What I learnt as a young teacher: The tender-hearted discipline master who made a difference
Pastor Low Kok Guan // September 3, 2020, 11:38 am
Pastor Low Kok Guan graduated from computer engineering, but made a switch to teaching after 7 years in the IT sector. In the 10 years that he taught in primary school, he had the privilege to serve in multiple roles as Year Head, Head of Department for Student Management and Discipline Master. In 2019, he left the teaching profession to become a full-time pastor at Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church.
Looking back, there are certainly things I wish I knew about teaching before I joined.
After a while I realised that teaching is a very demanding job. I’d never worked so hard prior to teaching! Because the workload is so heavy, it’s easy to forget why I’m a teacher.
For example, let’s say a colleague or student is unwell. We’d probably send our regards and tell them to please take care. And then they don’t hear from us for the next few days or even months till they’re back in school.
When they’re finally back, we may say welcome back. And then – na, work or homework again.
What isn’t normal may be to drop by their house or give them a call, talk to them, and hear about their disruptions, fears and concerns. And when they’re back, to help them settle in well.
Of course, we can’t be there all the time or for everyone. But we can still check in on them and do so sincerely.
It helps when we’re already praying for them regularly. Every time we pray for that person, we can always check in on them.
MAKE TIME TO CARE IN THE STAFF ROOM
What does it mean to be a Christian in the staff room? Besides making ourselves known as a Christian by name, it’s an opportunity to live out Christian values in the staff room.
Create an environment for people to share, be heard and experience God’s love. Be sincere. People will surely know whether we love them or not after a while.
Look out for people. Ask them how they are – make time to listen to them.
Some days before I went back home, I’d just go up to the staff room and walk one round and see who else would still be there – usually the teachers would be busy with marking or catching up with work.
For those who could make time, they might share with me about their life. Some of them were going through very hard times but had been keeping quiet.
I know it’s difficult because teachers are busy. We’ve got marking to do, assignments to complete, courses to take, children to discipline – so many things.
But if we just pause, slow down for a while and talk to people, we’ll really be surprised how God can use us to love and care for someone in need.
When I did so, I learnt about the challenges that teachers around me were facing.
For example, people might say: “See, this teacher is late again. However, they might have a valid reason, such as staying very far away, or having to settle their children or elderly parents, which hasn’t been easy!
“We’ve worked together as colleagues for so many years and yet we just judged with our words instead of offering our care and help.”
Another teacher might have just lost someone they loved, but we’re guilty in casting some doubt over their leave.
When I looked at some of these teachers’ expressions, I could guess that something was wrong.
That’s something I’ve learnt – to just drop what I’m doing and make time to talk to people. Not all the time, but at least I’d try.
Making time to listen enables us to care and show concern. If we’re wrong, at least the teacher knows that someone bothers to ask!
I don’t know where the time came from, but in loving others, I realised that’s why I was there as a teacher in the first place.
GIVE GRACE IN THE CLASSROOM
Teaching is profoundly influential.
As a teacher you have 30-40 students under your care, every day. And for me, as a discipline master, sometimes I had 1,000 children in front of me. I could talk to them, teach them values, encourage them. It was a privilege and honour.
The impact we have as a teacher is so great that I cannot even begin to explain it. But the truth is that we can leave both a positive and negative impact if we’re not careful.
We can’t give our piece of mind to the children and then leave them in pieces.
I have learnt the importance to pray for my students by name, especially the challenging ones! When you see God turn their lives around… wow.
Prayer might be the best way to love them because you realise that the Lord honours the prayer of a teacher who loves and prays for the children.
Now, I didn’t just take the “better progress” classes. I would also take “weaker” classes.
To be fair, both need a lot of love and guidance. But what I’m saying is that the “weaker ones” may need a lot, a lot, a lot more love and affirmation.
Before I left, I sat down with a boy. I said: “If there’s something Mr Low can do for you or get for you before I go, what would you like?”
He pulled out a torn and tattered wallet and asked if he could have a new one. He had been using the same wallet since kindergarten because of his family’s financial situation.
Straightaway, we went to the bookshop where I got him to pick out a wallet he liked – it was one with an Avengers logo. It was only $4 or $5, but I believe it was a priceless memory for the both of us.
And there was another boy who was always scolded for wearing a dirty T-shirt. It was so worn out that even the logo had fallen off.
So for Children’s Day, I bought him a school T-shirt. The day he wore that new T-shirt to school, I could see that he was very happy. Indeed, every child deserves dignity.
As a discipline master, I’ve come across children who are brought to me to be corrected. But some of them have been misunderstood.
One kid didn’t bring a book. But I found out that he didn’t have that book because he didn’t have money to buy one – his parents were no longer with him. He couldn’t borrow from the library either because he still owed them money.
What he needed was more than a correction but a book and some help on what to do next. These are things that you notice when you dig deeper.
You’ll be surprised. Sometimes the children will come to you and want to say certain things. Make time for them and sit down. They may start crying – that’s when we can reach out to them.
Having said all this, I don’t think that I’m the best teacher. There are many times I fail. It’s not easy, especially as a teacher or discipline master when I lose my temper or say the wrong things.
One of the last messages I shared with some people was that we can’t give our piece of mind to the children and then leave them in pieces. It will leave a scar, and they will remember it for life.
But as Christians who have received the grace of God, we should also give grace.
How did I survive for 10 years? Keep your time with Lord intact.
No matter how early or late, that time with the Lord always reminded me of why I was a teacher. That time with Him would give me strength and hope.
Somehow at the end of the day whenever I left school, there would still be this joy and this energy. Not all the time, but most of the time. And people could sense when I had been with the Lord that day!
So this Teachers’ Day, take care of yourselves.
Because then you’ll have the capacity to love the children, not only teach them. What they need is not just knowledge and skills. It’s love.
That’s what we can offer – loving them. And out of that love, we teach.
Thanks for being a teacher. Happy Teachers’ Day!
THINK + TALK
- Do people know that you’re a Christian?
- How can you be more intentional about sharing God’s love with those around you?
- How are you using your influence to impact others?
- Are you jealously guarding the time spent with the Lord amid your busy schedule?