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A Passionate Educator Who Stops at Nothing for the Next Generation


Just like what many would expect of an English teacher, Mary carries the first impression of politeness and elegance. She always walks around with a radiant smile. Yet what is less known of Mary is her hearing disability – she can only understand what someone said by lip syncing. This difficulty, however, does not stop Mary from exchanging ideas and communicating with students as she enjoys the pleasure of learning and critical thinking.

Prof. Mary’s life story has been an inspiration for all of ZJUI’s members.


Distance is just a number

       In the Spring of 2020, Prof. Mary was offered the position to teach English Rhetoric Writing in ZJUI. Due to the global situation, she had to face the 13-hour time difference to conduct her classes with students.

       Stepping into a new environment, Prof. Mary spends twice her normal time and effort to prepare online learning resources as well as trying to understand some of the online platforms that China students are using. To ensure her students receive top-quality teaching and to match the students’ schedule, Mary usually reaches home at midnight. “My husband and I often make sure each other doesn’t fall asleep on our drive back,” she joked. Despite all the real challenges, Mary never backs down or resort to ‘easier’ alternatives. Instead, she always makes sure she gives her students an energized figure so that they can truly enjoy learning.

       During online classes, Mary always encourages her students to open up their video cameras to maximize virtual communication. “I am used to the way of engaging my students ‘visually’, a collage of lively faces is always better than aliases with black screens,” Mary explains.


Prof.Mary's Course Schedule

Strict is her motto

       Mary insists of being strict in her teaching. In fact, Mary considers “a strict teacher” as the highest compliment students can give to a teacher. In her classes, not only does Mary hold high standards towards her students, she also never allows herself to slack off. As ZJUI emphasizes on students’ feedback throughout the course, Mary also has multiple ‘breakpoints’ in her course for students to provide feedback, have discussions and student conferences. During those feedback sessions, Mary provides her students with detailed feedback as well as external resources to help them improve their writing. By doing so, Mary is hoping to instil the habit of constant reflection and improvising into her students as that is what she believes writing process should be like. Not only that, to make sure her students are making real progress, Mary even has individual progress tracking report for every student.


Assignments List


Reviews and Course Webpage


Abundant Additional Information

The core of ZJUI lies in the beauty of combining Western and Eastern education philosophies. To account for the cultural differences and language barriers, Mary often makes sure that she communicates herself at a suitable tempo to her students. Besides, Prof. Mary occasionally inserts some idioms in her speaking so that her students can more quickly get used to communicating with English.When asked about the differences between students from Western and Eastern cultural background, Mary said she could not really pinpoint characteristics that distinguishes the two. However, Mary did share that she was impressed by the effort ZJUI’s students put in their learning. In her online platform “Ask Professor Mary” where students are free to post questions, Prof. Mary received about five times more the questions she received from her students in UIUC.


“Ask Professor Mary”

Prof. Mary sees each of her student as a gem-to-be as long as they are treated seriously, both by themselves and the educators. She hopes that her students can fully engage themselves into the class: be brave to ask questions, take notes, participate in after class discussions, finish their homework on time and make improvements based on the feedback given. As time progresses, these skills will then become natural and intuitive, and hence the students will excel academically.

A Symbol of Resilience 

       Prof. Mary was diagnosed with serious hearing impairment at the age of ten. In other words, she can only hear intangible sounds if she does not use a hearing aid. Her communication with others from that day onwards rely heavily on non-auditory information like body language and lip syncing. These challenges in life, however, were not enough to bring down Prof. Mary’s passion to live and to explore. She developed reading and writing as her hobbies, enjoyed listening to music, watch movies with the help of subtitles. Not only that, but she also parties with friends and even have many pets under her care!

       “Many among the disabled community live a normal and meaningful life,” Prof. Mary shared. She told us that she is not shy to talk about her disability. Prof. Mary said she is more than willing to tell others directly about the circumstance she is in, rather than trying her best to hide something that she does not feel bad about. By doing so, Prof. Mary hopes she can change the way students see their own downsides and be brave enough to face their weaknesses. It is only after we learn to accept ourselves then we can strive for the better. Despite all the inconvenience her hearing disability has caused her in life, Prof. Mary found her way to deal with it.

       Prof. Mary even shared with her students the story of her son, who also has the same hearing disability as Prof. Mary. But just like how Prof. Mary has overcome it, Prof. Mary’s son inherits the unyielding qualities of his mother. He strived in the face of all the hardships, some of which were worse than what Prof. Mary had faced and completed his bachelor degree in UIUC, and finished his Master Degree in Stanford University. Just like his mother, he also lives his life to its fullest.



Mary is a professor with magical powers,

Everyone who talks to her will lose track of time,

Every student she taught will experience growth,

Every class with her is an enjoyable and challenging learning process.

All in all, Prof. Mary herself lives as an encyclopedia which all of us can learn immensely from. Her resilience, compassion and dedication empower all of those who interacted with her to learn and discover more, and to exchange more ideas for the better understanding of all.

Prof. Mary Hays, Senior Lecturer of English Department of UIUC, Adjunct Professor of ZJUI, Instructor of Rhet 101, Rhet 102

Research Interests: Creative Writing (Poetry, Short Stories, Creative Non-Fiction)

Translator | Lai Shuxian

Article| JIN Xiufang

Photo | Provided by Prof. Mary