Opinion
Education Opinion

What Jenny, 16, Wants You to Know About the Power of Teachers

By Jessica Shyu — August 24, 2013 4 min read

It is a known fact among those of us who make a living from teacher professional development that educators of all stripes, new or veteran, listen exponentially more to what kids say than they do adults. And so with that science in mind, we put our secret weapon in front of our newest teachers on Day 1 of our Summer Institute training.

Meet Jenny, a 16-year-old student from Lincang, Yunnan, a small town perched by the mountains in rural China. Jenny is about to start high school soon and spent this past summer as an intern at our Summer Institute and to attend our summer school classes. Her speech was one of the first that our new teachers heard on their first day with Teach For China to help illustrate why it is that we Teach For China.

Although Jenny’s official job was to manage our resource inventory, the truth is, her day-to-day conversations with our teachers and staff about what is possible for kids were far more powerful than any of the PowerPoint presentations and resource toolkits us adults had spent countless hours putting together...

Hello everybody! My name is Zhang Changxue; my English name is Jenny. I’m happy to see so many teachers here today, and I’d like to take this chance to share with you a bit of my own story.

As an elementary school student, I always thought that I would drop out to start working after middle school. Could you fault me? I had lived my entire life in the village - my parents didn’t care much about my education, and I envied those I saw dropping out early to make their own money. I didn’t have much to look forward to in my future - I would be just about the same as everyone else: middle school, work, and when I was old enough, I’d find a boy to marry.

But, when I got to middle school, there was a change: I actually wanted to learn! And I think there were two reasons for this: the first was that I had grown up, matured, and I wasn’t as naïve as I was in the past; the second was that I had been influenced by some teachers.

Soon after entering middle school, I had to take a week off school for some family affairs. When I came back, our Teach For China teachers Wang Ke and Sam helped tutor me on what I had missed. They also talked to me a lot about my future. They thought that I shouldn’t limit my goals to middle school, that I should have greater aspirations.

What touched me the most was a group we formed during second semester - “The Redeemers.” We were like a united force, with our own goals, badges, and slogans - each member had personal goals and responsibilities. Our entire class worked harder that semester than we ever had before - we were more invested, and more united. I felt that what I was doing had more of a purpose than before, that I was learning more, and I knew that I was capable of much more than what I used to think was possible.

Before, my post-middle school life had me selling clothes or waitressing, doing something where I didn’t need to use my head because it was the same day-in, day-out.

Now, I don’t just want to be a working girl - I want to go to high school, and college, and have more options about how I live my life.

With the help of my teachers, I began enjoying classes I used to think were boring or frustrating. My grades got better and better, and I moved from the bottom of the class to the middle, and then to the top ten, and finally into the top five students in my class. My family began to support my education, and I became more confident and motivated.

In the 9th grade, which I just finished, we had a lot of homework and endless tests. We had no time to rest - we were tired. But whenever I began thinking about quitting, I would remember my family, my friends, and my teachers, and all the hope these people had for me; I would think about the goals and dreams I had for myself. With these in mind, I couldn’t give up.

I’m extremely grateful to these two teachers. We only had two short years together, but these were two of the most important years of my life. Under their guidance, I began to think about many things that I previously could, or dare, not to think about. If not for them, it is unlikely that I would be before you here today - I’d probably be out working somewhere.

Obviously, my personal goals very well might change over the next few years, but there are something that I know will not change:


  • First, I will still want to have options available to me in choosing how I lead my life
  • Second, I will want to be of help to others around me
  • Third, I will want to lead a happy life
  • And fourth, I will never be as narcissistic as my two Teach For China teachers :)

Now, who can tell me what was my first point? have options available to me in choosing how I lead my lifeAnd my second point? be of help to others around me

My third point? I want to lead a happy life

And my fourth point? I will never be as narcissistic as my two Teach For China teachers

Very good. All who can answer my questions are good students.

What I just did is CFU (check for understanding). This is something you will do frequently as a teacher. I hope you study well this summer. Thank you!

The opinions expressed in Lessons From China are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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