By Xie Bingying
School has started after the vacation. The quiet classrooms have suddenly begun to buzz with activity. At night, the whole school compound is ablaze with lights and rings with the pleasant sound of students reading their lessons aloud. Mixing with the kids all day long has made me feel like many, many years younger. Though I’m often obliged to meet my class assuming a grave teacher-like countenance, I’ll again be my true self as soon as class is over. I’ll go for a stroll with some girl students, chat gaily with them or tell them stories. Often, after the going-to-bed bell has rung, some of them will continue to enjoy themselves by hiding in my room. I, however, welcome their visit as long as it does not interfere with their studies. But my close contact with many girls has aroused a feeling of jealousy among the boy students.
“Our teacher’s a slave to old conventions⑬,” they grumbled. “She’s so stand-offish towards us boys.”
Their displeasure lasted until I helped them with the publication of Aurora, a weekly literary supplement in The Xiamen Daily. I took great pains to polish and arrange their articles. They exclaimed, “Ah, our teacher’s after all of one mind with us boys!”
The kids are just lovely. They are naïve, candid and cordial. They speak straight from the heart, without the slightest insincerity or reluctance. I love them dearly and wish I could be with them forever.
All that has brought back to my mind memories of my life in Peiping where I used to teach at Anhui Middle School. Over there, two very naughty students sometimes went so far as to hang my blackboard eraser high up under the ceiling or fill my pockets with peanut shells. Once they chalked up four big characters on the blackboard meaning “Child Teacher”, obviously a dig at me being so young. However, when I took them to task, they tried to explain it away by saying,
“Ma’am, we mean that you’re a teacher of us children, not that you yourself are a child.”
As a matter of fact, to my great embarrassment, quite a few of my students then were older than I. But, since I behaved so much like a child, I got along very well with them. I remember that one student, named Qiu Zhenyuan, was particularly good at writing stories. Later, when I learned that the headmaster had the intention to dismiss me on the pretext that I had been making the grave mistake of calling on the students to use vernacular rather than classical Chinese for composition writing, I readily handed in my resignation on my own initiative. The students, on hearing the news, tried desperately to urge me to stay on, and even kicked up a school disturbance for my sake. Consequently, Qiu Zhenyuan and several other students were expelled from school. Today, whenever I recall the incident, I cannot help feeling deeply sorry for them.