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What Fuels Your Fire? First-Year Teacher in China Shares

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I'm a pretty motivated person. But sometimes, after working 14-hour days and spending all my time in meetings, on email and putting together budgets and hiring plans and not spending time with kids, sometimes I forget why it is I do what I do. That's why I am grateful for our Teaching Fellows and their students, and how they ground me in the purpose of our work.

This week, I've invited a guest blogger, Huang Songbin, a first-year teacher who grew up just down the street from one of our current placement schools, to share with us what fuels his fire. I had the chance to hang out with Songbin a couple weeks ago and a quick dinner turned into 2+ hours of conversation. The reality is, if Songbin was a kid right now, his teachers would likely be Teach For China teachers-- he grew up just down the street from one of our schools in Guangdong Province. Neither of his parents received much schooling and his three brothers all dropped out early as well. There were times when he lost motivation to move on, but it was because of encouraging teachers who ensured he stayed on track to go on to one of the top colleges in the the country.

I asked Songbin what made him decide to choose Teach For China and teach in a small school in the mountains when he had much more lucrative opportunities with prestigious companies knocking on his door after graduation (The 2200 RMB that our teachers receive as starting teachers isn't much, even in rural China...). Opportunities that would likely help provide even more for his parents and brothers. His answer was that it was his responsibility and want to serve children much like him and have an impact on society today.

My name is Huang Songbin and I am a first year fellow (2012-2014) in Shuangjiang, Yunnan. I come from a rural region of Guangdong province where I was the only one of four kids in my family to go to college. My three brothers all left middle school to work in construction, where my father also continues to work. I know deeply how important it is for us to race with destiny and impact change, especially for kids in low-income communities. For me, it was because of a few great teachers in my life that led me to where I am today.

Over the past semester in my first year teaching, I'd been reminded over and over about how much our children are able to accomplish even when it doesn't seem possible at first. I'm reminded of this when I doubted whether one of the kids in my class, Rean, who, in some of the local teachers' minds, couldn't do anything because of her disability. Yet, earlier this month, she came to my dormitory on campus to tell me that she can now recite the multiplication tables and write them all down. I was touched.

Her story inspires and reminds me that every child in the world deserves a chance for an excellent education. It also keeps me thinking about what transformational impact is for our students.

In my perspective, in this short-term period when I am teaching this group of students directly this year, I want to guide them to raise their academic achievement, which is really important in China's education system, but also to teach them how to think critically and logically, to be curious about world, and to ask more "why" in my science in my class.

I remembered last semester in my class, when there was 5 minutes left in my class for students to ask further question when they are confused, one of the girls asked me, "Teacher, you told us that as snails grow up, their shells will become larger. But is it the same to the people if we become an adult, our house where we live will become bigger as well?" Even though sometimes the questions are illogical, our students' minds are tinkering. Kids are starting to ask questions and ask "why." In the long-term period, they can choose their life paths by themselves and be their best selves. That is what I think transformational impact is!

Photo by Huang Songbin, Teach For China 2012-14 Teaching Fellow

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