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September 16, 2020

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Teachers inspire with virtue as well as knowledge

“It takes ten years to grow a tree, but one hundred years to grow a person.” This time-honored Chinese maxim came to mind as I joined the national celebration of Teachers’ Day last Thursday.

This pithy proverb, probably derived from the renowned statesman and military strategist Guan Zhong (723-645 BC), points to the arduous task and ultimate importance of education.

Teachers’ Day, an annual event first launched in 1985, reflects the Chinese tradition of holding teachers in high esteem for what they do for students and society. Not all teachers are perfect, but there’s never a short supply of devoted ones and, as a whole, they have benefited us in no small measure — the best of them guiding us in not only practical knowledge but also moral principles.

We can also follow the example of heroic teachers during the fight against COVID-19, which caught many people off guard at first. Quite a few teachers quickly adapted their work to the new situation and overcame unusual difficulties to make sure that no student was left behind in learning. Wang Jinliang, a 58-year-old primary school teacher in Zhejiang Province, personally collected and distributed his students’ homework in four villages. The epidemic suspended studies at classrooms and on February 10 the county school in which Wang worked began to offer online courses. He soon discovered, however, that his 35 students could not all hand in their homework on time. He decided to “teach by walking” — from February 28, he began collecting homework at students’ homes and delivering their corrected work as well. Meandering along zigzag country roads, a round trip covered 30 kilometers. In a Xinhua report released on April 13, Wang said he walked 46 days without interruptions, even in a bad weather.

Spirit of sacrifice

Wang Baochang, the principal at the primary school, told reporters that “teaching by walking” was quite natural for a teacher like Wang Jinliang who had taught at the school for 38 years.

It’s exactly this natural inclination to serve that inspires Wang’s students to do their homework well. They benefited not only from textbook knowledge, but also from their teachers’ stamina and spirit of sacrifice. This concern for students during the fight against the novel coronavirus was also evident in the work of some logistics personnel at colleges. For example, as students stayed away from their dorms on campus, certain logistics staff at East China Normal University had helped them air their quilts in the sunshine — all in all the staff received 1,400 such requests and satisfied everyone in those unusual days.

As the 92-year-old high school teacher Yu Yi says, those devoted to the cause of education should first be virtuous themselves. “The students stand to benefit when we teachers are upright and excel both in virtue and talent,” she said.

Teaching is never easy.

The most difficult yet glorious part of teaching is less in imparting textbook knowledge than in inspiring students with your own examples.


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