A story from Pingtoushan

A story from the village of Pingtoushan

Pingtoushan is a village in the Kaiyuan Honghe region of the province of Yunnan, it is a soil colored rural village in this big mountain, and it is the place where this story begins. Although it all happened it a very short time span of two weeks, but I believe that teachers and students have reached a lot of first-time achievements, each has a plentiful harvest. I have a lot of feelings, but here I will only talk about something a little more serious matters.



The mountain road is very dangerous, a cliff on one side and a precipice on the other side. Apart from the precipice, there are only these endless mountains. You cannot see the edges, and only a few wires remind me that this place is a civilized one. The mountain road doesn't lead to the mountain summit, but only connects different mountains while climbing a little higher. The terraces, woods, bushes, high mountains, the scenery is a feast for the eye, so pleasant to look at. The clouds are very large and the field of vision in the mountain is very vast and open because nothing blocks it. Sometimes there is also some mist floating horizontally in the mountainside. I cannot even tell if it is a cloud, fog or smoke. When I look back at the nearest town, I can only see a corner of the town like place in a distant basin surrounded by mountains. But here is the Miao village of Pingtoushan and it is completely different...

Perhaps you will envy them because they can live every day in this heaven of peace and happiness, isolated from the world, enjoying themselves. Such a living environment seems very desirable for us, the people who are tired of living a secular life in our cement forests, but for the children living here, it is not the same. I ask a girl: Have you been to Kunming? But she shakes her head. Have you been to Kaiyuan? And she shakes her head once again. Have you gone down the mountain? But she still shakes her head once more. Here, beauty is truly beautiful, but this isn't a place of holidays for them. A few hills, this is all their world, their vision of the world is also confined to this, really out of touch. The end result possibly is to marry early in life and to go to live in another mountain, not knowing there is another world. Normally, people think that to be simple and not to be exposed to the world dirtiness is very good. However, that is not the case here. What they can understand, even the good side of the world, is really too little. Some of the more lonesome kids are very willing to go to school in the summer. After school, the things they can use to play are not many, but their playmates are all in the school, so maybe there will be something new. I have seen negative comments about these short-term teaching support activities, but I think we cannot generalize. Here, and at least for some of these children, we may be a rare bridge between them and the outside world.




From the family visits and also from our relationship with the industries that we had during our activity, we came to understand some circumstances about education and the families. This is a village that has migrated from far away. Until last year, they didn't have legal household registration, so the children couldn't go to study at the schools outside the mountains, and it was very hard for the villagers to go somewhere else to work. Even this school that has been donated by a Christian organization isn't Government funded (not it is private). In recent years there has been some improvements, the Government has given them legal household registration, some mining companies have borrowed their land and paid the villagers quite a sum of money, so some families have suddenly become rich while others still remain very poor, some parents have begun to go outside to work, while the kids stay behind in the village.

In general, at least on the surface, parents are very supportive of their children's education, but I note that some parents are too polite to speak. This support is not necessarily very firm and true thoughts; I will talk about some examples later. Most of the children and parents do not know about college entrance examination, they word "University" is just heard of, but they really do not have any idea about it, only know it is good. I personally think that some families cannot afford or do not want to bear the future high educational expenses.




Let’s now say something about the classroom. After these days of teaching, I found that actually I am not suitable to be a teacher. This career doesn't fit with my character, my way of thinking and my aspirations. Although when I am interviewed for a job I always brag about the fact that I come from a family of teachers and I have done some tutoring, I feel that I can do some teaching or tutoring but I am afraid I can’t stand it as a lifelong pursuit. These ideas do not come to me because my teaching is not good or because the teaching circumstances here are very difficult, etc., etc. It is just that I feel I am not suitable.

In fact, my teaching is not bad at all. Apart from tutoring, my teaching of Natural Science and Common Knowledge is very much welcome by the students, and my teaching of Mathematics have also a pretty deep impression in the minds of my students. In Natural Science, I used "Finding Nemo" to explain about marine life, used some experiments with small bulbs to explain facts about electricity, and in teaching math I normally don't follow the textbook explanations. I used "Find the Pattern" to explain some very interesting math problems, and also the "Golden Ratio" from the Eight Grade (here, the students are from First Grade or from Pre-school year) even when some of the people in our team have not heard much about the Lagrange interpolation polynomial formula. Of course, the most difficult content was only slightly mentioned and I always explained thing to them in a way they could understand.

However, the problem is still there and I feel guilty because of it. Although I noticed the problem ahead of time, still I was not able to handle properly several kinds of balances: taste and nutrition, depth and easy to understand, harshness and kindness. A few days ago, we were not very willing to teach some more difficult subjects like geography and mathematics, and we were teaching more of music, sports and arts, because we didn't want to give them a too busy summer. But, little by little, things became overheated. When we taught them mathematics or ancient poetry, their poor performance quickly let us felt disappointed. They are used to study subjects where they can play, so they are not very willing to take on harder ones. It is not an easy thing to strike a proper balance in the problem of taste and nutrition, and in this matter, teachers and students all have some responsibility. Teachers must find their own reasons to see if their teaching design has improved to attract the students, and the students have no reason at all not to remember anything the teacher taught them just yesterday. In the third math class, I become very aware the pre-school students were absent minded and impatient. Later I knew the content was too difficult for them, so they couldn't understand and therefore they did not pay attention to it. I hope I can teach them something that their normal teachers are not teaching them, but I failed to start from their own cognitive level, so when my teaching reached a difficult level, I lost the student's attention.

Also important is the balance in between harshness or severity and kindness. If there is only kindness, without any kind of criticism and strictness, that, of course, would be the best. However, here only kind words are not able to maintain discipline. When teacher Wang occasionally came into the class, silence is absolute and not even a crow or sparrow can be heard, but as soon as he leaves, it all becomes as noisy and chaotic as usual. We find that, in order to maintain discipline and good governance, kindness is useless here, and only when we are strict and harsh we have some good results, therefore, very soon I earned the title of "the most severe and strict teacher". This makes me reflect on the proper balance in between strictness and kindness and how difficult is to get it. Thanks God I was able to change my image in the last two days. I completely gave up being strict and severe and thus I earned my title as "the most handsome teacher". However, I do not have any merit, and this was only a last-ditch move. My experience is not rich enough, and in the process to find a right balance you cannot take into account everything.




Let’s talk now about the two kids that impressed me the most. The name of the first is Xiong Chun Cong and the second's name is Tao Cun.

The main characteristic of Xiong Chun Cong is his desire to attract attention. This child is not a simple one. She's got a character and invites the teacher to like him. She would like to get the teacher's attention, sometimes doing something very well, and sometimes doing something that is not proper. She helps teachers to maintain discipline in the classroom, but sometimes she defrauds this trust and she herself becomes restless. She completes her tasks diligently, and she even arranges for herself more tasks to do. She has a small group, sometimes even leads this small group to bully other kids, and sometimes forcibly monopolizes the badminton racket.

The painting of all the students are posted at the back of the classroom, but she complains that her painting is not good, so she pulls it down and throw it away, but this painting was picked up by a teacher in the playground and brought to the office. However, Xiong Chun Cong told another teacher that her painting was missing. On another occasion, she and another two students started a protest, crying the would not come back to school, even wrote a note saying: "Xiong Chun Cong, ***, ***, would not go to school, never would go back to school". The teachers discussed the matter and decided not to pay any attention to them, so they did not receive any consolation and felt somehow uncomfortable, so they came running to the windows to say loudly two words "Zai jian" (Goodbye). Some behavior is really incredible.

From home visits and from conversations with teacher Wang, I came to know some of her stories. Her relationship with the family and with her teachers is very complex and subtle. Everything she does, whether it is good or bad, is just for one reason: to attract the attention of her teacher, longing to be concerned about. But, after getting this attention, she starts again being capricious, thus giving herself some unwanted consequences, losing the attention she craves, and therefore arousing again her desire for attention. This is a vicious circle. And at this time my inability to be a good teacher is clearly exposed. Truly, I don't want to teach this child. I am not that good, not like some other teachers that always analyze the children behavior from a best intentioned point of view, not like those people that will never give up on the children, I just feel disgusted with this child, and feel no sympathy for her at all.

The other kid is Tao Cun. She is longing for love, but she is very different from Xiong Chun Cong. I am very fond of this child, although I understand only a little about her circumstances because I did not go to her house when we had the family visit. Her character is very good, but the recent death of her father has left her feeling very lonely and trying to feel loved to fill the vacancy in her heart. Just the last two days, I was especially gentle and friendly and, for many different reasons, she took me as a substitute for her father. She came to me after school every day to play with me all kind of games, whether it is study together, rope jumping or block skipping. She was always trying to find new ways to be with me and with the rest of the students, even when some of them didn't seem very interested. They always play very happily, no matter if it is walking while doing rope jumping, taking turns to read sentences from a story book, or reading small animal cards, shooting with a toy gun something imaginary and trying to guess what was it. For the first time, I am so much into the children's play and I feel so happy to have such a position in Tao Cun's heart. To feel loved lets you feel so warm, and to feel needed gives you the same feeling as well.