Embracing God’s Graces in the Teaching Vocation By Marie Therese Pang

Marie Therese Pang reflects on how our teaching profession is a life-giving one, and how God’s unconditional love is an invitation and a model to us, to love and value our students in the same way.

The greatest joy of teaching comes from the personal connections formed with my students. It gives me great fulfilment to guide them, witness their growth and build relationships with them, whether it is during a short chat in the canteen, responding to their reflective essays or seeing them in their element outside of the classroom. For students going through difficult periods, I find deep meaning in being a supportive presence. These moments of connection humanise the learning experience, creating an environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued.

Teaching can sometimes feel draining because the reality is that we often have to deal with complex individuals in complex circumstances. It is easy to love those who respond to our love – students who greet you warmly, are eager and ready to learn, or who openly share their struggles. But following the Lord’s commandments to love our neighbour requires us to love everyone, including the student who deliberately skipped your lesson or who is openly defiant and rude.

When I had a short teaching stint, there was a group of girls who were constantly inattentive. Irritated, I walked over and asked them to focus. One of them barked “WHAT?” so loudly at me that I felt myself shrink. I avoided her entirely and my resentment towards her grew. Instead of engaging with that group of students, I ignored them during lessons, and even refused to acknowledge them outside of class. I did not realise it then but I was not treating them with the kindness, empathy and care that they deserved. I recall complaining to my mum about these students and she said quietly, “The ones who are hardest to love, need it the most.”

In my frustration, I had forgotten that behaviours communicate a need and instead created a barrier between myself and the students. It is difficult to love people who do not reciprocate our love but Jesus loved us before we knew who He was or sought a relationship with Him. With God’s help, we can love and value our students not just as learners, but as individuals who are all children of God.

As a teacher, I find it easier to distance myself from a student’s behaviour. However, when it comes to parenting my own children, I sometimes struggle to love them as they are. My son can be strong-willed and sensitive and there were many occasions when I wished he would be easier to care for and love. Sometimes when I scroll through social media, I fall into the trap of comparing him to other children who seem better behaved, or are more adept at reading or sports. When that happens, I have to be intentional in taking a step back and acknowledge that my child is an individual, wonderfully and uniquely made.

If I dig a little deeper, my child’s behaviour affects me greatly because I see my child as a reflection of my parenting, and an extension of myself. Jesus called us to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) and to give this unconditional love to others, we need to receive it for ourselves first. Receiving God’s love forces us to confront our inadequacies and weaknesses, and our feelings of unworthiness. God does not say, “I love you if..” or “I love you because..” He loves us simply for who we are.

It is in our students and children’s most difficult moments that they need our love, care and concern the most. As parents and teachers, we want the best for those under our charge and oftentimes feel the need to change them. However, we should let them bloom in their own time and season. We can demonstrate love through our words and actions, and find joy in fostering an environment where every child is valued for who they are. In both teaching and parenting, there are undoubtedly hard days. But there are also days that God will show us grace that defies expectation. It could be a moment of tenderness between your children or a small smile from the student whom you were having trouble with. The same student that I ignored welcomed me with a booming “MS PANG!” when I visited the school a few months after my teaching stint ended. What keeps me on this journey is recognising what a life-giving profession teaching is as we celebrate all our children, share God’s love and uncover the depths of joy that teaching brings.