Thurton CE Primary School.
What I love about RE is the opportunities it presents for both myself and the children to think about the bigger picture and ask questions which they or I may not have even considered before. Recently my class have been learning about what it means to be part of the worldwide Christian community, and the children were captivated with the idea that people all over the world pray to the same God as some of them. They have well and truly had their eyes opened to the idea of Christianity being a worldwide faith through enquiry based learning. Our next step is to look into typical Christian services around the world – I wonder what they will discover?
I did not follow a straightforward career path initially. I moved from a degree in Arts Management to subsequent employment in the theatre and social services before entering primary school teaching. Working in a school in which Key Stage 2 teachers specialise in subjects, I quickly found myself subject co-ordinator for RE. After a while, I developed a sufficient level of knowledge and expertise to feel confident enough to apply (successfully) for the role of Advanced Skills Teacher.
Specialising in RE has allowed me to dedicate time to developing pedagogical principles and procedures designed to develop pupils’ (i) independent critical thinking, (ii) openness to experience, and (iii) dialogic engagement with issues central to the study of religion(s) and to being human. Working closely with my brother, Dr Rob Freathy (University of Exeter), I have been able to pursue these interests by being an Advisory Teacher on the ‘RE-flect’ project (www.re-flect.org.uk) and a co-researcher on the ‘RE-searchers’ project.
Being part of the RE community has been a real thrill. I have been able to write articles, deliver conference presentations (Culham St. Gabriel’s Conference 2012 and the South West Learn, Teach, Lead RE conferences 2012 and 2013), design and trial new curriculum interventions, and work with a wide range of dedicated RE professionals. However, despite all this, the best bit continues to be the privilege of facilitating students’ learning, not only their study of religion(s), but also their understanding of themselves and the means by which we all might know and understand one another more deeply.
Teacher of RE, Coopers’ Company and Coburn School.
While at University I stumbled across the School of Divinity while studying Geology. One course in Divinity was enough to cause me to switch degrees! I became an RE teacher because I wanted to equip students with the knowledge and skills that would allow them to approach religion and beliefs critically and academically. I want all my students to tackle the complex and messy reality of religion and belief, and to avoid simplistic and easy caricature. I feel privileged to spend my days passing on this great subject, which is at once ancient and modern. It is a joy to see teenagers grappling with the important issues, questions, and controversies associated with religious and belief traditions. I have been lucky through my work with the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) to meet, work with, and support, many other teachers of RE who share my passion for the subject.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher but the dilemma for me was whether to become a primary or secondary school teacher. I went to university gaining a Theology & Religious Studies degree and decided to become a secondary school teacher, specialising in RE and History because it allowed me to continue exploring my fascination with religion and, because religion impacts on all aspects of life & interlinks with other academic subjects, I could keep myself mentally challenged as I progressed in my career.
How true that has turned out to be! I love the challenge & freedom of creating lessons that show how religion impacts on every aspect of life whether you are religious or not and can help a teenager make sense of their experiences yet provoke & challenge their ideas. The world changed on 9/11 & the sense of pride in my GCSE students who knew more about Islam & jihad than the TV commentators in the days that followed as they applied their RE to current affairs and decided that this was not Islam but a twisting of it still gives me goosebumps.
I am a tutor for the Teach RE Course because it seems a natural extension of ‘the day job’ where, as a Head of RE, I encourage & mentor my team to become the best RE teachers they can be. Teaching RE is hard work & I am always learning but the rewards outweigh that of any other subject on the curriculum!
I am just coming to the end of my PGCE in Religious Education with Philosophy. I am incredibly relieved to have made it to the end of the course! The PGCE is not for the fainthearted. It is gruelling and intense, requiring stamina, tenacity, resilience and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of humour. A sense of humour has helped me to get through the tougher times, when we have had an assignment due, lessons to prepare and an ever-growing to-do list. It has helped me to laugh at myself, to laugh with the pupils I have taught, and has served to remind me why I came into teaching: to make a difference to the lives of young people.
All the trainees of my cohort have had positive and negative experiences, and have relied on each other, our university subject tutors and our mentors at school for help and support. Everyone has had highs and lows. One particular high point for me was securing the (albeit grudging) respect of a clique of year 9 girls in one of my classes. I have also been sustained by those precious moments when a pupil has finally understood something that they have been finding difficult: being privy to their ‘Eureka!’ moments has been touching and inspiring.
Lows – and there have been quite a few! – have included watching those lessons I spent so long preparing fail to work as I had planned, or that lovingly crafted resource I thought would work so well sink like a lead balloon. The course has also been hard on our finances, as RE bursaries were recently withdrawn.
My colleagues on the course and I decided to teach RE for a variety of reasons. Some were motivated by a desire to exorcise the ghosts of RE experiences past. For others, their personal religious beliefs meant that, for them, teaching RE was simply a logical extension of their faith. For all of us, however, what unites us is our passion for the subject and our belief in its importance. As a non-religious person with a background in academic philosophy, teaching RE affords me the opportunity to explore some of life’s big questions with my pupils, to help them engage critically with fascinating and diverse subject matter, and to debate, discuss and enquire into the fundamental values of human life.
I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of teaching RE in schools. It is vitally important for many reasons. According to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, ‘all children need to acquire core knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the religions and worldviews which not only shape their history and culture but which guide their own development. The modern world needs young people who are sufficiently confident in their own beliefs and values that they can respect the religious and cultural differences of others, and contribute to a cohesive and compassionate society.’ Good RE teaching can not only facilitate the acquisition of such core knowledge and understanding, it can also play a pivotal role in producing the confident young people Mr Gove claims that society needs.
RE can promote young people’s understanding of the multicultural and multi-faith society in which they live by enabling and empowering them to explore issues of faith and belief, and the impact these can have on wider society. Good RE will produce critically reflective individuals who, whilst they may not be religious themselves, will be able to understand the beliefs and practices of the people with whom they are likely to come into contact. It is my belief that this will serve to promote what has recently been advanced as that most British of values: tolerance of others.
Dr David Webster from the University of Gloucester has produced a very helpful video discussing RE teacher training. Watch it here: Training as a Religious Education Teacher: what’s it like