I’ve discussed this with many colleagues before but for some reason never blogged. I have a clear view on this which refers to non-faith schools. There’s a real divide on this amongst teachers so I’m well aware that people will disagree.
Reasons why we shouldn’t tell students our religion
1.RE is the study of religions
It’s not about the teacher or the students in the room as such. It’s an academic study of religions. Don’t confuse it with SMSC which all subjects have a responsibility to develop. The old GCSEs have blurred this boundary by asking students their opinion or religious views on moral issues. Studying religions is about taking account of different interpretations of beliefs & teachings and critiquing them. Are all teachers able to do this when they’ve clearly stated their own position? (whether you agree or not I have experienced this many times over my career, I can admit I’m biased in my teaching, is it realistic to think everyone isn’t?)
2.Students/parents may accuse you of bias
If they know what religion you are, then when you teach that religion there is more chance they will then question your neutrality in your teaching. In challenging circumstances it will be used against you. Again I’ve seen it happen many times.
3. It’s not needed
Decent RE happens without it. RE isn’t ‘better’ for a teacher sharing their beliefs.
4. You’re one example
Regardless of looking at other denominations/schools, they will associate you as representative of that religion. Is that what is needed in an RE classroom?
5. You can share your view without telling them it’s yours
Most of my lessons I use ‘I’ but I’m referring to whichever religion I’m teaching. For example “If I had to pray five times a day what might be difficult?”. If you feel your view on something adds to the content it doesn’t have to be identified as your view but can still be included.
6. The mystery helps dispel stereotyping
I’m a white, British, female teacher teaching RE. I tell them I could be any of the religions we study. It helps them to understand that members of religions don’t look one way or another or come from one place or another. It helps to dispel stereotypes, especially in my context.
7. We’re role models
Some students struggle to separate us being role models of behaviour & attitude with what we believe. In younger years they may lack the critical thinking skills to be able to understand that what a teacher says they believe in terms of religion is a personal opinion and a choice, not a ‘fact’.
Responses to counter arguments
1.”If I’m asking them to say what they believe I should be prepared to say what I believe”
We need to move away from RE being what students think about things. It’s an academic subject that requires academic critical thinking skills. This involves looking at different arguments. Developing these skills is far more important than sharing our own views. I rarely ask a student directly what they believe. I ask for possible opinions and interpretations but certainly don’t openly ask them in class if they have a religion or believe in God. It’s really not necessary.
My RE colleague Neil McKain has written a response to my thoughts. Read it here and join the discussion on Twitter and SAVE RE.