“You can perform miracles by touching the hearts of those entrusted to your care.” – [Meditations 180.3]
It is often very easy for us to get lost in our work – especially when we live in a fast-pace, productivity-driven society like Singapore. Amidst the hum-drums of routine work and key performance indicators (cue the dreaded “KPI”), it is often tempting to lose ourselves in our jobs, equate our identities with our professions and forget that we are so much more than what we do. In short, in losing ourselves to work, we lose our self-identities completely. Indeed it is often very tempting to get so caught up with the things we do at work on a daily basis that we forget the very rationale, purpose and objectives of our work as calling. Therefore, it is often necessary to re-focus and re-center our attention to first-principles; it is important to (re)anchor ourselves lest we get blown around in the turbulence of societal expectations and competing voices.
St. John Baptist De La Salle is one such anchor for me. Unsurprisingly, he is also one of my favourite saints. Apart from being a brilliant educator, La Salle was also a man of deep prayer and faith in God. Reflecting on his life and reading his meditations has inspired me to become a better teacher as well. For one, La Salle reiterates the important duty of the teaching vocation – “to be entrusted with the teaching of the young is a great gift and grace of God.” (MTR 9.1 [Med. 201.1]) Notice that he utilises the term “entrusted” which connotes a deep sense of responsibility – responsibility not just to the students but responsibility as a response to God. Indeed, La Salle often reminds me that I do not merely teach History to my students. Rather, I am called to partake in the ongoing pedagogy of life, a continuous formation rooted in and lubricated by love; I do not merely teach History, I teach students – living and breathing beings, loving creations of Almighty God. (Obviously, there are days where my students seem to resemble more of the spawn of personified-evil but still …)
Though it may be cliché to say that teaching is hard work as well as heart work, it is undeniable that teaching demands our whole selves. Teaching requires so much of me that there are (numerous) days in which I just cry out to God – “you gotta help me Lord; I cannot do this by myself” – days where things just become too overwhelming. It is only during further introspection that I realise that my cry to God for help is a visceral reminder that I am limited – that this grace-filled vocation requires daily divine sustenance, that my work needs to be rooted in prayer; ora et labora.
Indeed, teaching humbles me and allows me to recognise that I (desperately) need God on a daily basis, every hour of every day, especially in the most difficult moments. I need God to help me whenever I am interacting with a particularly difficult student; I need God to help me whenever I am dealing with a particularly challenging colleague; I need God to help me whenever things are not going according to (my) plan. Whenever I become too full of myself, whenever I get caught up with the politics of work, whenever I fall to the temptations of careerism, God gently reminds me through this vocation that I am enough, that He is with me, “yes, even till the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).
Similarly, in The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer proposes that teachers need to teach from within; to teach presupposes that we learn to embrace (and indeed love) our very selves. Effective teachers are therefore comfortable in their own skins and correspondingly authentic individuals, very much like St. John Baptist De La Salle. Indeed, both La Salle and Palmer suggest that effective teachers, far from being perfect individuals, are graced with the awareness of their inherent limitations. Paradoxically, then, it is precisely in these limitations that God’s grace shines through most evidently. In spite of whatever limitations and weaknesses that I may have as a teacher, God reminds me that I am called and gifted by Him to partake in this vocation. Through this vocation, God strengthens me from within so that I may freely give, serve and teach from a place of abundance, from a wellspring of love.
La Salle wrote that “your faith should be a shining light for those whom you teach.” (Med 178.1) Indeed, I have had the priviledge of being led by teachers who were shining beacons of their faith – teachers who set both hearts and classrooms on fire with the fiery passion for their subjects as well as for our wellbeings. I am grateful to have been taught by so many authentic and loving individuals, who taught from the depth of their beings, who were intrinsically motivated and who genuniely loved their students. In my current vocation as a teacher, I am also grateful to have learnt so much from my students as well. And so, thank you to all who have performed miracles in my life. Thank you for touching my heart with joy, passion and love. To all teachers, may we remember the immense responsibility that we all have and share; may we continue to touch the hearts of those entrusted to our care and may we be ever grateful and continually humbled to be a part of this miracle-performing vocation.
St. John Baptist De La Salle, patron saint of all teachers, please pray for us. Amen.
© 2017 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok