannot. Each summer vacation, we have to ‘recharge ourselves’ by attending training sessions put in place by the school. No teacher is immune to them. They normally start on the first day of the vacation and end just a few days before the new term begins.


You might say that teachers here are well paid. It is true that a small number of staff earn more than 5,000 RMB yuan a month, but they are managers, foremen, and school administrators. Most frontline teachers earn around 3,000 RMB yuan a month for working 14 to 15 hours daily, which is almost double the legal 8-hour standard. Do you really agree our pay is in proportion to the hours put in?


The state education authorities have for a long time been preaching quality-orientated education, advocating educational reforms, and implementing new curriculums. They are well aware of the harm that exam-orientated practices have done to Chinese students and teachers. They are well aware of the miserable pay frontline teachers earn and their psychology. Curriculum reform has not even taken any shape in HHS or elsewhere in Hebei Province, which contrasts sharply with the progress that Shandong Province has made in this field. In order to forge itself into a star school, HHS has eaten away many a teacher’s youth and many a family’s happiness and welfare. To compete against HHS, many other schools in China followed in its footsteps, only to the detriment of their own teachers. Their teachers had to overstretch themselves to equal HHS, at the expense of their parents, children, and their health. The daughter of a teacher who works in HHS wrote in her dairy, “Why was I born in a teacher family of HHS? I hate you, mum!” The entire page was covered by the one sentence “I hate you, mum!” repeated from top to bottom. Is this a page where the girl practised calligraphy? No, it isn’t. It is a page drenched in blood and tears. You might be wondering how the teacher mum could have managed to juggle career with family. By no means is this an extreme case among the teacher families here. It is not rare; it is rather common.


Students here leave HHS behind and embrace a bright future after three years of sweat, but where is the future of their teachers to be found? Who ever knows that in four seasons of the year the first workers to walk on the road in the morning are cleaners of the city and teachers of HHS? Who ever knows that in the biting cold of winter the last to leave their jobs at the end of a day (or night) are teachers of HHS, too?


Our great nation has been making great strides day by day, yet when could we ordinary teachers here lead a normal life? When could we spare more time for our family? When will our agony be brought to an end?


I plead with leaders of the nation to sympathise with our yearnings for a normal life. Please give us a hand; we are collapsing any moment. You have your family. We have parents. We have kids. They need us!


We wish leaders of the nation would come in and right the way the school is being run. We wish they could relieve us of the burden and improve our quality of life. We are not beasts or machines; we are humans. Will the day come when an eight-hour work day in its real sense becomes a reality here?


The work style at HHS flagrantly violates the regulation concerning working hours promulgated by the State Council. Please come over and investigate. What we need is no more than a normal life!


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