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.
4 thoughts on “Why RE teachers should not tell students their religion”
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In my opinion RS is about developing literacy about religious, ethical and philosophical views. The most RS literate communities would be ones where everyone has these sorts of conversations regularly. It is very hard to have interesting conversations about religion, ethics and philosophy without referring to ones own views. I try to model this sort of literacy by being responsive about my own views and having the sorts of conversations I would like to encourage students to have.
I have never had a complaint from a parent. I explain to my students that everyone is biased when it comes to RS and this wouldn’t change regardless of which religion I was aligned with. This has always made them ponder and agree that actually it doesn’t matter what I believe. At the end of the day, my beliefs are sometimes as fluid as theirs in an in depth discussion of a tricky issue.
I didn’t always tell my students but now I tell GCSE and up. It feels a little cold to withdraw the information and detracts from the RS literate environment I want to create.
If a student asks me I am honest. I cannot deny or hide my belief in Christ. I model standing back from my beliefs and evaluate the arguments. My pupils are learning to do this too. Would you ask a teacher not to wear a hijab because her pupils would know she was a Muslim? Would you ask a pe teacher not to comment on their favourite sport or team or an English teacher not to comment on their likes and dislikes about a book or author? I think modelling to our pupils that it is best to hid what we are and what we believe is unhealthy. If I was proselytising, which I am not I should get rightly get the sack.
Working in a Church of England School where I also head up collective worship, and attending a church that pupils attend, the pupils know that I am a Christian. I don’t bring it up in lessons, and I teach all religions alongside each other. If pupils ask me specific questions about practices I will answer them whilst making reference to other practices. If pupils ask me about opinions etc, I won’t share and will often play devils advocate. I’m not sure if it would be different in a non church school. I imagine that if pupils asked me I would tell them, but I wouldn’t announce it