Ng U-Lynn, an Art teacher in St Gabriel’s Secondary School, shares a day with us.
A book with a prayer for every day of the year (“The Power Of A Praying Woman”, by Stormie O’Martian) stands prominently on U-Lynn’s desk, in the staffroom of St Gabriel’s Secondary School.
Prayer, in many forms (this prayer calendar and partaking in the living rosary – a prayer group made up of 15 members- to which she belongs, after suggestion by one of her Catholic colleagues), is a permanent companion for U-Lynn. “What gives me strength is Faith, through constant prayer. When you pray you keep yourself close to God, you will hear his voice and he will give you strength to pull through tough days… what I love about this school is that every morning we have ‘morning sharings’ by staff and students during assembly, which gives me a sense of peace and calm to start the day with. (We take a little verse from the Gospel and we expand on it; different teachers and students are scheduled to talk about it, on a roster, while the principal always shares on Tuesday). It’s just a five minutes’ sharing but I think it’s important because we start the day with the Word of God. I know this calms the students: they understand it is a sacred time and they keep very quiet, even if they are from a different religious background.”
U-Lynn’s faith and prayer life are not the only source of her strength and good cheer: on many occasions during her interview, U-Lynn mentioned the support of her colleagues. As Bro John Kallarackal mentioned in his keynote speech at the recent Montfortian Education Symposium, the quality of the relationships between members of staff is very important in a school. U-Lynn finds that her colleagues, like “human angels” are always there to support her when she needs it. “My family is also my source of comfort and joy and I thank God every day for my family and friends”.
“There are many challenging times in teaching because we are dealing with teenagers. You have 40 students in a class with different characteristics and needs” says U-Lynn. “You need a ‘bag of tricks’ to tackle different situations: when a child is distracted, disrespectful or constantly wanting your attention. You must always show that you are in control, even when you feel that a storm is brewing inside of you. You must rise above your emotions towards the things that happen around you and ride on the Lord’s strength. On rough days, my colleagues and family are always there to support me, to give me a pat on the shoulder and provide words of comfort. Your friends in school are like your family: with them, you can pull through anything.”
“We, teachers, are under a lot of pressure: we teach many classes, each class has forty students, we have to mark, we have meetings, sometimes workshops, extra classes, we have to supervise CCAs… the tasks that go on everyday can overwhelm a person and it’s a struggle that every teacher goes through and so we understand each other. But when you have great colleagues, it is a comforting joy that’s indescribable and reassuring. Most importantly, when you have God in your life: St. Paul says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”(Phil 4:13)- I keep this verse very close to my heart. Only God can keep our spirits unwavering and at peace amidst the storm. As human beings, I know my limitations and there are days when I am swamped with work and tempted to skip prayer. But I tell myself, say short prayers like ‘thank you Lord for a beautiful day’ or ‘I love you Jesus’ or ‘Help me Jesus’, even just a short prayer to keep me close to God. I also try to make use of the chapel in the school, a place of peace and solitude where staff and pupils can go to pray, undisturbed”.
U-Lynn has taught Art for almost 15 years and there was a time when she was teaching in a co-ed school: “I remember most vividly this particular student of mine who was in a dire situation: she was the only child and the sole breadwinner of her family. Her dad had left them, while her mum was sick and unable to work. This girl was studying for her GCE O-level Examination and also working in MacDonald’s five afternoons per week to tide her family over. She would study at night, under the light of a candle because they could no longer pay for electricity. She faced many obstacles in life but despite the odds coming at her, she persevered and told me that she would work very hard to get a distinction for Art and she did. She is now an Art teacher and words cannot express the amount of pride I feel towards her and I always tell her story to my students to inspire them. Sometimes students inspire teachers, not just the other way round!”
U-Lynn also teaches catechism to Secondary 1 students and is a member of the school’s Catholic Teachers’ Committee: “Having Catholic colleagues in school is great: there’s an unspoken bond between us.” Asked if there is any resentment among the Catholic Teachers’ Committee about the extra work (catechism, liturgy preparation) that they do in the school, she replies: “Not that I know of” she replies. “We meet in the Catholic Teachers’ Committee to share the jobs and we volunteer for what we like to do. Some people volunteer for more than one job!”
“Overall, there are more good days than bad days:” says U-Lynn with a smile, “the best reward is when your students do their best in your subject. And on Teachers’ Day I love receiving little letters and cards from the students, they are the best gift as cards and letters affirm you and remind you of why you’re in this profession in the first place.”
Read Blessed Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists”, dedicated “To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world”.