HOME Community Engagement

Dedication and passion: the story of Dai Xuerong, a silver-haired teacher in Ili


In 2020, China expanded 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.

Among them, Professor Dai Xuerong, a silver-haired teacher from East China Normal University (ECNU), has twice ventured into the western region to share his knowledge and expertise.

"As long as the university needs me, I am willing to continue my service," said Dai, expressing his unwavering commitment to education. Shortly after his retirement in 2019, Dai made the decision to embark on a journey to Xinjiang Normal University, where he served as the deputy dean of the School of Geographic Sciences and Tourism for a year and a half. His outstanding contributions were recognized with the title of "Outstanding Cadre Talents Supporting Xinjiang." Five years later, in 2023, Dai returned to Xinjiang, this time to Yili Normal University.

Within five years, Dai Xuerong has taught in Xinjiang twice, bringing his accumulated experience from long-term work at East China Normal University without reservation. His enthusiastic and professional teaching style, rigorous scientific research spirit, and spirited life attitude have silently influenced every teacher and student he has encountered in Xinjiang.

For Dai Xuerong, sixty is the prime of life. "I retired not long ago and feel physically and mentally capable. I can still do something meaningful, especially since I have a fondness for Yili and believe this endeavor holds great significance," Dai said about his initial intention to support teaching and research in Xinjiang.

"The biggest challenge is adjusting to the time difference, lagging behind by two and a half hours, which takes some time to adapt. Other than that, there aren't many difficulties," Dai Xuerong remarked.

"Ecology affects mentality, and mentality determines outcomes," Dai reflected, "The beautiful Xinjiang and picturesque Yili broaden our minds when we come here. We should cherish it even more, be willing to contribute and impart our lifelong knowledge and experience to the young students at Yili Normal University."

Dai teaches at the School of Resources and Environment of Yili Normal University, responsible for teaching the "Introduction to Earth" course for undergraduate freshmen. "Introduction to Earth" is a foundational course with a wide range of topics and abstract content, making it one of the most challenging courses among all courses in physical geography.

Dai understands that students' backgrounds vary greatly, with a significant portion having not studied geography in high school. Therefore, in structuring his teaching hours, he allocates one-third of the time to experiments and practical exercises, turning abstract concepts into concrete examples. In addition to traditional classroom and field teaching, he establishes an online platform for communication and interaction between teachers and students.

"Professor Dai is knowledgeable, intellectually active, and delivers lectures with humor and vividness, making each class exciting and informative," said Qiu Xingwen, a student majoring in Geographic Science.

Through Dai's "Introduction to Earth" course, Qiu gained a deeper understanding of astronomy and space-related knowledge and honed his critical thinking skills. Another student, Zhan Jie, mentioned that practical activities greatly enhanced her learning, including experiments in the lab and stargazing on the rooftop.

Dai also voluntarily guides the comprehensive field practice of undergraduate students in the Class of 2022 in natural geography. This is a skill he has honed over nearly forty years of work, and East China Normal University's field practice in natural geography has been recognized as a national-level excellent course.

Dai provides overall guidance and, in mid-October, led a four-day field trip for the second group of 66 students to Tukai Desert, Tekes County, Kuldja Nature Reserve, and Wild Grape Gorge for on-site exploration and explanations.

"At every field site, Professor Dai walked at the forefront, observing and sketching geological profiles of terrain features. When students gathered, he provided on-site explanations," recalled Wang Ruoxi, a student in the Natural Geography and Resource Environment major, Class of 2022. "One night, he even led us stargazing, supplementing our knowledge of astronomy. It was a very fulfilling four days, and I learned a lot."

In addition to teaching and guiding field internships, Dai also helps young teachers improve their research abilities. He combined his professional expertise and led a research group consisting of three young teachers, Ma Kai, Wang Ying, and Zinihar, to conduct scientific research. Starting from field investigations, he guided young teachers to discover scientific problems and collect relevant evidence in preparation for applying for national fund projects.

Wang Ying, a new teacher who graduated from China University of Geosciences said, "Professor Dai is very enthusiastic about supporting teaching and research in Xinjiang, and we are all inspired by his spirit. He encourages us to spend more time in the field, to explore more. His deep expertise and meticulousness allow him to notice many phenomena, and he patiently explains and quickly integrates them into teaching. This has significantly enhanced my professional knowledge and teaching and research abilities."

What impressed Wang Ying the most was that they returned late from the fieldwork, even when it was already dark, but Dai still had classes and would take students to observe the night sky. "I feel he truly enjoys it, and his passion for students and teaching and research is palpable."

"He has a sense of responsibility and mission towards research. He says that being in Yili is like guarding a treasure, and we have a greater responsibility to study and protect it," Wang Ying reflected.

"Integrate quickly, leverage expertise, and contribute wholeheartedly." This is Dai Xuerong's self-demand during his support journey in Xinjiang. He is a teacher who transforms theory into practice, questions into virtues, leaving his footprints and spirit engraved on the journey of Xinjiang.

Author: Wicky Xu, Tian Bolan, Huang Siyin

Copy editor:Philip Nash

Editor: Xu Xincheng