'Reform Pioneer' still learning at 90

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At the age of 90, Yu Yi is still full of energy. As honorary principal of Shanghai Yangpu Senior High School, the retiree is still engaged in Mandarin primary education and training young teachers in China.

Yu Yi introduces one of her books to students at Shanghai Yangpu Senior High School in September, 2009. [Photo/Xinhua]

She has compiled several books based on her teaching procedures-the first books on pedagogy of their kind in China in the late 1970s. Among them, Introduction to Modern Teacher Development and Introduction to the Study of Modern Teachers have been used as training materials by the Ministry of Education.

Last year, a collection of eight books on her 66 years of Mandarin teaching experience was published to inspire younger teachers.

Yu, born and raised in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, was awarded the title "Reform Pioneer" in primary school education at a grand gathering celebrating the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up in Beijing on Dec 18.

Despite her decadeslong devotion to pedagogy, Yu said she is still learning how to be a good teacher. The late Soviet teacher and educational theorist Vasyl Sukhomlinsky is the educator she respects the most.

Yu appreciates one of Sukhomlinsky's sayings, that "a unique string at a secret corner deep down in the heart of each child makes a distinct sound of its own, and to help every child understand what a teacher is saying, the teacher's heart needs to beat as one with the child's, with the same tone."

Inspired by Sukhomlinsky's educational concept, Yu said she has never scolded any student throughout her career. It is up to the teacher to develop the students' interest and passion in learning.

For this purpose, Yu said she usually prepares three kinds of questions in her classes-a general one for most students to think over independently, a simple one for relatively slower learners, and a challenging one for students to solve together.

"Learning to differentiate learning abilities helps teachers present materials in a way that will engage all students on all levels at the same time in class," Yu said, while sharing her insights with teachers at the Experimental High School affiliated to Shandong University last year.

"A good class by a teacher is not what is written on the blackboard, but what students learn and keep in mind for a lifetime."

Yu's passion for education was inspired by professors from Fudan University's education school, where she did her four-year undergraduate studies, beginning in 1947.

"I was lucky and grateful to have met excellent teachers in the education, social, historical, and natural science fields during my undergraduate studies," she said. "They are great role models."

After seven years of being a history teacher after graduation, Yu started teaching Mandarin in 1959.

For Yu, preparing Mandarin classes was a three-step process. First, she went through the articles to understand them.

Then, she would read a variety of references to learn from other teachers and expert analysis on the articles. Last of all, she evaluated what did or did not work well after a class, and revised her teaching plans before teaching a particular class.

Wang Ronghua, chairman of the Shanghai Education Development Foundation, said Yu acted more as a parent than a teacher to students. She cared a lot for her students, and often spent her savings on their daily necessities and school supplies if needed.

Educating young teachers has been Yu's focus since 1985, when she became principal of Shanghai No 2 Normal Middle School.

She sat in on young teachers' classes, and provided them with constructive advice and suggestions. She has also organized 2,000 open Mandarin classes across the country for students and teachers, and after her retirement in 2002 she set up Mandarin teacher training bases in Shanghai.

Many young teachers who have graduated from these training bases have been recognized as special grade teachers, won prizes in national education competitions, or have taken up leadership positions in schools.

"I am proud of them," Yu said. "Maybe I am too old to do many things, but the future of education will continually develop because these young talented teachers will continue to join the education sector."

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