Rural teacher illuminates path to brighter lives for village kids

Xinhua, September 12, 2023
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In the rustic surroundings of Xihaigu, a region traversing the central and southern parts of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Li Junpeng often discerns the encouraging potential of his students when they engage in spirited football matches on the school playground.

Formerly the principal of Maihe Primary School in central Ningxia's Wuzhong City, the 37-year-old Li is a rural teacher in Xihaigu that was once deemed uninhabitable. He plays a vital role in the lives of his young students.

This boarding school has more than 800 students. While conducting daily teaching, whenever he had time on weekends, Li, along with his colleagues, went for home visits.

The most distant student's home is situated over 10 km from the school. During his three-year tenure, he has made well over 200 home visits, which required replacing his motorcycle tires on eight separate occasions.

He firmly holds the belief that home visits are instrumental in gaining a genuine understanding of the students' family circumstances. Moved by their stories time and again, he remains resolute in his commitment to providing quality education to every child.

"Rural teachers are not only the children's mentors but also their role models and guides. For left-behind children, in particular, rural teachers often assume the roles of parents to a significant extent," Li said.

His career is characterized by an unwavering commitment to his students, round-the-clock involvement in their lives, and innovative teaching methods that have proven exceptionally effective in educating rural children.

However, he didn't always dream of becoming a rural teacher. Like many children in rural China, Li embarked on a journey to explore life beyond his rural home, driven by the belief that "going to college is a path out of the mountains."

Over the years, he ventured into diverse fields, including finance, construction and metal processing. However, it was during his time working in a factory that a colleague's candid remark struck a chord.

His coworker sighed that due to the lack of formal education during youth, it was difficult for the worker to comprehend technical drawings and operate machinery, resulting in repeated job rejections.

This poignant insight profoundly affected Li. He felt a profound calling to return to his hometown and utilize his education as a catalyst for transforming the futures of local children.

A new journey, thus, began for Li. In 2012, he was recruited through a special teacher program, assuming the role of a rural educator at Liuquan Central Primary School in Wuzhong City.

Li's remarkable story took a significant turn when, after five years of demonstrating his teaching and administrative prowess as a school teacher, he was appointed as the principal of Maihe Primary School in 2017. This assignment is regarded as one of the most challenging tasks for local teachers.

"When I first came to the school, I found that each of the 13 teachers was responsible for taking care of over 20 kids. The school's infrastructure was all in disarray and neglect. Utilizing my knowledge of mechanical work, I immediately organized school staff and students to undertake repair of infrastructures, which included fixing toilets and electric wiring, mowing the surrounding, painting walls and leveling the playground," he said.

Among his 243 students, there were many "left-behind children," whose parents had been away from home for years, working in distant locations, thus leaving them with their grandparents.

"To teach these students, one must play the role of both teacher and parents. Unlike city teachers, rural teachers are not only the educators for village kids, but they are also guides showing them how to lead a life ahead," Li said.

Li expressed his delight at witnessing the substantial improvements in the educational facilities at Maihe Primary School in recent years, a transformation made possible through strong support from local government.

The school established its first football, basketball and dragon dance teams, and introduced eight extracurricular clubs, like skipping and classic recitation. These initiatives have greatly ignited the children's interests.

"My early experience taught me how knowledge as a power can change one's fate. One must get a good education in the early years," he said, adding that he is resolutely committed to improving his teaching skills and prioritizing personalized instruction and the emotional well-being of his students.