I’ve had five nicknames during my fifteen years of tutoring in Foshan Radio and Television University (Foshan RTVU), and I’d like to take the liberty of sharing them with you.
The nickname my students gave me this term is “Yao Dao” (Guide Yao). At the beginning of the term, I introduced myself to the students in the first class like this, “I’m surnamed Yao, and I am your tutor to guide your studies of the course Practical Writing. You can call me Tutor Yao.” Then I wrote my name, mobile phone number, QQ number, WeChat number, and email address on the blackboard, thus giving the students my contact information so that they could stay in touch with me.
“Times have changed, let’s forget Tutor Yao and call you Guide Yao,” said a female student with a voice both loud and high enough to be heard by all the students in the class.
Ha ha, when did I become Guide Yao ---- I wondered.
“I like to travel and I've had tour guides surnamed Huang, Xie, Li, and Liu, and we call them Guide Huang, Guide Xie, Guide Li, and Guide Liu. You are our tutor guiding our studies. Can’t we call you Guide Yao?” The female student suddenly rose from her seat and said in a loud voice.
The murmuring students seemed to accept the saying, and I chimed in with them, “Guide Yao. It’s good only if I keep standing.”(The abbreviation of “guide” and “fall” are homophones in Chinese.)
Most of the students in the class are less than 20 years old. They have nimble minds, and are quick to adapt to new things. They don’t stick to convention, and love to be non-conformists. They still have their high-school rebelliousness. They have been swept up in the hectic studies of high school as it peaked at the high tide of the college entrance examination. Now they've come ashore in this RTVU classroom, clutching their dreams.
I then introduced to the students the character of the course, curriculum, and methods for assessment. Next, I highlighted how to interact with the course tutor, how to look through and download learning resources, how to report learning progress, and how to ask questions. I was feeling very proud of my detailed explanation when a male student stood up and said, “Hey, Guide Yao. Stop chattering. We already know these things.”
“Really? Is there anyone who doesn't understand?” I asked as I stood there on the platform.
“We are out if we don’t know these things,” replied quite a few students.
Later, I asked the students to join my QQ and WeChat group, log on to Foshan RTVU for online course selection, and raise questions in the course discussion zone. Before long, I had quite a few messages and emoticons on my mobile phone and computer. For example, the message left by one of the girl students was as follows, “Guide Yao, Beautiful Hotpot has just set her foot here and met love at the corner. A rose and a hug.” I was confused by the change of “hotpot” to “beautiful hotpot”. I learned later it was the online name of an 18-year-old girl student from Chongqing.
This is how it is with the RTVU students born in the 1990s. They seek to be different and make their personality known. They thus gave me my fifth nickname: Guide Yao.
However, my first nickname in Foshan RTVU was “Xiao Ben”.
In 2002, the learning atmosphere in Foshan RTVU was unprecedentedly strong, and the saying “knowledge changes destiny” had become a prevailing social belief at that time. Based on this belief, many people managed to enter the RTVU in pursuit of a new life through education. Premier Image Technology Ltd. in Foshan, a subsidiary of Foxconn, alone had over 5,000 general workers. Nearly 1,000 employees of the company chose Foshan RTVU for junior college and undergraduate courses, for their promotion and salary were related to their academic qualifications. As a full-time tutor, I taught writing, a compulsory or optional course for many junior college majors. As such, there were often about 100 students attending the class in a big classroom. I prepared the lessons and gathered strength in the daytime, and gave lively and energetic lectures in the evening. Often, the students had to get to the school early if they wanted to find seats. The classroom was crowded with students fully concentrating on my tutoring. I was always exhausted by the end of each class, but I greatly enjoyed the atmosphere. I felt like a victorious king returning home.
To improve the quality and influence of the RTVU education, the school leaders went all out to gather the best faculty and equipment in the undergraduate teaching of open education. The full name of undergraduate education was “pilot undergraduate majors of the CCRTVU open education”. That was why the teaching staff called undergraduate education “Da Ben”, and junior college education “Xiao Ben”. Thus, tutors of undergraduate education courses became “Da Ben” tutors, while tutors of junior college courses became “Xiao Ben” tutors. In 2002, I worked as a class tutor for two junior college classes of law, with the students adding up to more than eighty. In 2005, seventy-eight graduates in the two classes chose to further their undergraduate education, and I once again became their class tutor. My time as a class tutor added up to six years. Since there were no suitable undergraduate education classes for me to give, I remained to be a “Xiao Ben” tutor, and one leader joked, “Why haven’t you made progress? Why are you still a 'Xiao Ben' tutor?" I have a colleague named Huang Tianbing. He graduated with a masters degree in Chinese language and now is mainly engaged in administrative management. He is now a middle-level leader. I sometimes joke, “You, as a leader, are a heavenly general, while I am still a little soldier.” It means that I was still a“Xiao Ben” tutor of applied writing courses for the junior college programme.
It was in Nanhai Study Centre of China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU) that I became a“Da Ben” tutor.
According to a regulation of Nanhai District Education Bureau in 2004, all the primary school teachers had to meet the academic qualifications within three years. Thus many of them entered the RTVU’s classroom for three-year undergraduate schooling. Mr. Luo, Dr. Xu Hui, Principle Mo, and I---- three associate professors, one lecturer, and one doctor, made up the teaching team of the undergraduate programme for Chinese language and literature in Nanhai Study Centre. I taught Special Topics in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature, Guided Reading for China’s Modern and Contemporary Literature Masterpieces, and Writing. The absolutely first-class teaching materials were compiled by Professor Qian Liqun, Wen Rumin, and others of Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Peking University. Most of the students were backbone teachers that had graduated from teachers’ schools in the mid or late 1980s. They were in their thirties, with good educational foundations and sufficient driving force. Discussion dominated the class, and sometimes the teachers and students got involved in heated arguments over some fictional character with flushed faces. None would compromise. During the oral defense of graduation theses, Professor Hu Jicheng of the CCRTVU’s School of Arts & Law came to Nanhai for instruction, and he had high praise for the students’ specialized knowledge and eloquence. One of the students under my supervision completed his dissertation on Yu Hua’s avant garde novels. He unexpectedly said that Dr. Xu hadn’t read Yu Hua’s novel To Live during his thesis defense, which embarrassed Dr. Xu. Professor Hu Jicheng rose to the task of peacemaker, saying, “Both Dr. Xu Hui and I study modern Chinese, and it’s understandable that we haven’t read much of Yu Hua’s avant garde novels. After all, everyone has their specialized subjects; but I will do more reading when I return to Beijing.” The tension was thus relieved, and both the teacher and student felt at ease.
The best time I spent in the RTVU was the first few years of open education pilot of undergraduate programme. At that time, university towns, the second-tier schools of general institutions of higher education, and other private higher education institutions posed no threat for the RTVUs. With the later enrollment expansion of general universities, excessive enrollment of vocational universities, abused enrollment of private universities, and shady enrollment of unqualified study centres, the industrialization of higher education was becoming more and more violent, and cut into the RTVU’s operation space. Against this background, my community RTVU teaching colleagues gave me the nickname “Shuo Dao” (supervisor for masters), and I nicknamed myself “Bo Dao” (supervisor for doctors).
With the quickened pace of life, great work pressure, and rapid development in science and technology, the students took the initiative in choosing online learning as the primary means of learning. Since 2012, I had found fewer and fewer students of literature, history, and law attending the school classes. Sometimes, a class of 40 or 50 students had only about ten present in the classroom. Thus, my colleagues of finance and accounting often said to me “in an evil manner”, “Old Yao, you will be a master’s supervisor tonight.” By “master’s supervisor” they were implying that I would be like one tea kettle presiding over ten tea cups in class.
To study for “money” was the choice of most students, and there was no shortage of Foshan RTVU students enrolling in accounting or finance majors. I taught Chinese Literature in the Twentieth Century and analyzed Shen Congwen’s novel Border Town. I could easily count the number of students in class and they looked spiritless, like eggplants suffering from frost. One student said to me, “Mr. Yao, you have us here talking about dreams, and none of want to listen. If you teach us how to make money, then we would be excited to come every day, and would never take a day off.” This wasn't meant as an insult, it was simply an honest expression. When I saw the students majoring in accounting filled up the adjacent big classroom, I said to my colleague half-jokingly, “Lend me a few students to dream with me.” Back in the teaching and research office, I laughed at myself and said, “I will be a doctor’s supervisor this evening like a kettle with several cups.” Hence, I had the nickname of “Bo Dao” in the RTVU. Even those colleagues who used to call me “tea doctor” started calling me “Bo Dao”.
In 2005 when Foshan RTVU was preparing for the evaluation of pilot undergraduate programme of the CCRTVU open education, I worked on the self-assessment report in the university’s writing group. At that time, I had no idea what terms like “classroom in the air” and “non-real time tutor-student teaching and learning” were supposed to mean. Ten years later, however, and I understood all of them ---- the CCRTVU was strategic.
From “Xiao Ben”, “Da Ben”, “Shuo Dao”, “Bo Dao” to “Yao Dao”, I have taught for fifteen years in Foshan RTVU. My leaders, colleagues, and students have given me five creative nicknames, and I have enjoyed the care of leaders, the kindness of colleagues, and the respect of the students. At the same time, I have also witnessed the RTVU’s flourishing development in full swing.
Science and technology change life, and networking transforms education. We must take advantage of these opportunities to change and do something. Instead of sitting in the classroom idling and waiting for the coming of the students, I’d choose to revel with the students in the network classroom. I don’t want to be a "Shuo Dao” or a "Bo Dao”, I want to distinguish myself as “Yao Dao” in the RTVU’s online education.
(This article won excellence award in OUC “My Teaching Story” essay competition)
Yao Jiayu, Guangdong Foshan RTVU