Not One Less:
Teacher Gao of the Shuiquan Primary School has to be away from school for a month to tend to his ailing mother. The mayor of the village finds a substitute teacher, Wei Minzhi, to take over the class for Teacher Gao. Seeing that Wei Minzhi is only 13 years old, Teacher Gao protests to the mayor that such a young girl will not be able to teach students who are her own age or slightly younger. The mayor replies that finding anyone in that rural area who is willing to take the job is no mean feat, and that at the least she can keep an eye on things while Teacher Gao is away.
Teacher Gao’s class had 40 students at the beginning of the school year, but increasing attrition has brought that number down to 28. Teacher Gao admonishes Wei Minzhi that she must not allow even one more student to drop out while he’s gone and promises her an extra 10 yuan in pay if she succeeds.
Wei faithfully calls the roster every day and then sets the students to copying lessons from the blackboard. She is not overly concerned about whether the students actually learn anything as long as they stay put; she ends up spending most of each day sitting guard outside the classroom door.
Ten-year-old student Zhang Huike is a bright but naughty boy who often tries Wei’s patience as she works to keep a semblance of order amongst the children. His family is in serious financial debt, however, and when he fails to appear in class one morning, Wei discovers he has been forced to go to the city to find work.
With Teacher Gao’s words still firmly in her mind but only a vague idea of where the boy might be, Wei Minzhi sets off on her own to the big city to try to find Zhang Huike and bring him back.