Reflection: A Teacher's Prayer

Stanley Goh, SJ with his Jesuit colleagues at St. Joseph's Private School, Kuching. From left to right: Fr. Francis Lim, SJ, Fr. Alvin Ng, SJ and Stanley (seated far left).

The following is a reflection written by Stanley Goh, SJ who has just completed his regency assignment, teaching at St. Joseph's Private School in Kuching, Sarawak. Stanley will soon begin his theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome.

[Adapted from a sharing given on 15 May 2016 during mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching]

I’ve had a wonderful two years here and though my primary role here has been to teach, I’ve also learned to live and to love as a Jesuit in Kuching. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I was welcomed and accepted to this community here and I continue to be grateful for that ease with which I was able to start my ministry here as an educator. I felt these past two years have been a time of immense growth, not just as a religious in formation but also as an educator. It might surprise some to know that the strongest and clearest call from God that I felt was to teach and that remains a key experience of how God communicates with me and these past years have helped to ground that call in reality. It reminds me that I’m not just at home being a Jesuit but that being a teacher and an educator remains at the very core of my being.

 The poet W. B. Yeats once wrote that ‘Education is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a bucket.’ We remember that education is like a flame that casts out the darkness of ignorance and it’s a flame that we teachers have to light in the hearts of our students. We know that despite the need to finish teaching particular chapters and getting our students to know things, our main role as teachers is to ignite the love of learning in our students. We don’t fill our students up with knowledge but give them the willingness and ability to find things out on their own. More than this, we who have been called as teachers know that good teaching comes from the heart.

 As we do more of this, we realise that being a teacher is not just a job or an occupation where we merely do things of fulfil a particular role – that’s just us trying to fill the buckets, both in our lives and in the lives of our students. We know that being called to education means that we’re called to share our lives with others, to educate, the root word of educate means ‘to draw out’) and to draw forth the potential from all whom we meet. Being a teacher, especially a Christian one, is to be a person whose heart is aflame with the love of Christ that makes us truly desire to share this love with our students. In short, we seek to be Christ to our students.

 That’s a tall order and we know it. And what I’ve realised is that the more we seek to love and be Christ to our students, the more we learn about our own weaknesses. I realise that on most days, I learn more than I’m able to teach. I learn how I’m able to teach even despite my own weaknesses and that these same weaknesses make me all the more human. I can be grumpy, have off-days in class where nothing seems to go right. I know I can be unfair and judgemental sometimes too. I’ve learned to accept my weaknesses and to trust in the Lord’s grace to straighten out whatever I can’t. When I’m able to accept that I can’t do everything, God comes in to do the rest. My students, especially when they’re difficult or unmotivated, have also taught me the grace of prayer. They often ask what I as a religious and a teacher pray for and my answer is always the same – patience.

 As we pray and seek to light fires, we need to continue to reflect not just about what we’re doing but how we’re doing it. After all, we know that teaching is not just about filling students with knowledge or passing examinations. St Paul in the 1st letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13: 1-3) said that if we do many things but have no love, we are nothing. Similarly, if I teach and fill the students with all the knowledge in the world but have no love, I’ve not lived my life well as a teacher. To love as a teacher is to find God in the faces, actions and thoughts of our students. To love as a teacher is to love the difficult students more by being to them what the Lord has been to us. To love as a teacher is to truly see the infinite potential in all our students and to struggle with them to try to work towards that. To love as a teacher is to love as we have been loved. It’s not easy and but we know that it’s possible because we’ve been called and we know that the Lord will aid us in this journey.

 Teaching does truly come from the heart. It’s born out of love and ends in love. That’s what I’ve learned in a real way as a teacher here and that’s what realised by truly loving as a teacher. I leave Kuching with a heavy heart not only because I’ll miss all the wonderful people here but because I’ve loved and been loved as a teacher and there will always be a part of my heart that will remain here. This sadness makes me feel more alive because I know that what I’ve been through here truly means a great deal. And so I end with that question again – why do we teach? We teach because we can, because we’re called to and because we want and desire to love as we have been loved.

More than just teaching, the time in Kuching, with the Bellarmine house community, was a time of growth for me as a Jesuit. By living and working in a vibrant apostolic community, I was able to witness and feel Jesuit life first hand and this allowed me to better appreciate my own vocation both as a teacher and as a religious. The community was of course supportive and encouraging but that was not what kept me going. It was the zeal and enthusiasm with which everyone went about in their own ministries that helped me to want to channel my own efforts and energies into education and the helping of souls.

Regency also allowed me a closer look at myself and how I can be a hindrance to my own efforts to help others in ministry. I learned the value of pacing and saying ‘No’ at times to requests and other tasks that would detract from my primary role as a teacher in the school. I learned the value of rest and self-care to allow myself to be a more effective helper of others. I appreciated the relative freedom during the weekends as I as a scholastic did not have the sacramental responsibilities of the priests – and learned to truly treasure the weekend rest periods that gave me time to recuperate. Most of all, I learned how the Lord was leading me through the difficulties and joys of this time and how I was constantly invited to work with Him in all that I was led to. The time of regency was, for me, a time of grace that allowed me to deepen my own vocation not just as a Jesuit but as an educator as well.

 I end with a short prayer written in the last few weeks of school, a prayer that I think was in the heart throughout my time in Kuching and just managed to come to the surface then. It reminds me that it’s grace that allows us to teach and it’s that same grace that we seek, both for ourselves as well as for the young people whom we serve. 

A Teacher’s Prayer

Lord, bless us who are called to teach,

that we can to young minds reach,

to give the spark that brings your love,

that we may cling to you above.