Pastoral Perspectives

To sir, with love

Facebook has a wonderful way of bringing long lost friends together or connect people with something in common – a hobby, sport, favourite soccer team, to name a few. A few years ago, an ex-student from my secondary school connected with me through Facebook. He said he saw me writing in our secondary school’s Facebook group. This was a group created for all the students of our secondary school, both past and present, to connect and keep in touch as alumni of the school.

The ex-student introduced himself as Patrick and told me that he was my junior in secondary school and he wanted to say hello. We chatted over Facebook and we started sharing about our stories in our time there.

Besides proudly telling Patrick that Pan Ling Ling and I were schoolmates, we started talking about some of the mischievous things we did while in school. I shared how my classmate and I played football along the class corridor when he kicked it too hard that I had to dive like a goalkeeper to save the ball from flying downstairs! I did save the ball but ended up hitting my head on the handrails and getting my head stitched up! I also shared how I was almost expelled for fighting with my classmate over a girl, and how I wrote some nasty things on my test paper to spite my teacher.

Patrick then shared about his own fights and how he whacked someone on the head with a stick in front of a teacher and the other things he did that made him notorious. We both agreed with that we had something in common – that we were both bad boys in secondary school and were on the bad books of our teachers and principal! Now, don’t get me wrong! Looking back, I am not proud of the things I did then.

That led to us sharing about of the teachers who taught us, our school principal then and the discipline mistress whom everyone disliked. The name of our Discipline Mistress was Mrs Steve and we gave her the nick name – 大白沙(Da Bai Sha)or ‘Great White Shark’ because she was a huge sized lady and she won’t hesitate to shout at students and discipline them. Whenever the ‘great white shark’ appeared, all the students will disappear into thin air. Everyone disliked her – including me!

Up till then, Patrick and I shared about how bad and infamous we were. But then, I shared with him that this discipline mistress whom I disliked was also the one who gave me a second chance in my teenage life. I was on the verge of being expelled by my principal, who felt I was a hopeless case and suggested to my dad that I should be sent to the Boy’s Home! I was preparing for the worst when Mrs Steve spoke up for me in the principal’s office. She took me aside after I came out and told me that she was going to make me a school Prefect!

I was like, “What? You want me to be a Prefect when I don’t even tuck in my shirt! When the only subject I passed is English! I was often late to school! I would play soccer at every opportunity before and after school! I gave all my teachers a difficult time in class! And … and… you want me to be a Prefect?”

And she told me that she was making me a Prefect to keep me out of trouble. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry then. That was how I was given a second chance to remain in school – I was made a prefect! That ‘gamble’ my Discipline Mistress made, helped me to stay out of trouble and it also became a turning point in my life.

What Patrick shared next surprised me! He shared that he too was almost expelled till Mrs Steve spoke up for him in front of the principal. She told our principal that she saw a bright spark and potential in Patrick and that he was like a son to her. Patrick was given a second chance and that became a turning point in his life as well. Even though he failed that year, he became one of the top O Level students later on.

In the course of our conversations over Facebook, we found out that we were fellow brothers in Christ! We both realized that we are who we are today because of Mrs Steve who gave us a second chance. Patrick shared that he found out few years later that Mrs Steve was a Christian! We concluded that somehow in God’s perfect plans, He had placed her in our lives for a purpose and reason. We didn’t really see the purpose then but now that we looked back, we were thankful for Mrs Steve who taught us wisdom in life and more importantly, showed us what grace is about when she gave us a second chance.

Patrick then shared that he was now serving God full time in a para-church ministry and how he is thankful for the privilege of serving Him. I replied that for all my disdain for teachers, I married a teacher and was also serving God as a school chaplain in a mission school! We both smiled and agreed that our lives went through a big turnaround – from being problem kids to being saved by the grace of God!

I wonder how many of us remember the teachers who taught us before. They could be your teachers in your school going years or even those who taught you in church – your Sunday School teacher, your youth leader or that someone who took time to journey with you in life.

Do you still keep in touch with some of them? Besides teaching us academic subjects, they often teach us precious lessons in life. Their advice and nagging may not make much sense to us or may fall on deaf ears then. We only realise that they do make sense when we grow older and wiser and that the teachers that God placed in our lives were always there for a special reason.

Teacher’s Day is just round the corner. If you are a student reading this, I encourage you to appreciate your teachers not just on Teachers Day but every day. We should take time to appreciate what they have done and are doing. Listen to their words of wisdom and be thankful to each of them and remember them.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ wrote a letter to his friends reminding them not to forget those teachers who have taught them about God and about life. He also reminded them to respect, appreciate and to love all their teachers.

1 Thessalonians 5:12 (New Life Version)

We ask you, to respect those who work among you. The Lord has placed them over you and they are your teachers. You must think much of them and love them because of their work.

I came across this funny quote years ago which brought a smile to me and yet reminded me of how important teachers are:

“Good teachers are those who are able to inspire young minds without losing their own.”

To all my friends who are teachers and educators who gave your hearts and lives to your students and yet wonder sometimes if your words fell on deaf ears. There will be moments of heartache, discouragement and despair, but don’t give up! Keep your head (don’t lose them) in all situations. Remember that all that you do each day may bring hope to a young life under your care. Teaching is not just another job, it’s a calling where your words and actions may impact and change a young person’s life. 

Proverbs 22:6 says

Train a child how to live the right way.

Then even when he is old, he will still live that way.

I often remind my wife to continue to see herself not only to be just a teacher to her kids in class but to see herself as a friend to them. That in her time as their teacher, to seek opportunities to point them the right way and prayerfully, to the true way that can be found in Jesus.

To all those who are teachers, may you continue to strive and do what you do best – teaching and being a friend to the young lives under your care. And we pray and hope that they will remember the precious lessons you have taught them in life’s journey.

I hope this quote encourages all of you in the work you do.

 “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.”  ~ Jacques Barzun

It’s been 37 years since I left my secondary school. At my ordination service to be a minister a few years ago, I invited two of my secondary school teachers. They both came and were happy and encouraged to see that their ‘problem kid’ had been saved by the grace of God and now used by God to encourage others.

As I think back of my younger days, I look back with much thankfulness to God for all the teachers both in school and in church that were put in my path of life. 

A few years ago, I was listening to my playlist in Spotify when the song, “To sir with love” came on and brought back many memories of my time in secondary school. I remembered my class presenting the song on stage during Teacher’s Day celebrations then.

And when the following lyrics came on, tears started streaming down my face.

“A friend who taught me right from wrong
And weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn
What, what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon
I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart
To sir, with love …”

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us teachers in our lives. Thank you for their patience, strength and perseverance shown to all of us. May we learn to always appreciate them for the things that they have taught us and may we learn to never forget them. Grant to them wisdom, patience and strength always as they influence the lives of the future generations to come. Amen.

To all teachers, have a blessed Teacher’s Day!