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An Evening With Phua Seng Tiong

2 March 2010 One Comment

Handpicked to serve; that’s  what we should think of ourselves as teachers.

Assuming a life span is 70 years, which day of the week would you be in? Time is kronos and also kairos. If you live as a Christian think of it as 3 days. Yesterday Jesus died, today He rose again and tomorrow He’s coming again. Live as if Christ died yesterday. Colossians 4:5 … use every kairos moment. Ephesians 5:16… make the most of time because the days are evil. While time is kronos, we need to make the kairos moment.

In the teaching line, the kairos moments are always there for us. The teaching profession is the most noble profession. If you are sick, you see the doctor. If you have a problem you see a lawyer. If you come to church on Sunday, then you see the Pastor. But the contact hours are limited. There is no profession like that of a teacher. A teacher spends at least 5 days at school. Generally a teacher teaches 25 periods of 40 minutes or so. He enters about 4 classes in a week. Week after week, you are seeing the same people. You spend time with them. My question is: You either impact them or you’ve lost the kairos. What kind of Christian teacher we are is important.

3 kinds of teacher : The one you will never forget- either they are so lazy, fierce or ‘terror’ that you have names for them. You remember even their moles, warts. Another one is the pakar teacher. They make an impression because they are such amazing teachers. Most of us would have not much recollection of our teachers. Many teachers walk in and out of our lives unnoticed. I want to be known as a teacher who is excellent that have impacted the lives of my students.

The best part being a Christian teacher is we can ask specifically for God to transform us; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. If you’re a teacher, God wants to transform us into a better and excellent teacher. That’s what it means to be transformed. We should ask ourselves how we’ve progressed in being a teacher at the end of each year. Students are malleable. It’s how we bend them with our character.

I remember my first teaching experience. I was given the worst class and had to teach them 4 subjects – Geography, English, History and Commerce. I was a fit ex-rugby state player. God taught me to use my kairos moments, through sports and games. Then, I would pray for every student. I would look through the register each morning and pray for each one of them. The more I prayed for them, the more I remember them and their problems.

Once I slapped (don’t do that) a boy who was a known trouble-maker. His friends told me that for that particular incident he was innocent. I knew I had to ask him to forgive me. To know is one thing but to do it is another. It was difficult for me to say sorry to him. I was after all the teacher. So I anguished over it. And there I was in the class, with difficulty I called him out and I apologized in the presence of his classmates. The boy broke down. There was pin-drop silence in the class. I did not how to carry on with my lesson. Since that day, I won so much mileage with my students. The act glorified God.

As I was about to leave 1 ½ year later, all the boys in that class met me. One of them said they were sad I was leaving. These are your tough and hardened boys. They bought me a Sheaffer’s pen with my name engraved. It cost them a small fortune. They then asked me to stand by the door and everyone of them weeped as they filed past. If only I could have recorded that moment. I had difficulty keeping my own emotion in check. God taught me that day that every student is important and special to Him.

Ecclesiastes 3:11; He has made everything beautiful in His time. I pray that as you look at your students, you will remember this verse. Do you see, as a Christian teacher your student this way? For me I learned it the hard way. In my journey as a teacher I learned from the Lord what He did and to see that in His time He will make all things beautiful.

Understand that everyone has his weaknesses. Understanding them is hard but it brings its own reward.

I remember a boy who would almost every week be sent to me. I would ask him how to punish him. He would tell me to cane him. The same scene would be repeated. He just did not fit into the system. Finally I told him I did not know what to do with him. But as I said it, I remember God will make all things beautiful. So I asked him to tell me one good thing he thought about himself. He looked at me and said he was very ‘kam cheng’ with me. I wanted to laugh out loud cos he sounded so funny. He left school. But before he left, I told him to do the school proud. 2 years later, he heard that I was to be transferred to SMK Jinjang. He came to the school. I asked him why he came. He said he came to see me. He told me not to accept the transfer. I asked him why. He told me that he remembered what I told him and he had turned good. He had become a tile taukeh. He even gave me a treat. God made all things beautiful.

Ephesians 4:1; Paul urged us to live worthily of the calling with which we have been called… Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel. He saw that he’s being in the prison is a calling. We are teachers of the Lord. We have received a calling to teach and we will walk worthy of the calling received. That’s what teaching is all about. We are called into a particular situation to activate and realize a calling. God has given us an avenue to activate this particular calling. That vocation is a channel for us to activate our calling. We are Christians first and teachers second. As we understand our calling, we activate our calling as teachers. So, I a teacher of the Lord wants to walk worthy of this calling that I receive.

1 Thessalonians 4:1; Paul was encouraging the Thessalonians to live to please God more and more. Transfer this into our teaching profession. Does every lesson we teach please God? – that the students understand what we are teaching. As a Principal, I must show by example, that I am an excellent teacher.

I remember walking around the first few weeks around the school. I noticed that there was this buzzing sound. I asked the teacher accompanying me. He said he didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. As I walked around, I noticed that almost every class was making noise. That was my first introduction. The second thing I noticed was a terrible smell. Again I asked the teacher and he didn’t smell anything. We were located near the city rubbish dump. Every time it rained, and when it rained, the smell was terrible. Yet, everyone there seemed to be oblivious to the noise as well as the smell.

Students are like wet cement. Anything that drops on it will leave a mark. So I walked around again and noticed that some classes had no teachers. I asked the students where the teacher was. I was told that their teacher was a BM teacher. I was surprised as that particular period was History. It was then the student told me BM stood for ‘buang masa’. The teacher buang their masa. How can we live with such a call? If we don’t impress or impact them, then we have failed.

Morale in the teaching profession is low. We should take pride in our profession. We should not feel small because we are teachers. If we feel small, how can we walk our calling? If you think you are small, try spending a night in closed room with a mosquito. Switch off the light, you hear the buzzing. Switch on and you cannot find it. It continues to bug you. We should be like the mosquito.

Zechariah 4:10; For who dares make light of small beginnings? As we begin to understand what God is calling us, we will realize that God is there to help us seize the moment. If we see this, the calling that we’ve received become a partnership, where God is my partner to help me turn a school around. I prayed to God regarding the buzzing noise. Jeremiah 33:3; God showed wonderful things. There were many insurmountable situations. Where should I start – noise, smell or foul language? The school was dirty. The toilets were so terrible that the students would wait to go home. I called up all the teachers and told them I wanted to interview them. They were surprised. No Principal had done that. I asked too for a photo of each of them. I asked them this ice-breaker. “If you were the Principal for a day, what is one thing you would do?” I got so many ideas and acted on them. And suddenly within a week, the dogs disappeared and the school became clean. Dogs used to come into the compound and defecated everywhere. The workers were soon working hard to keep the school clean. Even the foul language used were reduced. No longer would one hear foul languages being hurled from one block to the other.

My first assembly was the afternoon assembly. Everything was chaotic. And there was this lady teacher calling out timidly “Senyap, Senyap”. I took the mike and shouted for them to keep quiet. The teachers thought I was just being a new broom. I told the students to keep quiet along the corridors while I had a meeting with the teachers. The school was silent. The next morning, the noise level was down very much.

Then one day, a teacher told me that the other teachers could hear him four doors away. It had been so long that the teacher had forgotten to control her voice. They had been so used to shouting above the noise. The noise level had now gone done and they forgot to tone down their voices. Jinjang is the biggest new village in Malaysia. You find all kinds vices there. Every street was controlled by one group of gangster. Before I reported for work, I went around with a group and we prayed for the village. So, if we work with God, He promises us He will show us mighty things.

After the first year, we started Form 6. By the 3rd year, 32 out of 36 students got places in the local university. These are kids who have no means for tertiary education other than local universities. Later, a girl got straight A(s). She secured a scholarship and went off for her studies. 4 years later, I received a long distant call from the same girl and said she was in the Imperial College. She had topped her engineering course. She also said that she had come to accept Jesus. God had made all things beautiful in His time.

One Comment »

  • Karyn said:

    I went ‘aiyaks’! Wish I could be in Alor Setar for this session with Phua Seng Tiong. Reading this write-up is not a bad ‘second best’ option.

    This makes me almost want to sign up for the nearest teachers’ training college! The potential to leave a good, deep and lasting legacy is sky high…..side by side with the potential to leave nothing behind except bad memories…

    Reading this jogged my own memories of my teachers…. There were many ‘BM’ teachers, some ‘mean’ teachers…. (and btw, my classmates and I still recall the ‘names’ we called them, incidences when they were mean and unjust or simply unproductive)
    There are also teachers who are remembered in a warm glow. The teacher who took notice of my proficiency in English and bought suitable books for my prize, the teacher who did not scold blindly for not doing better but was genuinely concerned for my lack of ‘push’ in my studies and gently ‘encouraged’ by saying she knows I can do better….
    The teacher who had a hidden streak of humour and ‘April Fooled’ us back when we did it to her….

    With the passage of years….maybe among those ‘BM’ teachers were ones who started teaching with passion and a heart for nurturing students…but over the years… the school bureaucracy and slow ‘results’ among the students…

    I think……how can I..(we?) encourage young teachers as they start their teaching careers….to go the extra mile for the students…for Christ.

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