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Are RE teachers religious?

Discussion in 'Religious Education' started by drgrew, Nov 26, 2011.

  1. I'm on a PGCE RE course and pretty much 27 out of the 30 RE students begin a sentence in University with "I'm not religious right, but....." or "I'm an atheist and...".
    Even recently one student told me that the whole of the RE department where they're on placement is atheist.

    There's also a large portion of the RE PGCE students who "went to a catholic school" but "Wouldn't say I was a catholic".

    You can't make this stuff up! (ha ha!). What is fascinating is that when I have spoken to Science PGCE students, they find it strange that most RE PGCE students have no faith or practise whatsoever and have said that irrespective of their own beliefs, they would prefer to be taught by a teacher who was a practising religious person.

    I appreciate that a phenomenological approach to RE is fine, but I wonder that if such a high percentage of RE teachers do not practice any religion at all then how can they fulfil a criteria that seeks to promote ?spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils?? And furthermore, what is it that they are passionate about? The fact that within Judaism they have 'spinning tops'? (dreidels).

    I'm not saying that faith should be rammed down people's throats in School but If I met a music teacher that couldn't play an instrument and had no interest in playing or engaging with music other than watching X-factor I would struggle to appreciate that they could offer my child anything worthwhile other than some drab facts!

    So please, if you're an RE teacher (or PGCE student) can you reply with a:

    "I'm not religious" or a "I'm a practising......." so I can get an idea if RE really is slanted towards non-religious teachers who are more fascinated by colours, noises and ringlets than they are about the transforming grace that many religious aspire to.

  2. jerseyperson

    jerseyperson New commenter

    On what grounds would you say you know anything about what draws anybody to the subject? Colours, noises and ringlets! Deary me. I'm one of your "I'm not religious, but" teachers but I am fascinated by the beliefs and practices of others and see myself as a very reflective person, someone who shares the same desire to answer life's big questions, but who also just enjoys discussing the questions.

    Your own knowledge of what makes good RE, or RE at all, seems remarkably limited to me. Tell me, when you've explored grace, what else do you plan to discuss? And when a student says to you, "I find it difficult to understand. I don't feel like I have a relationship with God"- are you going to tell them they are losing out, what a shame, etc?
  3. I'm not religious, but I found religion so interesting I spent 3 years of my life and thousands of pounds studying it.
    I'm not religious, but I then decided the spend a further year learning how to be a teacher.
    I'm not religious, but I spend my days talking about religion & showing young people how interesting I think it is.
    I may not be religious (although that definition is open to interpretation) but I understand & respect others points of view & teach my students to do the same.....
  4. WillowFae

    WillowFae New commenter

    When I got married I had a civil ceremony and we wanted to light a unity candle. I was told by the registrar that that wasn't allowed because when you light a candle you are being religious :(
  5. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    In our predominantly secular society we would be in big trouble if the only good RE teachers were people who practise a faith.

    To be fascinated and challenged by the great questions and able to empathise well with many different cultures and traditions is more important than a particular faith stance, in my experience.

    My favourite 'definition' of what is spiritual comes from one of my Teacher's poems -

    My Supreme, my Supreme, my Supreme,

    My true spirituality

    Is the love of Your Breath

    In every heart.

    My Supreme, my Supreme, my Supreme.

    If you put the word 'spirituality' on that poet's library site you get 70 pages. Each one has between 5 and 20 references to look up. He is well qualified to speak on the subject because he is a highly regarded 'spiritual teacher.'

    But you will find many more sites and many more ways of interpreting the word.

    I tend to introduce it to my students as being about their inner lives and the aspect of the world which we can sense is real but is not a physical reality. You can't touch it or see it or cut it up or look at it through a telescope or through a microscope. And yet it is all about the most important aspects of life, about the very essence of who we are and why we are alive.

    Because the spiritual aspect of life is subtle and elusive people use poetry, art, music and symbolism to express their meaning. So then we explore these. We also think about the experiences of wonder and awe - share our own experiences and insights - and generally create a 'buzz' about it and make it come alive.

    I like to set a homework questionnaire which includes, 'What do you understand by spirituality and the word spiritual?' - then we have a big wall display where all the replies are shared. If it's in the corridor then it gathers a lot of passing interest. People stop to see what has been added and discuss the different ideas.

    I don't think you have to be a person of faith to do that. Indeed some of the most 'un-spiritual' and arrogant people I have met (especially if you approach the word from the perspective of the poem I quoted) are exclusivists - whether theists or atheists.They are the kind of people who are not able to empathise with other views and consider their own position the only one which is valid. Narrow mindedness and intolerance are real barriers to genuine spirituality, in my view.

    But there is no one way of defining spirituality. One interesting thread would be to share ideas and favourite sources of insight.
  6. It could be argued that only an atheistcan teach RE and be totally impartial.

    If a teacher follows a particular faith then don't they believe it is the right one? The superior one?
  7. NoseyMatronType

    NoseyMatronType Lead commenter

    That's an interesting point. But there are also types of atheism. Buddhism, Jainism and the ancient Hindu Carvaka school of Hinduism spring immediately to mind. Then, of course, there are the New Atheists to contemplate.

    As far as the OP goes, I studied RS at university because I was endlessly fascinated by religion as a phenomenon. These days, I am equally fascinated by the philosophical element of the subject and would not care in the slightest if RS eventually morphed into Philosophy in the longer term.

    As for 'spirituality', to me that term can be interpreted very broadly to include anything that provides inspiration : art, music poetry, science and an elegantly framed atheistic/sceptical critique of an argument for the existence of God can all do that.

    So love of subject trumps personal faith every time as far as ability to teach the subject is concerned, though for what it's worth I lean towards Zen Buddhism myself.
  8. I really don't understand where the 'personal faith = true faith = only faith' idea comes from, it certainly doesn't connect with me at all. Nor with any of the teachers from different faiths who I've met over the years. Your own beliefs help you to understand the beliefs of others and give you a framework.
  9. grandelf

    grandelf New commenter

    is this an essay question?
  10. [​IMG] Chuckles!!!
  11. Then you've not been looking in the right places ...

  12. durgamata

    durgamata Occasional commenter

    If someone believes that their particular belief system is the only one that is right - and everyone else is mistaken, deluded or doomed, then that makes them EXCLUSIVIST. Some people of faith are exclusivist. Some atheists are exclusivist.

    I believe that any teacher with an exclusivist attitude would not be well-suited to teaching RE.

    It is a bit different in a faith school because the whole ethos supports that branch of religion. In that situation an exclusivist member of that denomination would probably fit in, but even in a faith school, I think that RE should be taught in an open and unprejudiced way.

    I do know one distinguished and excellent RE teacher who is uncompromisingly frank about his own faith position. But his whole attitude is generous towards and interested in other faiths. This man has a deeply spiritual approach to teaching and does indeed 'love the breath of God in every heart.' I think that the students respond to this 'faith in action' and they respond by really Their teaching is just an extension of their life of service to God. I think that the students can learn much from that.

    In my view, any teacher who directly or indirectly criticises any religion or its followers - or who distorts the message it teaches, to fit in with his or her prejudiced view, is not well suited to teaching RE. I have met 'narrow minded and intolerant atheists' as well as 'narrow minded and intolerant theists' over the years. (I heard an atheist RE teacher creating a great activity to explore the resurrection, for example, as a 'court case.' The students had to discuss and debate 'what might have happened to the body of Jesus' and then decide on the most likely cause of its disappearance. Resurrection was not on the list of possibilities.For this kind of atheist there has to be a logical reason. Miracles (such as the resurrection) are dismissed as superstitious nonsense.

    I think it is important for teachers to be clear about their beliefs. That is not indoctrination. They are not pushing their beliefs on anyone, But by being open and frank about their beliefs, they are encouraging the students to be frank about their beliefs too. That is essential if they wish to create an atmosphere of trust and respect - in which any aspect of religion can be discussed in an open and informed way.

    There are mysteries. There are questions which have no provable answers. There are impossible contradictions. But that's part of what makes RE teaching so great and so important. That's life.
  13. shamsh

    shamsh Occasional commenter

    One of the main reasons I chose to teach RE was to encourage teenagers to ask and discuss the philosophical questions that many of them wonder about. All the young children I've known, including my own go through a stage of asking "Why" about everything and it makes me furious that this curiosity is so often conditioned out of them by parents and school. Many parents are very wary of RE as a subject because they believe that it is indoctrination, and it does make me squirm when I observe lessons that verge on that, unless of course it is a faith school and the presumption is that everyone is at least sympathetic to the views of that faith.
    I wonder whether the other PGCE students with you are unsure of what they believe or just reluctant to talk about their beliefs? I found it very helpful to be able to ask questions about Buddhism to the Buddhist in my PGCE class that I couldn't find the answer to in the textbooks.
    I'm asked a lot of questions by students about my beliefs, especially as most of them have not known many people who have a faith and are willing to talk about it, but I then use that to encourage them to think about what they believe and to come to their own conclusions about what they believe, which is why I think I would find it hard to teach in a faith school.
  14. You shouldn't present another faith in a ridiculing or reviling fashion. On the other hand, you mustn't always accept a religious movement at its own self-evaluation. There are such things as religious frauds, or scams, and pupils need to be aware of them. Just because a group calls itself Christian and claims to base its teachings on the Bible doesn't necessarily mean that it's very close to mainstream Christianity in any organisational or theological sense, and it doesn't mean that involvement in its activities might not be socially, financially, even sometimes medically unwise.
    There are also movements which aren't exactly frauds, but are consumer religions. They claim to be promoting ancient wisdom, but in fact they are selling fashionable accessories, together with sensual experiences. There are usually vague claims of "harmony" or "brotherly love", but in fact they are very careful not to make real demands of their adherents.

  15. Im a practising Catholic teaching in a faith school, I can't imagine doing my job if I wasn't religious as a big part of it is services and running Masses and things but obviously this wouldnt be the case in other schools.
    We have one member of the department on supply cover who isn't religious and I know her subject knowledge isn't very specific as she has a little knowledge about each but not enough to teach any in depth and this coupled with the religious aspect make her teaching life a lot harder than mine.
  16. I'm an atheist but I couldn't be more offended by your lofty ignorance.
  17. Ok so I am Muslim but i have to say that most of the PGCE students I have met (who in all fairness aren't necessarily religious) are far more engaged with the religious debates and take the middle path in terms of delivering religious beliefs within the AT1 and AT2 framework and actually do their utmost best to encourage the development of pupils, be it spiritual moral or other. I find that i ought to defend these people because they deliver RE in an unbiased manner and do not attempt to indoctrinate pupils unlike the faith schools. Is that not a good thing? are you not impressed by the number of PGCE's who genuinely care about religion and what learning from it can do for the development of pupils? Surely this is evidence that there is a trend towards AT2 and less bonkers RE being taught at school?
    having said all that I am a practising Muslim but equally i find myself more often than not being inspired by the teachings of Buddhism, ....scrap that.... pretty much every religion and actively engage in multi-faith dialogue so that i can deliver better RE in a society where religion is less prevalent. Regardless of the overwhelming number of non-religious people i also find that Humanism and other non-religious worldviews can be beneficial to answeing the 'big questions' so there is clearly a place for the Athiest or Agnostic PGCE in our society and our schools. They are clearly now the majority and there is nothing worng with that whatsoever.
  18. veni_vidi

    veni_vidi New commenter

    I'm an athiest RE Teacher (well i will be when i get a job!), and i honestly believe i am equally up to the task of teaching RE, as any of my Catholic, COE and Muslim friends. I know from conversations with them they struggle with teaching some aspects of the specifications. They had a good knowledge of their own religion, yes, but no more than me about the others (less so in some cases). I also have the advantage of having a Catholic background, and so used to believe in God, until i was old enough to decide it wasn't for me. Therefore i am best able to teach both sides of the debate.
    A good RE teacher is a good RE teacher, whatever their beliefs or background.
  19. I think perhaps you ought to visit my school - funnilu enough a faith school where we don't indoctrinate and shockingly neither do we teach 'bonkers RE' either. Get your facts right and don't judge all schools on one or two you may have experienced.
  20. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

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