Zhang Qiang, 2010 Fellow
Dazhai Middle School, Yunxian County, Yunnan
I clearly remember the first day I walked into my run-down and overcrowded classroom at Dazhai Middle School. Fifty-three students, packed tightly into their seats, stared up at me with meek curiosity. Between these 12-year-old students and their 22-year-old math teacher stood a variety of obstacles, which became only more apparent with each passing day. I struggled to understand the local dialect my students preferred to speak in, and half of my students could barely speak Mandarin. I walked into class preparing to teach a standard math curriculum, while many of my students struggled with basic concepts they should have learned years before. I was naïve enough to think that these students would understand the role that hard work plays in learning, as I had at their age. My students were naïve enough to think that I, as a teacher from a big city, could magically improve their grades without assigning any homework.
We all had a lot to learn. Most importantly, though, I believed from the beginning that my students could overcome the odds stacked against them; and my students believed in me and my vision for our class. We trusted one another, and we worked hard, every day. I painstakingly planned out each lesson, and they tried their hardest on each homework assignment. I told them about my life and about how I had earned acceptance to Tsinghua University, and they told me about their lives and their aspirations. I spent hours outside of class giving additional guidance and tutoring to struggling students, and they gathered outside my dorm during their free time to ask questions and seek extra help. Through ordinary hard work, day in and day out, we produced extraordinary results. Having started as the sixth-ranked math class in our grade, we rose one ranking in each successive semester. Two years later, my class was the second-highest ranked in our grade.
I am so proud of my students’ hard work and of all they have accomplished. Nevertheless, I know that they still face an incredibly challenging road ahead in order to move on to high school. At the end of my two years, as I prepared to leave Dazhai, I took every opportunity to remind them of what they can accomplish in the next two years, and the two years after that, as long as they remain brave and don’t lose sight of their goals.
I completed the Fellowship determined to continue to contribute to this effort to end education inequality in China. At the end of my two years as a Fellow, I joined Teach For China’s staff as a Chinese Recruiting Manager. In this role, I will find other Chinese college graduates who are ready for two years of hard work, and who can make a difference in the lives of their students