We spoke to numerous Christian teachers working with children and young people across the greater Birmingham area. Here’s a conversation we had with one secondary school Religious Education (RE) teacher.
What made you want to become a teacher?
I think it was my RE teacher when I was at school, she was a Christian and she inspired me to do it. I think it’s such an important subject because it is so relevant to children’s lives.
You are a Christian in a secular school. Was that an intentional decision?
I think ideally I would have liked to have been in a Church of England school, because I feel that I could have been more open about my faith, but there aren’t any around here. Then I got this school and it has actually worked out really well because I feel that there is more opportunity to do things.
The children think that they know about Christianity and other religions, but actually they don’t. My school is predominantly white children who would associate themselves with being Christians but when you come to study some of the theology they have no idea of what Christianity actually is.
How do you balance being a Christian and being a teacher?
It is difficult. I think sometimes I do have that decision where I think: “Should I say this, should I not?” But quite often the kids will come up to me and speak to me, and as long as I say “this is what I believe”, I’m very open to do that. The kids know I’m a Christian, I don’t have a problem sharing that with them. Some teachers might disagree with that, that’s fine. But I think if I’m open then that allows the kids to be open and helps them to choose which way they should be going in life.
How do the other teachers respond to the fact that you’re a Christian?
They know I’m a Christian because I’ll talk about it, and it will come up in conversation. “What did you do at the weekend?”, “I was at church.” It’s quite a nice response. They know that and they respect that. Quite often they’ll come up and ask me for advice because I’m a Christian, so sometimes that can be quite overwhelming because I feel like I’m there for a lot of people. But actually it’s quite nice and in any job you need to shine the light of Christ, that’s not just to the kids, it is to the staff.
Why are you passionate about young people?
They are just amazing. No day is the same for me and it’s all about the kids. They’re very innocent and they’re very funny. They make me laugh. They’re very pure and a lot of the things they think about are really deep and it gets me thinking too, so you can never underestimate children.
What is it like to teach RE as a Christian?
We do look at the other faiths and I just see that like I would see teaching English, teaching Shakespeare, very factual. Sometimes that is challenging, looking at other faiths, but I do think it’s important that children should know a little bit about everything so they have a bit of respect. Because of the area we’re in we struggle with that quite a lot when it comes to certain Eastern religions. It’s not just teaching them about Christianity that is important but actually teaching them to know about the society they’re in, in Birmingham, in a multicultural society. Just because I have a faith doesn’t make it any different that I am teaching about other religions as well.
What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?
There are so many of them, I get different ones every day. What happens when we die? Are we in our bodies? All the afterlife stuff. I really like the philosophical questions like: how do I get to heaven? Questions like that show that actually the kids are thinking about something beyond this life, which I think is the most important question that any child can ask.
You can never underestimate children
What encouragement would you offer to other Christian teachers?
My year 11s have finished for their exams now and a few of the kids have come and given me cards, chocolate, flowers and all that sort of stuff. It tends to not happen in secondary schools.
When you can actually see you’ve affected a child – I’ve got one child in my year 11 class who wants to be an RE teacher, so what happened to me with my RE teacher has now happened again.
So I’d just say, go with what you want to do, but also you’ve got to rely on God and God will path out what you want to do as well. Just keep on going. It’s not an easy career, there’s a lot of stuff that teachers moan about, but it’s actually really rewarding.
How do you ensure that God is with you throughout the week?
One thing I’ve started to do, because things have been very stressful this year, is at break time or lunch I just have five minutes on my own and I’ll put a YouTube clip on and just have a bit of worship time. I find that my days tend to go better.
In the morning before work, I’m really grumpy so I tend to lock myself in my room and put my worship music on and that sets me up for the day. You can get caught up in the busyness of having children, teachers and parents around you all the time – so actually it’s nice to have five minutes, and I try to do that every day.