K What do you teach?
R This year I'm a Secondary RE and Philosophy teacher, I’ve taught various humanities subjects due to timetabling!
K What are the joys of teaching RE for you?
R There's lots of wonderful things. I love challenging students' beliefs. The moment I really enjoy is when you can see students are really questioning.
Even things like telling kids that there weren't necessarily three wise men, that the Bible doesn't say that totally blows their minds! I've had multiple classes who say 'what?! We were lied to in primary school!' and feel really affronted by it. For me that's satisfying telling them that small fact because it's showing them that that maybe they shouldn't just believe everything they hear and maybe they should be more critical.
I also love having the opportunity to teach them truth. In R.E. it's not always about religion, it's about philosophy and big questions and giving the kids the space to think about those big things that matter when some of them clearly have not thought about it before.
I had a bit of a breakthrough moment this week when I was teaching on abortion. Students will be very much pro-choice and will quite quickly dismiss any pro-life arguments as evil almost. I was praying quite a lot about teaching these two lessons, that I wouldn't be too emotional about it and teach it well. In the second lesson…one of them said to me, 'I feel really confused Miss, I thought that I was totally for abortion but now I don't know if it is always ok.'
I was trying to encourage them that it was a really good place to be… it means you are questioning your reasoning so that you can move forward to find better reasoning. That was one of those moments when my teaching and my delivery of it clearly made them really think hard about their own perspectives and uprooted a few things. That was really good.
K So, what is your core intention as an R.E. teacher?
R Lots of people in church will say to me, 'how can you teach R.E. in school with all the other religions, don't you find that really hard?'. I'm like, 'no, not at all!'. My aim is not to run an Alpha, I’m not trying to convert them. I'm there as an R.E. teacher and so I see it very much as the same as any other teacher in school but with loads more opportunities to teach them truth about things. I guess my aim in life is to see more people coming to Jesus and be shining a light on him and so that's also my aim in school.
But in my professional capacity, it's to teach Christianity accurately in terms knowledge and to teach other religions accurately and fairly. To provide space for them to questions things and to question more deeply.
At the moment, I don't talk about my faith with Years 7 to 11, none of them know that I'm a Christian. The reason I do that is that I find that they're very interesting and want to ask me questions but it becomes very much about me. Also, I'm only one Christian and we have to learn about lots of different types of Christians so they can’t just listen to me and think that’s it.
I do think that, if I was teaching another subject, I would be much happier to tell the kids I was a Christian. But as it is, it would just come up all the time!
With 6th form, I do tell them. But my rule with that is that I don't talk about it unless they ask me. So that I can maintain those professional boundaries. Because if we did get into a deep conversation, which I have in the past, I can always say 'they asked me about it’ if someone were to complain. And they were learning a lot from that conversation
And then with staff, I just tell them all about it all of the time. I bring it up as often as I can!
It's easy to slip into the thinking of 'I can't share the gospel and I can't plant any seeds if I don't tell them my faith but actually, because you're a Christian, you're able to shine that light whether they know or don't know you're a Christian. In a professional setting, within that RE classroom, you're able to shine that light brighter by withholding information about your own personal faith. It doesn't mean you're not sharing really good stuff.
I've been liaising with a worker from the church down the road… He's been in to do a session with my GCSE class. I said to him, ‘Go crazy with the gospel! I can't do that, but you can, because you're coming in as someone of a faith. So go crazy with it!'. That is another way that you can have an impact, by prioritizing those links.
K Have you had some opportunities to share the gospel at any point?
R With 6th form, quite a few. I remember one of the kids had said, 'How can you trust the Bible when it says that bats are a type of bird, and that's false. I said, 'Hm, I don't know which bit you're referring to so I'll go and have a look and get back to you.'
So, I went and had a look and got back to them the next lesson and they couldn't believe that I had an answer for it! That I had gone away and looked into it! I remember one girl saying that she found it really inspirational. They'd never met someone who had a concrete belief and who could engage in a conversation about it and were really taken aback.
And the in lower school, not sharing the gospel from my own personal perspective but sharing the truth. I’ve got a lesson in the Year 7 scheme which is about salvation. I've not taught it yet so I don't know if they'll understand it! I’m wanting to build in understanding from an early age so that they're able to understand it more as they go through and build on it.
I’ve also recorded a couple of interviews from people at my church which is just them sharing their testimony. Then the whole lesson is listening to them sharing their testimony and the gospel truth.
K So they are hearing it and not being told it is true but that is the seed; that is the gospel going out.
R Yes, but it's not preachy because it's in the context of doing that for a couple of lessons and then they'll look at Islam and other things. Within the context of the curriculum, it’s just hearing faith from varied personal perspective and it's totally valid. But with my Jesus lenses on that's the gospel being preached!
K How is it having that dual perspective of wanting to teach the children really well and also tell everyone about Jesus. What are the challenges there?
I probably feel those challenges on a lesson-by-lesson basis. There's always this tension in my head where I want to be saying more, I want to be doing more but held back by the professionalism. But I guess I've grown more comfortable over the years to know that what I’m teaching is having an impact.
Things like, I was teaching the other day in philosophy class, doing arguments for the existence of God. And one kid made a comment saying, 'God is an annoying stupid teenager because he kills people for fun.'
It's really hard to hear! I felt upset when he said that, on God's behalf... It made me feel really uncomfortable. Lots of comments like that are made but that one, for some reason, hit home. It's hard to deal with that in a non-emotional way and that is a challenge I often face. You want to be defending and offering the other side of it but being careful to do it in a non-emotional way.... there have been lots of times when I've not dealt with it well. Because it’s emotional and it's hard to control all of the plates that are spinning. But that's the kind of thing that you just learn from experience.
K If you were to give students who are going into to teaching a rule of thumb to start with on how to keep those professional and faith-sharing lines well, what would you say?
- I often go back to 'what does the Bible say' because that's fact; it's written down. It's difficult to say 'Christians say this' because not all people who call themselves Christians believe the same thing.
- Consider and be prayerful about your intentions and your plan for how to share things. Don't get caught up in that pressure of 'I’m a Christian so I need to be talking about Jesus in every opportunity' Sometimes it’s the slow burner.
I find there are so many opportunities at school when I can plant a seed. Even though I can't see what the seed is doing, it still might be significant. And even though the student might be slagging off God, actually, it might be softening their heart and you can't see that. So continually be planting seeds but the planting of seeds looks different in different contexts. It may not look like you sharing your faith and your beliefs, it may look like giving accurate knowledge of the Bible and God.
K That's a really helpful principle for evangelism anyway. I’ve often found myself wanting to tell my story. But while our testimonies are powerful, God has commanded us to tell his story, his gospel to others and there's a big range of ways in which we can do that.
R We do about the problem of evil with Year 9s, and I say, 'This is the best argument against God.' and I give them loads of arguments against God. From my perspective, if they can be equipped with really good reasons against God then, later in life, when someone challenges them about the existence of God, then they're not attacking it in a superficial way. It's easier for their heart to be softened to think more deeply about it. I do encourage them to have better atheistic arguments. In the long run, God's bigger than that!
K Yes! and if they look at these questions and learn to think critically here, they may find the problems with their own arguments for themselves and begin to search for a better answer.
R I have confidence in teaching other arguments against God and teaching other religions because I have confidence in God. It doesn't pose a threat in me teaching those things because God is bigger than them.
K What do you pray about your job, either for your kids or teaching?
R I pray a lot of things at different times
- For opportunities with colleagues.
- For specific kids, I had a phase where 6th form kids kept having dreams about God and telling me about them. My response to that was chatting with them and being careful what I said about it, but at home I was praying furiously! Even now I can think of students who have left and are now at university and I still pray for them.
- Things like the abortion lesson where I felt like I particularly needed some spiritual help and reminding myself that I’m there for God's purposes, and therefore asking 'how do you want me to do this lesson?’
- I often pray for classes where I find it difficult to manage behaviour. I've seen wonderful answers to prayer for multiple classes where I have felt really nervous about teaching them, I’ve prayed, and God has totally changed the dynamic.
- The ongoing prayer of 'where do you want me, God' and 'what do you want me to be doing.'