Gao Ziren (File photo/Xinhua)
Taking a step requires just one second for a typical person. But not for Gao Ziren, whose paralyzed left leg requires him to first move a crutch forward before his leg, and then balance himself.
For 42 years, Gao, a teacher at Lixin village primary school in a mountainous area of East China's Jiangxi province, has walked this way between his home, the school and his students' homes. Over the course of his career, he has worn out more than 60 crutches.
Gao, 60, was born in a mountainous area of Meiling township, Wanli district of Nanchang. After coming down with polio at the age of 1, his left leg suffered muscular atrophy, which left him unable to walk normally.
He did not give up, relying instead on his mental strength to finish his studies from primary school through high school.
He started his career in 1977 when a village official visited him about being a teacher in the village, as one of the two teachers there had left. Gao agreed to take the position, as he knew the importance of a teacher to students, especially those like him.
The roads were sandy and muddy in the past, causing him to stumble on the roads. "One year, it was snowing, and I walked more than one hour to the school. My colleague helped me half of the way -- otherwise, I might have fallen into the gully," he said.
Gao Yangyao, who worked with Gao Ziren for many years, said that "he has difficulty walking, but he is usually the first to come to school."
Gao Ziren's Mandarin Chinese was not so good in the beginning, and he continued listening to radio broadcasts to improve his pronunciation. When students had the wrong pronunciation, he would correct them, even when it cost the whole class time.
In 1980s, the mountainous area had poor teaching conditions, with a lack of desks and benches, so Gao brought some desks and benches from home. When some impoverished students had no stationery, he would buy it for them.
Gao Xiaomei, one of the first students Gao Ziren taught and now a school principal in Meiling, said that he taught children carefully and usually walked close to students to help them solve problems. His carefulness led her to be a teacher.
Zhang Zuhao, a sixth grade student, used to misbehave and have little interest in his studies, not even finishing homework. In order to change his attitude, Gao Ziren visited his home every weekend, talking with his parents about the importance of studying.
Zhang Guangxing, Zhang Zuhao's father, still remembered when Gao Ziren first visited his home. Because of Gao's insistence, the parents paid more attention to the child's studies.
Gao Ziren said that because he walked slowly, it was too late for him to visit students' homes after school, and therefore, he visited them on the weekends.
Now, many children follow their parents to live and study in cities, while some become left-behind children who live in rural areas and lack family care. Gao said it was important to be patient with left-behind children and pay more attention to their mental health.
Gao Xinyue, a second grade student who lives with her grandparents because her parents work outside the rural area, was reticent and very timid when she first came to the school, performing poorly in her studies.
On a rainy day, Gao Ziren accompanied the girl home and comforted her when she was frightened by thunder. Gao has also used his mobile phone to help the girl talk with her parents. Gradually, her performance improved.
"I have taught many students since being a teacher for so many years. Some students would like to visit during the holidays, and it feels good that someone remembers you," Gao Ziren said.
"When rural children lack family education, schools and teachers need to do more in psychological education," said Li Wu, a principal of Meiling Central School. He said rural areas need more teachers like Gao Ziren.