Teaching: The highest form of charity
The following article which I would like to share is written by Education columnist, Pauline S. on the Daily Express newspaper in the land below the wind. This column of her was published on 26th of Sept which happened on my birthday. Could it be God is telling me and to reaffirm me that teaching is the highest form of charity? I hope you enjoy reading this column and get some insights from it. Sit back and reflect:
One of the most moving and truthful words I have ever read were coined by Mother Teresa. She said: “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” How true. How very true. Let me tell you that being kind, honest, helpful and caring is not an easy thing to do. For me, at school, these very traits did make me the recipient of not only some envy-driven comments but also a fair share of advice I could do without.
In one instance, I remember I was with a group of Form Six students who had come to see me in the staffroom. They had wanted to clear up some doubts about a topic I had just taught them in class. Forming a cluster around me, they cast a shadow over the tiny space I occupied. You know how tall Form Six boys can be- they literally tower over you! Anyway, after I had finished my discussion and they had left, a teacher sitting two seats away commented, “I can’t help but notice how you give your help so willingly to these students. Aren’t you exhausted by all the trouble you take on their behalf? Why don’t you offer to give them tuition instead? Just imagine how much money you can make with your experience and talent.”
He didn’t mean anything bad by it. In fact, I knew him well enough to know that he didn’t even mind the fact that when these boys came to see me in the staff-room, they often encroached on his space too. I knew that he made extra money by giving tuition after school. I didn’t resent that at all. In fact, given that his wife too was a teacher too was a teacher in a primary school and that they had four children to bring up; his need to make extra money was not only understandable but commendable. How else, but through giving tuition, can a teacher make money to support his family? I told him pleasantly, “I wish I could be like you but please remember that I live on an oil palm estate far away from town. After school, my husband expects me to be at home and be there for my own family.” It was true. My husband was an oil palm plantation manager. In every estate he was posted to, the company he worked for housed us in colonial bungalows that were usually located off the beaten track. When I got home from school, I stayed home.
Driving out all the way back to town, what more to give tuition, was not a savoury option for me. I could have been driven by money but I wasn’t I simply felt that I could manage with what I made every month. Furthermore, I like having balance in my life and to achieve it, I had learned how to compartmentalise my life-school time for school-related stuff and home time for home-related stuff. When I was at home, I enjoyed spending time with my daughters and having time to write. As far as my social life was concerned, I had a wonderful time accompanying my husband to his engagements in the evenings. Be that as it may, it did not stop another teacher from saying sarcastically, “Why would she want to give tuition? She’s well-off. She doesn’t need the extra money!” The truth is this. There were times, especially in our early years of marriage, that my husband and I were actually strapped for cash. His mother was dependent on him for financial support and we had really little money to call our own. (If money accumulated in our bank account, it was due to our common prudence more than anything else.) But people only choose to see what they wish to see. In the face of all that was often said of me and to me, I stayed firm in my decision to remain true to myself.
My students, for instance, were more cognisant of my character and they knew that if they needed my help, they could depend on me to provide it, either during the time I taught them in class, during recess or during my free periods. I was brought up to believe in hard work. Spiritually speaking, I also believed that teaching well and with sincerity of purpose was part of doing God’s work in Earth. And, to teach well, you cannot pick the time and the place or the person you wish to help.
When I helped a student, I did so for three reasons: 1. Because I was approached for help, 2. Because I felt it was my professional duty to help and 3. Because I could. I was educated, able and knowledgeable. Therefore, I could help. So, help I did. “Teaching,” as St. Francis of Assisi put it once, “is the highest form of charity.” I was once informed that an envious colleague had passed this comment about me behind my back. She had said, “Oh, she is kind because she wants her students to like her. She makes her students come to her in the staffroom so we can all see and know how wonderful she is. Teachers like her are too good to be true. Surely, she has ulterior motives.”
Another was more direct and scathingly told me once, “They are not even your own race and yet, you help them so much! Have you any idea how kiasu these students are? Do you think they will remember what you did for them today? Tomorrow, they will have moved forward and forgotten your help. Do you think they will be grateful?” I used to wonder, “What do such people have against those who care?” Frankly, I could have chosen to be a tad more hard-hearted, less giving and even, unforgiving. But, I made a conscious choice not to do so.
I was approaching fifty when I came across the words written by Mother Teresa. Through them, I felt as if God had spoken to me. If you ask me now, I will honestly tell you that I have forgotten the names and faces of many of the students I taught, helped and guided. I doubt whether they have forgotten me but if they have, I won’t hold it against them. All I know is this. There was a time in their life and in mine that our paths crossed and we meant something to each other. And, when they needed a kind word, an encouraging pat, a clearer explanation or a smile from me, I did not fail them.
To me, as their teacher, that is all that matters. All else, and this includes negative comments, jealousy, selfishness and the misperceptions of others- all these hold no water.