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Boatman teacher

By Li Yang ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-10-15 13:25:48

Boatman teacher

Zhang Fuyou teaches nine students at Dajiang Primary School at Dalong town of Lipu county in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

As the first literate person in his family, he decided to teach in the mountains after graduating from high school to "help more people to walk out of the mountains".

Two of his younger brothers were his students. "Both of them are civil servants now," Zhang says with a proud smile.

Zhang teaches the students all subjects. He even teaches students how to swim in shallow parts of the reservoir during summer vacation. "Swimming is a compulsory course here," Zhang says. A gust of strong wind capsized his boat with eight students onboard during the summer of 2000. Thanks to the students' swimming skills, they turned over the boat together and managed to reach the bank safely.

One lesson Zhang learned from the accident was that wooden boats are the best, because "it floats on the water even after being capsized".

Over the past 38 years, he has scrapped more than 10 wooden boats. After the boat becomes too decayed to sail, he turned the boats into beehives to raise bees. His village house, built with mud bricks, thatch and wood, is surrounded by more than 100 beehives.

He sells the honey for extra income and buys a new boat, every four years, which costs 2,500 yuan (about $400).

All of his nine students, from grade one to grade three, are left-behind children, whose parents work in neighboring Guangdong province as migrant workers, leaving them with their grandparents at home. Zhang and his 58-year-old colleague Lu Xingping call themselves "left-behind teachers".

They had many chances to leave the school to teach in a better school. "If we leave, the children will probably drop out of school," Zhang says. "We live in nearby villages. So we are obliged to stay," echoes Lu.

Both Zhang and Lu feel it is more difficult to teach the left-behind children, especially the left-behind ethnic minority students. There are two Yao ethnic group students in their classes.

"The left-behind children are invariably more shy and timid than kids living with parents," says Zhang. "They need special care from the society. Their teachers are their only 'society', apart from their grandparents. We 'left-behind' teachers have an important role to play."

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