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Rural schoolteacher heartens 'left-behind' children through poetry

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-26 08:58
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Li Bolin (C) explains poems for students at Suyu Hope Primary School in Huitong county, Central China's Hunan province, Nov 30, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

CHANGSHA-"The cotton spits out the harvest."

Moved by her student's verse three years ago, 26-year-old Li Bolin started a poetic journey with her students in rural China.

Li teaches at Suyu Hope Primary School in Huitong county, Hunan province. Roughly half of the students are being cared for by their grandparents as their parents have migrated to faraway cities for higher-paid work.

"When I grow up, I will definitely spend time accompanying my own kids, otherwise they will not be able to learn very well at school," one of Li's students wrote.

The words reminded Li of when she was an introverted girl from an impoverished family. She realized that some of her students had emotional needs and desires to express themselves beneath their silent and seemingly rebellious exteriors.

"In retrospect, I didn't often speak to my teachers during my school days," Li said. "But they still tried to get to know me, accompanied by encouragement with great care and love."

Her experiences inspired her to become a teacher. After completing her training, Li returned to her hometown to teach the Chinese language at a primary school.

As she explored ways to enrich the spiritual world of her students, Li found the value of verse and poetry.

Many questioned Li's plan and insisted that she was not imparting knowledge and there was no use in teaching children to write poetry in the impoverished mountainous area.

However, Li's students produced enough inspiring works and gave her great confidence to keep going.

One girl wrote: "Perhaps, winter is the lover of plum blossoms."

"Why do the plum blossoms keep blooming despite the freezing winter? Because the blossoms want to meet the winter and they love each other. If only my mom and dad were like them," she told her teacher.

Li said she believes that writing poetry can help children solve their emotional problems.

An open mind

"Poetry is not a rose, but the scent of the rose."

This is Li's favorite answer to the question.

Li says life itself is poetry. She encourages her students to play with grasshoppers, speak to grass and share their secrets with the breeze. Only through seeing, hearing and touching the world can they feel the poetry of life, she said.

Initially, the students were happy to play but were reluctant to write anything down.

"Write whatever comes to your mind," she told her students. At first, one of them wrote: "I cannot write a poem."

Li keeps an open mind and thinks the children's poetry should not be bound by tonal patterns, rhetoric or rhyme. "Their expressions, filled with childishness and naivete are all precious," she said.

Li never directly revises their work but guides them to ponder on their own.

When a second grader was writing a poem about blue sky, Li asked her, "what does the blue sky remind you of?"

"The sea," the student replied.

"Then what does the sea have?"

"There are fish."

"What does the sky have?"

"Floating and moving clouds."

"What can the fish do? What can clouds do?"

"Fish can sing, dance and spit bubbles."

Then a clever line popped into the student's mind: "Why can't clouds spit bubbles?"

'Box of treasures'

"My little sister got spanked because I broke a vase. But she was nice and didn't turn me in," a student wrote. Li was pleased that her students were willing to share their little secrets with her.

"In a fairy tale, a little tadpole got lots of help and finally found its mother frog on a lotus leaf," a student wrote. "But no one showed me the way when I tried to find my mom."

After reading that, Li approached the student and lent an ear to talk about her feelings.

Another student was too shy to hand in his writing, which was actually quite good. Li wrote the poem out on the blackboard and got the entire class to read it aloud together.

The next day, the boy submitted his homework neatly and on time. Inspired by him, Li hosted a poetry reading session and invited all students to read their poetry aloud to their classmates.

Now Li has a "box of treasures"-a collection of poems created by her students.

The parents of her students who work far away from home are touched by the writings and some are surprised by how the children actually feel.

Li holds that poetry is like a door to the heart of children who live in the mountains.

"Beyond this door, you will see how much they love the world, and will also realize what can be done to love them more," she said.


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