Happy teachers? Let it be today!

Salt&Light honours all educators for their dedication and service. Happy Teachers' Day!

Emilyn Tan // September 11, 2023, 3:15 pm


Teaching is not for the faint-hearted, so be thankful for teachers! Photo by Element5 Digital on

There was a year when I was invited to co-lead a seven-session character development programme in one of my kids’ schools.

The brief was simple: Help inculcate values to a classroom of Secondary 2 students – all, presumably, stalwarts of their Christian mission school.

“Why not?” I thought.

Oops, too fast.

I should have heeded the words of that children’s song: Be careful, little mind, what you think.

Lesson prep 

Well, apparently, no great bandwidth was needed – the curriculum was laid out, the teaching aids prepared.

The encouragement was: Just be present. Get involved. Be engaged. What could go wrong with laying groundwork like integrity and respect for others? You’re a parent, and do this at home all the time!

I signed up.

What could go wrong with laying groundwork like integrity and respect for others?

The lessons were an hour each. Before and after there was onsite prayer, as well as briefings and debriefings.

Offsite, it was assumed you would do OTOT (“own time, own target”) homework across the wide spectrum that stretched from fasting to feasting.

Previous years’ parent-volunteers hinted at intense prayers for the troublemakers, but also that packages of sweets would be real and present gratification for the troopers.

Like nothing else, these treats would entice even teenagers to answer quiz questions, participate in group discussions, show sportsmanship during games and generally behave decently.

You’d get to indulge in those snack-packs too.

Like … duh. But of course. Isn’t this what school teachers do all the time?

Be careful little tongue what you say!

Reality bites

The sessions were slated for the last period of school on Fridays, for seven weeks in a row.

I learnt: I’m no school teacher and never will be one.

Classroom management is not just a skill; it’s a talent, a commitment, an anointing, takes mammoth courage – the list goes on. Gummy bears, though touted as a sure-win formula, aren’t always the answer to everything that can go wrong.

Among the other power pointers:

1. Be careful little eyes what you see

Personalities aside, students in general, at age 14, are not all watching that moral-of-the-story type movie clip you’re showing … let alone any other teaching video, I’d venture to say.

They’re bored. A good number show it by taking off their shoes, then their socks, and putting on their socks, then their shoes – again and again. Repeatedly. As if palindromes were the only important concept in real life.

Like how to put on socks and shoes, character formation is a series of hands-on, life-on-life lessons.

I recognised: Too much formal learning can be mind-boggling. Back to basics is the key.

Like putting on socks and shoes, character formation is a series of hands-on, life-on-life lessons, except it never ends.

The video clips may be like Post-Its on their consciousness for the moment, but your eyes picking out their restlessness could make a difference for eternity, if doing so will inform your prayers.

You’ll never know how far those under-the-breath groans will go.

By grace through faith, one day you might find yourself saying: “The choice you make to trust God for your salvation (and mine, before the hour is up please) is the best decision you’ll ever make in your life.”

2. Be careful little ears what you hear

Play is always a game-changer. Some healthy team-based competition gets the adrenalin going and the laughter flowing because, no matter the age, students stuck in a classroom just wanna have fun.

Listen beyond the self-deprecating bravado, and you might hear a real burst of joy, or some toxic bitterness long bottled-up and about to explode.

I realised: That paper ball someone is flinging from the back of the classroom when he thinks you’re not looking? It contains a message for another person looking on from a distance.

Catch it, and you might just be that person he needs to hear what his heart is really laughing or crying about. Brace yourself.

3. Be careful little hands what you do

During my “teaching stint”, I found myself marveling at how well Dr Seuss knew kids when he came up with the line that goes: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the THINKS you can think up if only you try!”

Unthinkable! It’s marvellous how well Dr Seuss knew kids! Screengrab of “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think” by Dr Seuss from

Kids can absolutely be full of nonsense.

Let it be said, then, that teaching is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It is possible for a form teacher to show palpable relief when she hands her class of 40 rambunctious teenagers over.

On a Friday afternoon, she, too, is longing to go home.

I’m putting my hands together in thanksgiving to God Almighty for all the teachers He’s appointed in my kids’ lives.

Beyond fulfilling the academic syllabus, addressing all the above issues – and more – is what she and her colleagues are expected to do every day, all the time.

So, this Teachers’ Day, in remembrance of my instructive season in front of a classroom, I’m putting my hands together in thanksgiving to God Almighty for all the teachers He’s appointed in my kids’ lives.

I understood then, as now: We’re all human. Made in the image of God. Through Him, for Him. (Colossians 1:16)

Good or bad, they’ve each served a purpose He’s allowed.

So, mindful that the rest of the song goes: For the Father above is looking down in love …

I’ll be careful to say, and pray: Happy Teachers’ Day! Today and every day. Thank God for you!


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About the author

Emilyn Tan

After years of spending morning, noon and night in newsrooms, Emilyn gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.