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Retired educator from ECNU brings light to Xinjiang's remote regions


In 2020, China ramped up a national initiative, known as the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan, to encourage retired teachers to return to the classroom as part of broader steps to narrow regional gaps in education. This initiative also strives to make better use of an aging society.

Since the launch of this initiative, 17 retired teachers from ECNU have volunteered to supplement the teaching resources in China's western region, including the Karamay campus of China University of Petroleum (Beijing), Ili Normal University, and Xichang University.

On of the retired professors from ECNU, Geng Wenxiu, has emerged as a beacon of hope and dedication for students in Xinjiang. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology from ECNU in 1991 and stayed on as a teacher until sending off her last graduate student in 2020. Afterwards, she was hired as a special expert by Xi'an Eurasian University. In 2022, she returned to Shanghai for a physical examination and was diagnosed with lung cancer, which slowed down her busy work schedule.

"I have a strong emotional attachment to Xinjiang. I came to volunteer teaching twenty years ago," said Geng.

In 2003, Geng, then 53 years old, volunteered to teach at Xinjiang Normal University. Her commitment to the region and its educational development has never waned.

Geng volunteered to teach at Xinjiang Normal University 20 years ago.

In 2023, despite having undergone major surgery and chemotherapy in 2022, Geng heard about the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan and signed up to participate in it. "My profession in psychology has helped me cope with the illness. Even the doctor couldn’t tell that I am a cancer patient," she said, displaying remarkable resilience and optimism in spite of her cancer diagnosis.

"My family was worried about me, and at first they didn't agree to let me come to Ili," Geng Wenxiu, said, with a smile. "Later on, they also understood that I can't sit still and haven't left the podium since retirement."

Upon her arrival at Ili Normal University in September 2023, Geng quickly adapted to the new environment and embraced the opportunity to teach. "The students here are lovely and eager to learn," she said. Geng taught two undergraduate courses, "Abnormal Psychology" and "Personality and Art," which she had previously taught at ECNU for decades. However, she devoted considerable effort to re-preparing the material, ensuring its relevance to the local context.

Ma Yongquan, Dean of the Education Science College at Ili Normal University, praised Geng's professionalism and enthusiasm, noting that she immediately requested to be scheduled for classes upon her arrival. Geng's impact has been profound, not just in the classroom but also in her mentorship and encouragement of young students.

Learned, amiable, witty, humorous......these are the words that applied psychology students used the most when evaluating Geng's teaching.

"She always wants us to learn more, wants to impart more knowledge to us, and teaches us the principles of being a person, so that we can become more valuable and meaningful to society." Wang Jie declared, "I am very lucky to have the opportunity to be a student of teacher Geng when I am about to graduate."

She demonstrated her dedication and passion through the rigorous grading of over 500,000 words in assignments. She has corrected at least 500,000 words of student homework. She set two assignments to write course papers for each course, with each paper requiring a minimum of 3,000 words. A total of 85 students submitted 170 papers for two courses. Geng Wenxiu carefully proofread every paper and graded them accordingly.

Geng also had a lot of private communication with her students, and many of them added her on WeChat. "She cares about students' learning and life, often communicates with them, and provides useful advice and guidance," said Yu Heqian, one of her students. Geng is also willing to share her experiences and feelings, and her classmates are often touched by her sincerity and enthusiasm.

"Teacher Geng values words and deeds, and she has a tenacious spirit of hard work." Dai Hangjun said, and many students believe that "Geng is a shining person, and her light illuminates us."

"Geng's erudition, rigor, dedication, and optimism are the best life education," enthused Liu Jingjing, the deputy director of the Student Work Department Xinjiang Normal University, who was a student of Geng Wenxiu's teaching support twenty years ago.

Geng’s dedication to education and mentorship in Xinjiang is exemplary of a true educator. For example, her work extended beyond the classroom, while encompassing both the academic and personal growth of her students, as well as the development of aspiring young educators.

Under the initiative of Geng, and other retired teachers, a one-on-one mentorship program, known as the "Blue-Green Project" was implemented to foster the rapid growth of young teachers in Ili.

Liu Mingjie, who has just graduated with a master's degree from Ningxia University, is a paired teacher of Geng. As Liu's mentor, Geng attentively listened to Liu Mingjie's class, and afterwards put forward specific suggestions about her teaching. Geng also arranged time to discuss her career development plans and suggested that she start her research from a basic topic.

"Geng also took the initiative to give psychology lectures to various places," Ma Yongquan said. She has a spirit of contributing to serving society as an educator. "She feels like she is already here, so she wants to play her role to the extreme and make contributions here."

When it comes to daily life in Ili, Geng said that time differences, dietary habits, injections, and medication are not the actual problems for her. "It's just that time is not enough. It takes a lot of energy to attend classes, give lectures, and lead young teachers," said Geng, proudly. "I didn't even go to the Ili River. My husband and I only went after he arrived."

Geng's story is a testament to the power of education and the spirit of educators who continue to give back to students even after retirement. Her actions embody the essence of what it means to be a teacher and educator, demonstrating that age is not a barrier to making a difference in the lives of others. Geng is an outstanding example of how educators in China can make difference through the national initiative.

Author: Wicky Xu, Tian Bolan

Copy editor:Philip Nash

Editor: Xu Xincheng