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Atheist being sent to Catholic teaching placement... opinions and advice pls.

Discussion in 'Trainee and student teachers' started by Bettalinz, Nov 9, 2010.

  1. I'm currently on a Primary PGCE and have been issued with the details of my next school placement, in a Catholic school. Despite being very atheistic, I do consider myself respectful of other religions and have taught RE in the past with the general theme of "this is what some people believe...". My concerns about this placement are that I would feel very much like a square peg in a round hole, particularly as my understanding of Catholicism is fairly limited and would take more time than I have available to me to bring up to speed. I am worried about causing offence or appearing disrespectful in anyway and my biggest concern is that this may affect my performance in general and is not the best learning environment for me. However, on the other hand I'm worried that raising my concerns with my tutor/training provider/the placement school will cause me to appear unprofessional - which is the very last thing I want to do.
    I've read/heard various accounts of Catholic schools, from the very strict (expecting everyone to pray regularly even in staff meetings) to the more relaxed with the (for want of a better phrase) 'heavy stuff' restricted to assemblies and RE, so am very unsure as to what I can expect. I am aware that the school are used to dealing with student teachers as they are a partner school. Can I ask to not teach RE in this setting? Any advice or opinions gratefully received.
    As a mini-disclaimer, I'm aware that there may be some people offended by my stance, as the old saying goes 'you can't please everyone'... I don't mean to cause any offence, I just want to state my position as clearly as possible so that I may be able to receive some constructive advice. As I said, one of my concerns is how to avoid causing offence/disrespect to the staff and pupils within the school.
     
  2. I'm currently on a Primary PGCE and have been issued with the details of my next school placement, in a Catholic school. Despite being very atheistic, I do consider myself respectful of other religions and have taught RE in the past with the general theme of "this is what some people believe...". My concerns about this placement are that I would feel very much like a square peg in a round hole, particularly as my understanding of Catholicism is fairly limited and would take more time than I have available to me to bring up to speed. I am worried about causing offence or appearing disrespectful in anyway and my biggest concern is that this may affect my performance in general and is not the best learning environment for me. However, on the other hand I'm worried that raising my concerns with my tutor/training provider/the placement school will cause me to appear unprofessional - which is the very last thing I want to do.
    I've read/heard various accounts of Catholic schools, from the very strict (expecting everyone to pray regularly even in staff meetings) to the more relaxed with the (for want of a better phrase) 'heavy stuff' restricted to assemblies and RE, so am very unsure as to what I can expect. I am aware that the school are used to dealing with student teachers as they are a partner school. Can I ask to not teach RE in this setting? Any advice or opinions gratefully received.
    As a mini-disclaimer, I'm aware that there may be some people offended by my stance, as the old saying goes 'you can't please everyone'... I don't mean to cause any offence, I just want to state my position as clearly as possible so that I may be able to receive some constructive advice. As I said, one of my concerns is how to avoid causing offence/disrespect to the staff and pupils within the school.
     
  3. Don't worry. Catholics don't bite. As the school is a partner school I'm sure they are used to and expect non-Catholic student teachers of all guises to come through their doors. If the teaching of RE comes up during your placement, have a word with the Headteacher and explain the situation and your concerns. I think you might be pleasantly surprised. Hope it goes well!
     
  4. It should not cause any trouble in your placement, provided you respect the ethos of the school (one of QTS standards). It's quite in order not to lead class prayers - get a child to do it for you, or if it's KS1, the class teacher or TA. You should attend assemblies, and join in hymns and keep a respectable silence during prayers, but no need to actually reciting. As for RE, unless you have a very strong objection, you should give it a go. Most schools use a Catholic RE scheme of work called 'Here Am I', and you just follow it as closely as possible, and ask your class teacher for any advice and extra materials you may need. There are non-Catholic teachers in most RC schools, so you won't be alone.
     
  5. Rockchick2112

    Rockchick2112 New commenter

    This can be a tricky one. I'm not catholic, but the first thing I was asked while on placement in a catholic school was about my religious beliefs- I feel that the university should have forewarned me about this and informed me about what the school's expectations were likely to be. I felt unable to cross myself during assembly and class prayer times, which made me stand out somewhat. Another thing which made my placement particularly difficult was that my mentor was a staunch catholic herself, and seemed unfriendly towards me during the whole placement- I suspect my lack of catholic faith may have had something to do with her behaviour. Although you're worried about possibly seeming unprofessional, it may be better to seek the advice of your university tutor about the school's expectations before starting the placement, rather than risking it being awkward if you turn up to the school to discover they're actually quite strict. Good luck!
     
  6. I went on my second placement to a catholic High School and I'm openly lesbian and also aethiest. I was worried beforehand but needn't have been. I decided I would keep my sexuality to myself (although I wouldn't have lied) but even that wasn't neccesary and by the end the maths department all knew I was engaged to another women..... I did have to bite my tongue in a couple of assemblies about certain issues a couple of times but in actual fact most of the staff were non-catholic, but happy to teach catholic values. During the day-to-day life of the school it made very little difference that it was a faith school.
    At the end of the placement they asked me to apply for a post there but felt I couldn't although it was a lovely school.
     
  7. I'm also an atheist going to a Christian (2/3 Catholic, 1/3 CofE) school for my second placement (although I'm secondary) so I know how you feel. I think you just need to ask someone from the school what the deal is before you get there so you're prepared. When I met my PST last week, I asked her about it and was relieved to learn that she too is an atheist! [​IMG] She said there's an act of worship in every afternoon registration and some of the tutors make more of a big deal of it than others (apparently a lot of the younger teachers starting there now aren't religious) and they say the Lord's Prayer at every staff meeting, but you don't have to join in if you don't want to. As she said, the staff have chosen to work there, so they can't go against the school in any way, but I didn't choose to do my placement there, so they can't really expect me to do anything I don't feel comfortable with.
     
  8. Thank you all for your advice.The advice to ask someone else to lead prayer is a good idea, as it would feel very inappropriate for me to do. It's not that I have anything against prayer, but it would feel very disrespectful to deliver such an important message as a non-believer.
    I know I can respect the ethos of the school, although my knowledge may present a slight barrier to this that I would hope the school can support me in overcoming. I've done some research on the school since I posted, and they do apparently carry their Catholic teachings throughout the curriculum, and they do teach Here I Am, so I may be able to read up on some of that beforehand. I have a visit from my mentor in a few days at my current placement school, so will try to speak to her about it then. I could email her, but I think I'm less likely to come across in the wrong way face-to-face.
    Thank you again for taking the time to reply. Your advice and experiences are appreciated.
     
  9. I'm also qutie atheistic, but I enjoyed my placement in a Catholic school. The daily prayers and ethos gave the children a safe routine, and as a teacher, they gave me a routine I could rely on. There were times when I was teaching by myself and the children asked if they could do a hail mary. I said of course, and pretended I knew the words when I was just following them. Luckily the children were young and didn't notice/care. Even if they were older, I'm sure they would have come accross non-Catholics, and you could ask them to teach you. They'd love that.
     
  10. Thanks faerie_queene. It's good to hear that the kids will probably take it all in their stride. But then it's not that easy to offend kids really... it's the grown-ups we have to worry about :D
     
  11. lizzii_2008

    lizzii_2008 New commenter

    Hiya...
    I've just completed a six week block in a Catholic school and I guess I'd be more of an Agnostic than anything but still no real religious beliefs. However, the whole atmosphere was lovely and it was actually really nice to see a group of people with such strong beliefs and commitment to being a 'community'.
    I joined in and lead the children's prayers as they prayed 4 times a day but allowed them to obviously lead on Hail Marys as I wasn't confident of remembering the words all the time. I never taught RE as I felt I couldn't compete with my teachers ability in this subject area, with her being a strict Catholic.
    The whole school gave 15 minutes to celebrate advent and the coming of Jesus and I led this time when we shared prayers, sang hymns etc. We also prayed during staff briefings and meetings which I found suprising but it seemed every time they gathered together a prayer was said.
    If you feel you are going to be uncomfortable then I suggest allowing the children to lead depending on their age, otherwise I suggest you go ahead and give it a go at least of leading say the children's prayers throughout the day as they are very basic.
    Also, with regards to the RE we followed the Here I Am programme with topics such as Babies, Gifts and Initiations, its not too overwhelming.
    Good Luck!
     
  12. I am a hardcore atheist and I have worked in some lovely catholic and religious based schools with no problems at all and rather enjoyed it.
    Just keep your religious/atheist opinions to yourself and when the school, priests and teachers start spouting their religious nonsense at assemblies and such, close your ears and ignore it all. You are there to teach, not preach.
    A neutral keep quiet and to keep yourself approach will do wonders.
     
  13. I'm a deist (believe in a God but do not agree with any particular religion) and worked in a catholic girls school for 2 terms in 2008. I too was worried about this issue, but my fears proved totally groundless.
    When I was interviewed for the job, I made it clear that I'm not a religious person but respect the beliefs of others and am happy to find out more about them, so was perfectly happy to respect the catholic faith and ethos of the school. Not only did the Head and other members of staff reassure me that this didn't matter, but went out of their way to make me feel welcome and respect my beliefs (e.g. the Head tactfully suggested through my line manager that I would prefer to stay at the school planning while the rest of the school went to mass on St Angela's feast day, even though I was perfectly willing to attend)! The chaplain did too and like the other posters on here, told me that many of the teachers working at the school were not catholic.
    As other posters have already said, if you are honest about your beliefs and fears and show a keeness to fit into the life of the school and show respect for the school's christian beliefs, you will probably find that people will go out of their way to reassure you and offer help with protocol and subject issues, such as those you described! You will probably also find that you will have fewer behavioural issues too because of these beliefs and sense of community! I've never had that feeling in any other school/college I've worked in!
    Hope this helps and good luck!

     
  14. If I were in a position to make a staff appointment in a faith school and someone like you turned up, I'd make sure you don't get the job, as it's dishonest and you are definitely NOT respecting the school's ethos.
    Remember, in most church schools, you will be signing a contract not to say or behave in any way that brings the faith or the church into disrepute, and a breach can lead to dimissal.
     
  15. I've just finished a placement at a Catholic school and as a female muslim I was obviously a little worried beforehand. My advice would be do not worry at all. Apart from a few ("nearly everybody who works here is a Catholic or at least Christian") comments, I felt very welcome (particularly in the sanctuary that was my department) and nobody made any comments directed toward me about my religion at all. Also, after working there for a while I found out a few other teachers were athiests anyhow and nobody ever said anything!
    Go in and do what you are there to do, just teach, and enjoy it. With regards to the praying, I passed on those duties to different students. In assemblies I just sat at the back.
     
  16. Hi,
    I don't post on here generally, but I had to answer this. I'm currently working in a catholic school (placement, so not my choice) and am pretty much on the Dawkins end of the atheist spectrum. What I would say from my experience so far is that it will be slightly awkward (I don't cross myself, say prayers etc) but it is manageable. The AHT in charge of RE and the Catholic ethos isn't too happy about me but the rest of the staff have been really supportive.

    One thing you might want to watch out for, which took me by surprise is that staff meetings etc will start with a prayer, and you might find various religious booklets etc turn up in your pigeon hole from time to time. If you simply sit there quietly and respectfully then there shouldn't be a problem, especially as a student teacher. You shouldn't be asked to teach RE as you have to be catholic to do so (same with being DHT/HT) as far as I know. When asked about things like contraception, abortion etc I've just given my opinion, made clear it is an opinion only (I'm secondary so bit different) and changed the subject. The only problem I've found is a LOT of homophobic language and bullying which I object to strongly even though I'm straight personally, but I don't know if this is the lack of respect from the Catholic church or just simply teenagers!! If you want anymore advice on working in a Catholic school or anything, feel free to PM me.
     
  17. Huge thanks to everyone who has shared their positive stories. I have now visited the school (much less apprehensive after some of the replies on here!) and am pleased to say that it was fantastic. Although a large proportion of the staff are Catholic, many aren't, and not all of the pupils are considered Catholic (which surprised me slightly). The class teacher I'm working with is wonderful and the question of whether or not I was Catholic didn't even come up until after two hours of chatting when we were running through the term's planning. She indicated that the Here I Am programme was taught and casually checked whether I was Catholic, I said I wasn't and she said that was fine and that the Here I Am programme would be still be easy to teach as it wasn't focussed specifically on religious teachings, more the general ethos. That was the only reference to religion during the whole visit. Everyone at the school was very welcoming and I really can't wait to get started there in a couple of weeks time.
    Looking back I'm not sure why I was so worried really, as I've always been very respectful of religion. I don't have to believe in it to understand why other people do! I guess my main barrier was that my knowledge is very limited when it comes to any specific religion, so I was concerned about unwittingly causing offence... but now I realise that it is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Catholicism and will be a very useful part of my training!
     
  18. So you would discriminate against him because he is an atheist. Great. =(
     
  19. So you would discriminate against him because he is an atheist. Great. =(
    So you would discriminate against him because he is an atheist. Great. =(
     
  20. No, not because he/she is atheist, but because he/she seems unable to respect the school's values.
     

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