Xiong Yanling is an Open University of China teacher from E’min County in a remote border area in northwest China. Speaking of Ms. Xiong, we can’t help thinking of her extraordinary words and actions that she believes to be perfectly ordinary.

One of Ms. Xiong’s favourite expressions is “it depends on your time”. The OUC’s students, particularly the nursing majors under Ms. Xiong’s supervision, are mostly busy working in frontline clinic jobs. The time for learning always clashes with work and they are not available for teaching tutorials. Upon learning of this, Ms. Xiong always tells her students, “It doesn’t matter, it depends on your time”. The students can turn to Ms. Xiong for one-on-one face-to-face tutorials at any time. At the same time, Ms. Xiong offers the students online real-time learning guidance and assistance. At weekends, Ms. Xiong can always be seen with her students around the school, and every evening, her QQ is always flashing with online questions and answers.

Another of her favourite expressions is “let me help you”. Conditions in the far northwest of China cannot be compared with those in the developed eastern and western areas. Some students are burdened with hard economic conditions and their learning can’t be guaranteed. On several occasions, Ms. Xiong discovered that her students had no record of their formative assessment assignments. After she asked why, she learnt that these students couldn’t afford to buy a computer. In order to help the students complete their schooling successfully, Ms. Xiong offered them her own computer in her spare time and helped the students to finish their formative assignments in the allotted time. Some students couldn’t afford their tuition fees and Ms. Xiong worked out a way to help them. She even paid in advance with her mean salary and allowed them to pay her back in instalments.

Yet another of her popular expressions is “It would be such a pity if you gave up!” You can’t give up on learning, examinations or graduation. There was a student named Nazi Guli enrolled in Ms. Xiong’s junior college nursing class in the 2010 autumn semester. After she changed her work unit and mobile number, she was out of touch for nearly two years despite Ms. Xiong’s efforts to contact her though other students or by leaving QQ messages. However, Ms. Xiong never gave up. She would ask about Nazi Guli whenever she met with new students or ethnic minority students having consultations in the office. However, where there is a will, there is a way and she finally got in touch with Nazi Guli, who said she would like to give up. She thought “it was no use learning,” after all. Moreover, she had no money or time. Ms. Xiong tried to persuade her, saying, “You only have medical biochemistry left. You have already spent so much time and energy. If you give up, all the tuition fees you’ve paid will be wasted. If it’s just a question of money then I can pay for you. Come and sit the examination and you can pay me back when you come to get your graduation certificate”. The student was moved by Ms. Xiong’s sincerity and persistence, and she took the examination and succeeded in completing her education.

Nevertheless, some of the students would complain that Ms. Xiong is a “meddler.” There was a student named Deng Wanyu in the 2014 autumn semester classes. In the first semester, she finished all of the learning tasks for her courses thanks to Ms. Xiong’s consistent encouragement. In the second semester, she failed to meet the requirements and it was not long before examination time. Ms. Xiong phoned Deng Wanyu’s mother and asked her to work together with the teachers to urge Deng to finish her learning tasks. Deng Wanyu complained that Ms. Xiong was so meddlesome. Ms. Xiong overlooked and quietly received her complaints. She kept phoning her until she told her to phone her no more and that she would finish the assignments anyway. With Ms. Xiong’s efforts, Deng finally completed all the formative assessments. There are plenty more examples like this. Whatever frictions arise during the learning process, in the end, the students always say, “Many thanks, Ms. Xiong” when they get their graduation certificates.

OUC students are unlike those from regular universities who study on campus with teachers always around them. The students from the nursing major are all in employment. In order to facilitate communication with the students and to help them smooth away any difficulties they face in their learning, the human physiology teaching team set up QQ groups for online learning. Ms. Xiong is one of the tutors. The group hosts give relevant titles to all the members. The professional titles corresponding to primary school, junior middle school, and senior middle school to the highest, “doctor,” are given according to the performance of the teachers and students in the group. Ms. Xiong is always the most active user in the learning tutorial QQ group, sending greetings early in the morning and giving one-on-one tutorials late at night. Therefore, Ms. Xiong became the group’s “doctor”. The title was conferred as the result of the Tencent big data statistics and the students’ recognition of Ms. Xiong.

There is an aspiration called “Thanks”! Many people who have crossed paths with Ms. Xiong, including the students she has supported and personnel from the hospitals they work at, stop to offer her well wishes and heartfelt thanks. Over these years, a great many students majoring in nursing have graduated from the university where Ms. Xiong works. They serve in several hospitals in the Ta’e region, such as Tacheng Area Hospital, Ninth Division Hospital, E’min County Hospital, and Tuoli County Hospital. Some students have already been promoted to head nurse and some are serving as chairperson of the trade union at the hospital where they work. Whenever they see Ms. Xiong at the hospital, they will ask, “Ms. Xiong, you’re here! Is there anything that I can do for you?” In addition to the students of the Ninth Division, the students from the other divisions of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps who have got to know Ms. Xiong in their physiology course group will also express their gratitude and respect in different ways. One student commented on their teaching satisfaction questionnaire: “The teachers are devoted to their work and I would like to send my best regards to Ms. Xiong Yanling and the other teachers. I am deeply moved by the teachers’ professional ethics. No matter what time it is, they are always there to answer our questions. My heartfelt thanks go to the teachers!”

Finally, we can recall the phrase “Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do?” These words and actions are perfectly ordinary in the eyes of Ms. Xiong and the OUC’s thousands of other community teachers. They persist in their unswerving efforts day after day, year after year, not only out of respect for their profession but also out of their love for their students. They reflect the glories of their devotion to and respect for their work.

Words and actions like this are being said and done every day across China. These people, the OUC’s community teachers, have left an impression throughout the OUC’s campuses without walls. They are the backbones of the OUC and the hope for its future.

By The Voice of the OUC