Military-captain-turned-teacher Tran Binh Phuc: I am just doing a normal job

Thursday, 2019-03-07 09:44:41
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Military captain Tran Binh Phuc and his students posing for a group photo in front of their class on Hon Chuoi island (Photo:
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NDO – Born in 1972 in Tra Vinh province, military captain in Tran Binh Phuc has had a decade working as a teacher for children in Hon Chuoi island, helping them learn how to read and write and acquire knowledge.

His class on Hon Chuoi, an island 32-kilometre west of the mainland to the of Song Doc town, Tran Van Thoi district in the southernmost province of Ca Mau, now has 23 pupils in different age groups. Phuc has to divide them into small groups graded from 1 to 5 to help them study better.

Hon Chuoi island houses more than 40 households with over 129 people who mainly run their life by fishing.

Phuc was honoured as one of 70 exemplary models standing out in the national patriotic emulation movement in 2018. He also received certificates of merit from the Ministry of Defence and the Ca Mau provincial People’s Committee in recognition of his excellent service for the army as well as significant contributions to socio-economic development the same year.

In an interview granted to Nhan Dan (People) Newspaper Phuong Mai, Phuc revealed the story how a military man turned teacher on Hon Chuoi and his warm sentiment to the children there.

Question: How can you handle a class with such different age groups and grade levels like this?

Captain Tran Binh Phuc: There are three major problems: syllabus, teaching method, and timing. I have to take full advantage all of the three factors during the class in order to provide students with basic learning. Not only working as a teacher, I am also a care-giver, as several children at the class are not old enough for the first grade. They just come there to learn the ABCs.

You said you were not trained to be a teacher, but it seems that you have nailed it so well.

I had to learn a lot of thing to go so far. Students’ curriculums were so difficult that I couldn’t solve maths questions for fifth graders. I had to phone for help from my comrades who are stationed on the mainland. But now I keep myself up with this.

On the first days working as a teacher, I had to learn how to deliver lessons to students. I was preparing my syllabus at night while practicing every part for it.

I manage to finish one or two subjects within a morning for each group of the class. From the fourth grade above, in addition to maths and literature, there are also other subjects such as history and geology; I must try my best to spread knowledge to my students.

During your class, you also tell children about how fish are farmed on the island. Can you talk more about this teaching method?

I don’t want to simply copy all of what’s written in the students’ books onto the blackboard. I think it is better for students to acquire knowledge by making vivid examples of life around them. Many of my students have shown good academic results after they went to the mainland to continue their study, which brings me a great source of happiness.

On your first days working on the island, you once said that you had three wishes for students on Hon Chuoi: a spacious class, increasing appreciation for knowledge from islanders, and a closer connection between students on the island and the mainland. All of your wishes have come true now. Do you have any further wishes?

I hope for more attention from leaders for the island and improving the economic situation among islanders. I also hope that the students will have a qualified teacher rather than a military-man-turned-teacher like me.

On the way to knowledge: Captain-teacher Tran Binh Phuc carrying a student on his back while leading others on the way to class (Photo:

Many of your students have left the island to the mainland. Do you still keep contact?

A total of 22 students of mine have left for mainland, including four 12th graders.

Several of my first students on Hon Chuoi passed the university entrance exam and have stable jobs in Can Tho and Ca Mau. Most recently, one of my students, Duy Tuan, graduated from the Civil Engineering Faculty under Binh Duong University, and earned a job after graduation.

How many ‘military man- teachers’ worked on the island before you came?

Six, maybe 7. I am just their successor, but I am the one having spent the longest time working here.

How did you decide to come and work on Hon Chuoi?

It was voluntary for me to work here. Actually, it was not in my plan from the beginning. It is a long story. I first set foot on the island after the Tropical Storm Linda in 1997. I saw that the islander’s life was so hard, that they struggled from poverty and their children did not receive education.

Two years later in 1999, I was sent to the island for a tour of duty. I came back in 2003 and decided to stay there. I don’t know the reasons why I loved the island so much that I had to submit my applications many times to be accepted to work here.

How did you persuade islanders to let their children join the class?

At first, my class had only four or five students, and I had to spend a whole year to persuade islanders to let their children join the class.

I have a lot of memorable memories with a boy named Dung. He was 8 at that time. He was so naughty and preferred going fishing rather than studying. Now he has moved to Can Tho with his family. Whenever he comes back to the island for Tet (lunar New Year) holiday, he always comes to see me first.

Your story has become viral and inspirational among the public. Many people have brought their attention to you and your class. Do you think that it might put you under pressure?

I did think about this, but I don’t mind about it now. I think what I am doing is normal and there is no pressure under it. People’s attention shows their appreciation and provides a source of power for me to stay firmer and try harder to accomplish my mission.

Thank you so much for your sharing.

Captain-teacher Tran Binh Phuc must divide students into small groups, graded from 1 to 5, to help them study better. (Photo: Phuong Mai)