Teacher in a class of her own

By Zhao Ruixue| (China Daily)| Updated : 2022-05-24

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Ren Jilan talks about measures to contain COVID-19 with Grade 3 students at Fuluping Primary School in Dongli town, Yiyuan county, Shandong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Dedication to others inspires those who came into contact, Zhao Ruixue reports in Jinan.

For pupils at a village school in Yiyuan county, Shandong province, Ren Jilan has not only been teaching them but also showing them how to face life with a positive attitude, especially when things just don't seem to be working out.

Ren was born in a Yiyuan county village in 1992. She had to shoulder more work than other children when she was young because both her father and mother suffered from ill health.

Although she had to quit school to take care of her family, she never stopped studying.

With support from her relatives and fellow villagers, Ren completed her 12-year school study and was admitted by Qufu Normal University at the age of 22 to pursue a bachelor's degree majoring in pedagogy, which had always been her dream.

But as she edged ever closer to her dream, she encountered financial difficulties-her family couldn't afford the tuition.

When she was about to give up on university, Li Zhenhua, a teacher at Yiyuan county, came to her and offered help.

"Teacher Li shed light into my life. At that time, I told myself that after graduation, I will return to my hometown and work as a rural teacher to reciprocate the teacher and my fellow villagers," Ren says at the playground of Fuluping Primary School in Dongli town, where she works. While speaking, she kept watchful eyes on children who were playing on the playground.


Ren visits a family in a village in Dongli to discuss their child's progress. [Photo provided to China Daily]

But the four-year university experience did not go as well as Ren expected. Her father died of cancer. Then, how to care for her mother who suffered from deteriorating mental health became a major issue.

After deep consideration, she decided to take her mother with her.

"I felt how painful it was when I lost my father. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my mother before it became too late," says Ren.

She rented a small house in a village close to the campus and started her special university life.

Ren got up when it was still dark to cook breakfast for her mother. After arranging everything well for her, she went to study and worked part time to earn money.

Recalling the life she spent with her mother, Ren still couldn't hold back her tears.

There was a winter day when she went to a market. She told her mother she would buy a pair of shoes for her.

But when Ren came back to their house, she couldn't find her mother. Police and fellow villagers helped to look for her mother, but didn't find her.

"Days later, a person called me, saying there was an elderly woman who looked like my mother. So I went there, praying all the way," she says.

When she saw her mother sitting on a bench, dressed in a cotton-padded jacket that some kindhearted people gave to her, tears poured down her face.


The teacher takes a selfie with her pupils. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Those were joyful tears. For days, I was worried about whether she was cold or hungry, whether she was fine, and I was terribly afraid of losing her," Ren says. "But finally, she was back. It was a feeling that I will remember all my life."

Life was tough during the four years of university, but Ren cherished it.

"The happiest time of a day was when I accompanied my mother on a walk after dinner," she says.

Ren's mother passed away not long after she graduated.

When faced with opportunities to work as a teacher in cities, Ren chose to return to her hometown and work as a rural teacher at Fuluping Primary School, the school Li once worked in.

"Teacher Li gave up a decent job in a big city to teach students at the village school. I'd like to follow his path to contribute my part to rural education," says Ren.

Fuluping Primary School is 50 kilometers away from downtown Yiyuan county. It was once among the schools with the worst facilities in the county.

But great changes have taken place. The school has its own quality playground.

Ren works hard on teaching and taking care of her students. She also spends a part of her income helping two poor students.

She was awarded the China Youth May 4th Medal-the country's top honor for outstanding young people.

"Life was not easy for me, but fortunately I had nice people around me. They gave me a helping hand when I was in need, which encouraged me to go on," says Ren.

"I love my students. I will do my best to help them have good education, which is also my way to thank people who have cared for me and my family," she says.