Australia’s most famous teacher and “Local hero of the Year” chats with TMA about faith and life
By Stephen Cauchi
5 March 2019
Eddie Woo has won many titles, including “Australia’s most famous teacher” and “Local Hero of the Year”, but the one closest to his heart is simply: servant of Jesus.
Currently touring Australia with the Life@Work conference, Mr Woo first came to public notice in 2012, when he started posting videos online for a student who was sick with cancer.
His online Wootube channel, which boasts a range of mathematical teaching material, has over 100,000 subscribers and has attracted more than nine million views worldwide.
The head maths teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney, Mr Woo has also won many awards for his teaching ability and community service, including the Australia’s Local Hero Award at the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards and a place in the top 10 in the Global Teacher Prize.
He also gave the NSW Australia Day address in Sydney in 2018, the first time a teacher has done so.
And yet, as Mr Woo told TMA, the type of public success and recognition that he has experienced should not be the goal for a Christian.
“The character and intent of the way Christians work is very different,” said Mr Woo, 33.
“[Secular people] might work very hard but they’re going to be doing it for their own self-aggrandisement … Christians aim to serve the people around us, not to make a name for ourselves.
“I’m going to be talking [at the conference] about the ways in which we can serve God by means of our day-to-day profession and also how to do that in a way which is not just diligent but also commends God in the way we conduct ourselves.”
For the Christian, making money is not a goal in itself but about believing in a providing God, as described in Matthew 6:33, he said.
“The New Testament says seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will be provided to you,” said Mr Woo.
While it is important to provide for one’s family, many Christians go too far, “chasing money and not prioritising it above service.”
“Christ clearly calls us to radical service and it is one of the primary distinguishing factors between us and the rest of the world.”
The theme of the Life@Work conference, an initiative of the City Bible Forum, is “Distinctive: The power of an attractive life in the workplace”.
Mr Woo said he would be mentioning three key Bible passages in his presentation: Jeremiah 29, Colossians 3:23 and 1 Corinthians 9.
Jeremiah 29 addresses the seeming paradox of God’s people being called to be “set apart and holy” while at the same time being called to be “a part of the culture”.
“Jeremiah warns his people to ignore the false prophets who are telling them to stay outside the city, but instead tells them to do exactly the opposite – to seek the welfare of the city in which they live, even a secular one. In that city’s welfare we find our own,” he said.
“There’s a call for engaging with the culture – not just working hard and remaining separate from it.
“I’m using my work to get on the front foot and interface with the culture rather than being isolationist about it.”
The Colossians passage urged the slaves of the Roman Empire to submit to their masters and work at their jobs “with all your heart, as working for the Lord not for men”.
While modern-day workers were not slaves, “it’s very important that we restore that idea of living a quiet and gentle life,” said Mr Woo. “We’re not here to rebel against the authority placed over us.
“A lot of slaves in Paul’s day might have been thinking well, can we just ignore our earthly masters and Paul’s answer was a very violent no, by no means.”
In the Corinthians passage, the Apostle Paul describes how he could have asked the churches to support him, but instead chose to work.
“1 Corinthians 9 is also very important in the way that Paul views his work,” said Mr Woo. “He’s a tentmaker, so that he can support his ministry through that. He didn’t have to do that.”
Mr Woo used to go to St Paul’s Anglican Church in Carlingford, Sydney, but now attends Castle Hill Baptist Church. However, he said attachment to a denomination was not important to him.
“I’m an evangelical,” he said. “The most important thing about me is that I give the Bible supreme authority.”
As a Christian working in the Government education system – where proselytising of students is banned – Mr Woo has his own challenges in dealing with the secular world.
He likens his situation to that of the prophet Daniel, who was a faithful Jew while serving at a high level in the aggressively pagan Babylonian regime.
“We are called in the same way to work in an environment which might be hostile to what we believe but to conduct ourselves in a way that still maintains integrity,” he said.
The faith of Christian teachers can be displayed in many ways in the classroom, he said.
“When you’re a teacher you cannot help but put your personality and your character and your values on display.
“You’re in the classroom and by every word you say and by every behaviour that you show, you’re showing what you think is important and what you think is true.”
But being a Christian did not mean being soft on misbehaviour. “I’m there to demonstrate to them that their behaviour is important and that it matters. I’ll clearly show them that there’s a right and a wrong way to behave in this situation.
“Human beings have dignity in the classroom, and so I’m really talking about being made in God’s image there, even if I’m not saying that in so many words.”
A Christian attitude was crucial in dealing with struggling students, he said.
Some teachers “look after the students who are doing well, and if you’re not doing very well, you’re a bit of a no-hoper really and you kind of get abandoned”.
“Even if they’re a complete struggler in my class … I believe you’re a person created in God’s image with unique gifts and values that need to be demonstrated in the way that I speak to you as fellow human being, not just a subordinate.”
Mr Woo’s devotion to the ideal of Christian service even extended to his choice of teaching subject. Amazingly, despite arguably being Australia’s best-known maths teacher, his preferred choice of topic was English or history.
He chose maths because of the shortage of maths teachers.
“(Maths) was not an area I was particularly gifted in or passionate about – but I did that from a service point of view because I knew that there was need,” he said.
“I follow someone who didn’t come to be served but to serve. That’s part of who I am. So to me that makes perfect sense even though to the world it doesn’t.”
Outside the classroom, Mr Woo attends Cherrybrook’s Christian student group. “I fairly publicly attend the Christian group that is at the school, so I do that out in the open and if students ask me where I’m going, I’ll tell them where I’m going. So it’s fairly clear that that’s the case,” he said.
“Kids will see me as I go there and we’ll have the windows open and it’s a public space and anyone can come in. People can just look right in and see we’re singing and reading the Bible together. So we’re doing that in full view of the school.”
For details on the Life@Work conference, see www.lifeatwork.org.au/conference.