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The sign of a great teacher

By Yang Jun ( China Daily Africa )

Updated: 2018-03-23

Special education enters the spotlight as NPC deputy uses her hands to communicate in the language of the hearing-impaired

Dressed in a purple gown, she moves her hands and fingers in a manner that almost mesmerizes. What she is doing is using sign language to say, "I will study hard, work hard and live a full life."

The deputy who started her speech at the National People's Congress meeting in Beijing on March 6 with sign language is Shi Huifen, a special education teacher at a county-level school in Wuchuan, Guizhou province.

 The sign of a great teacher

Shi Huifen (right) teaches at the Wuchuan County Special Education School in China's southwestern Guizhou province. Photos Provided to China Daily

Speaking about her background, Shi says, "I come from an unusual family that gave priority to girls' education."

Shi, born in 1981, is the youngest of three children from a rural family in Daozhen, Guizhou province.

Her father wanted good education for the two girls in the family, sending them to specialized normal schools. Shi's sister is a primary school math teacher.

With the special education skills she acquired at school, Shi has been teaching hearing-impaired children since she was 19.

She now teaches at the Wuchuan County Special Education School in the southwestern province.

The school has 32 teachers and 121 students in 10 classes, from the first grade to the ninth.

There are five classes for mentally-challenged children, one for autistic children, and Shi heads one of the four classes for the hearing-impaired.

She is proud of her students. "They have pure souls because they are free from worldly distractions," she says.

Shi's main task at the school is to help the children acquire basic social skills. So she often takes her nine students on trips to grocery stores where the sixth-graders do their own shopping and haggling.

Similar visits are made to banks, libraries and hospitals.

"I want them to be exposed to different social settings, so that they can feel confident when interacting in society," says Shi.

Her work seems to be paying off as, according to Ran Runquan, the mother of one of Shi's nine students, her son has been transformed from a "lazybones" into mom's little helper within two years of Shi's training.

Now, the boy volunteers to do things around the house, whether it is mopping the floor, cleaning the table or washing dishes, because, "Miss will be very happy if I do so".

"She is more than a teacher to the students. She is like their mother," says Ran.

The students reciprocate Shi's love with touching gestures.

Hu Linyu, a student from Shi's 2015 class, refers to her as "mother".

Now a high school senior in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, Hu visits Shi every time she has a break from school.

Speaking about Shi's commitment, Hu's father says: "I trust her (Shi) completely, because I see the bond between Shi and my daughter."

But, despite the praise, Shi still feels inadequate. She admits that she occasionally fails to understand her students' sign language because they are constantly making up new signs and shaking up the "grammar" in much the same way that other kids devise texting slang.

"That's one of the reasons why I still have so much to learn," says Shi, whose idea of a perfect teacher is one who has command over every conceivable situation in the classroom.

To fulfill that dream, Shi has stepped down from being vice-president of the school to focus on honing her teaching skills.

She now spends long hours talking to her students and, whenever she has the time, she devours books and periodicals on new teaching techniques.

Besides her bid to be a better teacher, one thing that weighs on her mind is employment opportunities for the children.

She feels that, given adequate training, the children can be gainfully employed when they grow up. "I hope we can find ways to allow them to make a living," she says.

Liu Yinglun contributed to this story.


 The sign of a great teacher

Shi's main task at the school is to help the children acquire basic social skills.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 03/23/2018 page20)

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