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Atheist Teacher vs Born-again TA

Discussion in 'Primary' started by EdnaK, Feb 10, 2011.

  1. Evening all,
    I'm hoping for some advice.
    HEALTH WARNING: Please don't use this thread to debate what I'm about to mention: there are other places to argue about this. I'm not remotely interested in debating the existence of a god, so please take your opinions to a different forum.
    OK, so this is my story. I am fortunate to be working with a fantastic TA at the moment. Let's call her Kath. She works 1-to-1 with a wheelchair user in my current class and is one of the kindest, most thoughtful and helpful teaching assistants anyone could hope to meet. However, she is a born-again Christian. I have no problem at all with this. It's a CofE school and, in my opinion, people can believe whatever they want to believe. Furthemore, I don't like arguing with anybody, particularly about politics or religion.
    We get along famously 99% of the time, but something happened to me that really bothered me. My class were debating the importance of looking after the rainforests and I casually mentioned that "perhaps we should protect plants, particularly as they've been on this planet for millions of years." I was slightly annoyed when this was met with a cough of disagreement from Kath in the corrner, but I carried on regardless.
    When the class were discussing a question I'd posed, I walked over to Kath's table to check that everything was going alright. As I'd ignored her cough of disagreement from earlier, I thought we were done. She stopped me and, loudly, in front of the children, scolded me for my earlier suggestion. She explained that, if I read the "right" texts, I'd understand that the earth is only about 6000 years old at the most. I just smiled and walked away to work with another group.
    This is not the first time Kath has brought up her religion in front of me, but it is the first time she has actively disagreed with something I've said to my class.
    My question is this: How to I proceed now? What would you do? Should I ignore this behaviour or bring it up? I don't really feel comfortable teaching my next topic (adaptation, interdependence, etc.) if she is going to be in the corner, scoffing at the (what I consider to be) facts that I teach.
    Any advice welcome! I'm really not sure how to address this uncomfortable situation.
  2. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    I would bring it up with her to start with and if she doesn't see how she is being inappropriate then take it to your team leader.
    I certainly wouldn't have allowed the 'right texts' comment to float about with no response.

  3. Mention that through the unbiased teaching of both science, and RE, you hope to give children enough ammo to make their own decision on religion when they are older.
  4. I agree with Milgod. Having your TA actively belittling your teaching is unprofessional.
    However, on a separate note - you could always put this discussion into a different session and talk about the two different ideas and look for supporting evidence *ahem*
  5. I agree with you, Milgod. I really wish I'd said something at the time, but I think I just panicked!
  6. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    Wow, tough call, and very fairly stated. Cards on the table - I would call myself a Christian and I too have no desire to debate the existence of God on the Primary Forum (though I will gladly do so in the pub!)I am posting as a fellow professional, so please accept my comments in that spirit.
    I would say that the vast majority of Christians do not believe that the world is 6000 years old.
    The '6 days exactly' view, held by a few fundamentalist Christians, comes from one specific interpretation of the book of Genesis, and in particular the creation story.
    We are all familiar with the story, but what is not explicit is that it was handed down through the generations by word of mouth alone. The people of the middle-east have a strong story-telling tradition, and as they sat listening to the story teller, the refrain to the story would be where they all joined in: "Evening passed, and morning came, and that was the first day." Thus the idea of the world being literally created in 6 periods of 24 hours was taken up by many.
    Now - I don't personally believe that (for what it's worth, from talking to my scientific friends, who are far more expert than I will ever be, it appears that it DID happen in the order stated, but in 6 'time periods' which have been translated as 'days' by some, whereas I and many Christians and presumably all atheists agree that it took millions of years.)
    I hope this long-winded explanation explains why some very intelligent and devout people take the 6 days as meaning literally 6 periods of 24 hours each, but it is by no means the official view of the Church of England.
    As to what to do next, I propose that you have a chat and say that you have a deep respect for her faith but that if she feels you have said something that goes against the church of England's teaching it might be less awkward if you talked about it together without the children there, professional to professional.

    I hope this helps - I think it's a tricky problem for you, but given your great relationship not unsolvable, and I have tried to be sensitive and see both sides!
  7. Thanks very much for your response, Andrew. I'm a bit of a fan of yours and love your newsletters!
    It's funny you mention the Church of England's official view. "Our" vicar once mentioned in an assembly that "evolution explains the how, God explains the why". I thought this was an intelligent point of view, but my TA was outraged at this statement.
    Thank you for your sensitivity. I think I have to be very careful how I broach this topic with her. We do have a good friendship, and I'm not a confrontational person. I do want to stress, again, that she is an amazing TA. She even makes me coffee in the mornings (not something I asked her to do!).
    I just want to address the issue without insulting her or making a mountain out of a molehill.
  8. let her know you value her, " kath i really like/enjoy working with you, you are a fantastic asset in the classroom."
    empathise "i understand how my teaching may conflict with your beliefs as a christian and that you may feel hurt by this. unfortunately i do have to teach a broad curriculum and this must cover science etc. "
    "i really hope that this doesn't affect our team as i am really happy to be working with you. we really need to ensure that even if we do disagree on things personally that we don't let the children see this."
    or was it not this strong and would this be making a mountain out of a molehill. you could try a more jokey approach but it would probably happen again. i'd make sure the head knows of this and what you intend to do incase she does take offense.
    what i'm aiming at is a little team work chat and not a "don't scoff at my beliefs because i wouldn't scoff at yours" chat.
  9. You could always refer to school policy. I'm guessing it isn't prescriptive one way or the other which backs up the 'Give children the opportunity to consider it for themselves' approach, that way neither of you can be wrong!

    It might be a good thing to try and have a open discussion outside of class if you can and so long as you don't think it'll be detrimental to your current working relationship.

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