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Recently, the final Mathematical Analysis class for students of 2022 at Meng Xiancheng College of ECNU went viral on the internet. During the class, students deftly prepared a surprise for their instructor, Prof. Fu Xianlong from the School of Mathematical Sciences: a magic trick! When Prof. Fu extinguished the flame, a small red flower magically appeared. A student representative then presented him with a bouquet prepared spontaneously by the entire class.
On the podium, Prof. Fu, affectionately referred to as Father Fu by his students, wore a pleased smile. Below the podium, students expressed their gratitude for his wonderful lectures throughout the semester with prolonged and enthusiastic applause. Comments like "Father Fu genuinely cares for students", "He is our role model", and “Thank you, you've worked hard!” filled the air. In the students' social media posts, pictures were shared and thumbs-up emojis abounded, showcasing the warmth in the teacher-student relationship.
What kind of teacher is Father Fu? What charm does this course highlight that makes students so reluctant to part with it?
At university, the course Mathematical Analysis is quite unique. On one hand, it is one of the most essential foundational courses in the field of mathematics, spanning a total of three semesters; on the other hand, it is a challenging course, and a slight misstep can easily result in a failing grade.
Dong Chunming, a student majoring in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics of the Class of 2022, shared that during the year and a half since entering university, the course Mathematical Analysis was scheduled three times a week, with each session lasting two class hours. This consistent teaching arrangement made Prof. Fu Xianlong, the course instructor, naturally the teacher who spent the most time with the freshmen.
"Every time, he would arrive at the classroom 15 minutes early." In the eyes of the students, he is not only rigorous and serious in teaching, but also meticulous in his chalkboard writing. His quietly caring nature has left a long-lasting impression on many students.
Student Shi Wenjie recalled that the first time he met Fu Xianlong, the teacher got straight to the point, actively "criticizing" himself to the students, saying that his chalkboard writing was not good enough and that he had been unable to change it for decades. He promised to "try to write the words a little bigger and clearer" in the future. "At that time, everyone was curious. Is Prof. Fu's chalkboard writing as messy as he said?" What impressed Shi Wenjie was that after the first Mathematical Analysis class, many students exclaimed, "How can you call this messy? Prof. Fu's writing is so natural like drifting clouds and flowing water, showing a sense of beauty in the overall mathematical structure."
After completing his Ph.D. in 2002, Fu Xianlong started to work at the Mathematics Department of ECNU. He has been working there for over two decades. From September 2020 to January 2021, he also served at the China University of Petroleum Karamay Campus, where he continued to teach Mathematical Analysis. In just one semester, he earned a brilliant reputation among students and achieved excellent results, ranking first in the university's teaching evaluations.
How to turn a hardcore mathematics course that students find "intimidating" into one that receives cheers and applause? Fu Xianlong's insight is that teachers should always enter the classroom with passion. "Teaching is a very enjoyable thing, and the teacher should savor it," he says. Therefore, every time he teaches freshmen, he tells them, "I hope that several years later when you look back on your campus life, the clearest memory is still the Mathematical Analysis I taught in the classroom.”
Teaching benefits teachers as well as students. Fu Xianlong's passion has invisibly infected many people. Some students fall in love with mathematics because of Mathematical Analysis, opening the door to the world of mathematics.
Some students have also gained a clearer understanding of what it means to be a teacher and how to be a teacher through Fu Xianlong's words and deeds. They say, "In the future, I want to be a teacher like Prof. Fu, not only achieving profound disciplinary accomplishments but also earnestly and responsibly imparting them to my students. I also want to understand and care for my students, taking responsibility for their growth."