Looking Through the Darkness

I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As a student I was always helping other classmates to study, helping with exams and helping with after school study. When I began my teacher training I would have thought I was very realistic and prepared for what the job would entail. I knew I would have behaviour issues, I knew some children would need more help than others, I knew there would be different learning styles and abilities, I knew not all students would like me, I knew about the long days and the work I would have to bring home with me. Despite all of this I still wanted to do it to make a difference and help students find their potential. What I was not prepared for was the emotional  impact and the heartbreak I could potentially face. I did not think about the children being sick, some terminally, students loosing people close to them, students who come from a bad home life, and the students who have no body to rely on but you. How do teachers as human beings prepare for this? Honestly I do not think we can.

In the schools I have worked in so far I have come across students who have nothing, the students from dysfunctional families and students who have lost those closest to them. In the moments I thought my heart would break. Different people deal with this is different ways. I talked to other teachers and to friends and family (omitting names of course). I also cried for these students and for how unfair their young lives seemed to be but when I was with the students I put on a friendly smile and made sure I was there for them in a supportive role. What I found most difficult is encountering the students who have serious illness. This effected me in a different way. I think this is because there is no way I can physically help them to get better. I can support and offer guidance but I cannot fight the illness. I feel helpless.

I have been struggling to deal with this for a time now but this week I met someone who offered great insight and support even if he did not realise. This person was a chaplain. He has seen a lot of the world and has encountered heartbreak and disaster numerous times. When he was asked how he dealt with this and the effect it has on him personally he said that even in the worst situations light and love in some form can be found. He used the recent Berkley tragedy as an example. Even throughout the horror of the accident the sense of togetherness and support offered by students across Ireland and America created a beacon of love and light in the darkness.

The lesson I learned from this man is that to always look beyond the sadness or tragedy and find some hope. In a school this could be in the form of friendship, love, community, support, family, small acts of kindness. Even in the worst situations there is always some light if we are willing to look. If someone passes away we have the love they leave behind. If someone is sick we have the support from friends and family. If someone has a bad home life we have the care and support from friends or teachers. If there is no light we should try to help create it. This lesson I think is very important for teachers especially RE teachers to embrace in order to help deal with the stories we will hear all the time. Next time I have a child in a bad situation I am going to try look beyond the pain to find the light and help the student to see the light also. This is how I can help in the situations which feel out of my control and what I intend on doing from this point onwards.
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Religious Education: The ‘Doss’ Subject

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This blog is aimed at helping the RE teacher tackle the idea that non-exam RE is a ‘doss’ subject. Before tackling this problem we need to highlight the reasons why RE is seen as a ‘doss’ subject. This attitude towards RE can be cause by a number of reasons including the following:

  1. Teachers do not take it seriously – allow students to continuously watch DVDs, study for other subjects or come to class completely unprepared.
  2. Some schools use the period of RE for extra classes such as maths, Irish or English for example. This gives students the impression that religion is less important than other subjects.
  3. Some RE classes are filled with discussion, meditation and chatting. While these things are important and an essential part of RE there must be a balance between this type of content and focused content such as information, textbooks and research. Students need to see that RE has the same amount if not more content than other subjects.
  4. Because Religion is not a part of the junior or leaving cert in some schools they do not have summer or Christmas exams. This is another way of diminishing the value of the subject.
  5. Other teachers often view Religion as an ‘easy’ or less important subject. Students pick up on this and their opinions can mirror those teachers.

Teachers should be aware that these barriers exist and be ready to tackle them head on. In order to change a classes opinion of RE and to get them out of ‘Doss’ mode I think it is important to show the value RE has as a subject even if you do not see yourself as religious. For a lesson plan on the importance of RE see my previous blog post here.

RE needs to be approached in an active and engaging way. Students can do project work, group work, presentations etc. Teachers should try to bring in different religions and traditions of no religion. Religion should be brought alive in the classroom – bring in artefacts, symbols, speakers and documentaries. Religion class is an opportunity for students to broaden their horizons. They have the change to learn about and engage with other traditions and ways of live they may never have encountered before. If students are able to see that religion is not only in the past that it is all around us in all shapes and forms they will find it more engaging. One of the most important factors is the passion and interest of the teacher. If you engage with the topic and put time into preparing it lessons will go smoother and students will want to become involved. Some classes may take longer than others to change their view on RE but have patience and help them see the value. It is worth it.

Relationship between Science and Religious Education

This week in Irish schools it is science week. Schools all over the country are embracing this by inviting science groups in for science fun days filled with experiments and active learning. I thought this would be a good week to talk about the relationship between science and religion in my non-exam RE classes.The relationship between science and religion has changed in recent years. Once both subjects were seen to be in conflict with one another but today it is recognised that they can work together and be compatible. Students were open to this idea in my school and they understood the importance of taking the subject in its context. God-and-scientist

One student aged 14 said ‘Science is about the brain but religion and faith is about the heart’. Another 16 said ‘Science explains how we live physically but religion tells us what we should do with our lives in order to make them good.’

While planning for these lessons I came across the following resources that I was able to draw from and incorporate in my class.

  1. The BBC Bitesize website has an excellent collection of short video clips on science and religion how they differ and cooperate. Bitesize
  2. Faraday schools is a website set up for teachers teaching  religion and science. It is filled with lesson ideas, video clips, worksheets and discussion topics that are excellent for the RE classroom. What I really like about this website is that it draws from lots of different religious backgrounds.
  3. The National Centre for Science Education has a section devoted to science and religion which includes opinions from religious people and scientists on the relationship between the both and their personal opinions. This website while a good resource for the teacher might be a bit heavy for students. It is very academic in style and I would recommend it to a teacher researching the topic. Although some of the information could be simplified in a powerpoint for students.

The internet is filled with resources for this topic but as a starting point the three links above are the place to go. Half way through the week this topic has been a success with all of the groups I have started it with and I am looking forward to the feedback students will give on Friday when we conclude our discussions.

Teaching Symbolism

This weekend I attended a Christening of a family friend. The ceremony was very touching and the church was decorated beautifully. As I got talking to people afterwards I soon realised that some of what had happened at the mass and the beautiful decorations went completely over some (most) people’s heads. No one had connected the colours used to represent water and rebirth or the sand on the altar to symbolise a new journey. One person was disgusted that the priest had not got to know the family because he was mentioning the support available from the large family the child was entering into and my friend comes from a very small family. He was of course speaking about the family that is the church community. It was a shock for me to see how many people missed the symbolism and meanings behind the metaphors which in the past would have been obvious to the church community.

This got me thinking about the importance of teaching symbolism to students in an increasingly secular society. Symbols are used in all the religions and in non religious aspects of life. Symbols can change the meaning of something or make you see things in a new way. They give information that is not always obvious. I think if students are aware of this and can understand the importance of symbolism we are giving them a new way of looking at the world.

So this morning I started to look for resources that could help me teach symbolism to students in Religion class. Below I have links to the top three I managed to find. Please comment below if you have anymore or would like to share your opinion. I look forward to your suggestions 🙂

  1. Symbol Diaries – This idea I found on Tes.co.uk (one of my favourite resource banks) It is aimed at primary and junior level students but could be adapted depending on the class. Students spent time researching and learning about symbols in religious and everyday life. Each week they chose new symbols from different religions and noted their importance and if they are used in different ways and if they related to their own lives. All information was stored in a journal which was then displayed in the classroom.
  2. I found two very good introductory pieces for the religious educator on LOGOS by Mater Dei. Logos is an online resource collection for junior certificate RE. The section on sign and symbol has two essays explaining exactly what sign and symbol are and how they should be explained to students. I found this to be very informative and useful when planning my symbolism lesson. There are also worksheets available. These are quite simple but could be modified for higher ability classes.
  3. Religious symbols is a website that focuses only on religious symbols. Students can click on the different traditions and see the history behind the symbols. It is a basic website with easy to understand language. This website would be a great resource for junior cert or as a starting point for leaving cert religion projects.