`I`m an RE teacher ! How did that happen ?

The Personal and
Professional Lives of RE
Exploring the Relationship from English
and International Perspectives
The Workshop: Presenter
Dr Judith Everington – University of Warwick,
Teacher educator working with trainee RE
teachers (secondary level - 11-19yrs)
Researcher in the Warwick Religions and
Education Research Unit
13 years research on the relationship
between beginning teachers’ personal and
professional lives.
The Workshop: Aims
To present research on the relationship
between RE teachers’ personal and
professional lives
To share and discuss attempts to use
research to support teachers’ development
To stimulate discussion/sharing of European
perspectives on the above
To explore possibilities for future sharing and
In your view, is there a relationship between RE teachers‘
personal lives and the way that they teach RE/their ability to
teach RE ?
Is the relationship between an RE teacher‘s personal and
professional life something to be explored or ignored?
Discuss in relation to your own personal/professional lives
and/or to teachers that you work with.
Is the relationship between an RE teacher‘s
personal and professional life something to be
explored or ignored ?
Professionals do not allow their personal lives to intrude
in their work
RE teachers should be strictly neutral in class so should
make every effort to hide their personal beliefs and
views from pupils
In RE we ask pupils to share their personal experiences
and beliefs so teachers should do likewise
Teachers’ personal lives inevitably influence their
teaching so they need to be able to judge if, when and
how to draw on their personal experiences and beliefs.
Is the relationship between an RE teacher‘s
personal and professional life something
to be explored or ignored ?
‘..for teachers, what goes on inside the
classroom is closely related to what goes on
outside it. The quality, range and flexibility of
teachers’ classroom work are closely tied up
with the way that they develop as people...
Teachers teach in the way they do, not just
because of the skills they have or have not
learned. The ways they teach are also grounded
in their backgrounds, their
biographies...’(Hargreaves 1997).
Why is it important that the relationship between RE
teachers’ personal and professional lives is explored
and studied ?
 To contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the
nature and challenges of teaching
To gain an understanding of the challenges that RE
teachers face in developing a professional identity and
ways of teaching that reflect a harmonious relationship
between their personal and professional selves
To develop strategies to enable beginning RE teachers
to develop ways of teaching that reflect a harmonious
relationship between their personal and professional
To promote a recognition and understanding of teachers’
individuality and commitments in the development of
policies and top-down curriculum initiatives.
The Research 1997-2011
‘I Want to Change the World’: the Beginning RE Teacher,
the Reduction of Prejudice and the Pursuit of
Intercultural Understanding and Respect.
Adolescent attitudes to ‘the other’: citizenship and religious education
in England
‘Freedom and Direction in Religious Education. The Case of
English Trainee Teachers and ‘Learning from Religion’
‘Individuality and Inclusion - English Teachers and Religious Diversity’
‘The Use of the Interpretive Approach in the Professional Development
of Student Teachers of Religious Education.
The Research 1997-2011
 ‘Becoming an RE Teacher: A Life History Approach
‘'I’m a Woman before I’m an RE Teacher': Managing
Religious Identity in the Secondary School
‘RE Teachers Do Get Drunk You Know’: Becoming an
RE Teacher in the 21st Century'
‘European Religious Education teachers’ biographies
and their perceptions of and responses to classroom
‘We’re all in this together: beginning RE teachers use of
their personal life knowledge in the classroom’.
3 Studies Considered in this Workshop
Challenges faced by English trainee teachers in
developinging an identity and ways of teaching that
reflect a harmonious relationship between personal and
professional selves
European teachers‘ attitudes to and ways of dealing
with diversity in the classroom in relation to their
personal and professional biographies
English trainees‘ use of and beliefs about teachers‘
personal life knowledge in the RE classroom.
Research Context: RE and RE
Teacher Training in England
In state schools RE is compulsory, multi-faith
(+ Philosophy/Ethics) and non-confessional
Most secondary school RE specialists train
for one year (PGCE course) after a degree
Trainees do not need a degree in Theology
or RS or to have a religious commitment
Increasing numbers of agnostics/atheists and
from minority ethnic backgrounds
Interesting personal/professional issues.
1. Challenges that RE teachers face in developing
an identity and ways of teaching that reflect a
harmonious relationship between their personal
and professional selves
Theoretically, becoming a teacher and developing a
teacher identity involves managing the relationship
between the personal and professional self
‘Occupying and living a particular social role and taking
on a particular identity - the RE teacher - is not the same
as being seen to do so, and there is often a gap
between public perceptions and individual
experiences. To achieve personal and social comfort,
we have to find some way of reconciling our roles and
selves by constructing narratives or explanations that
help us to understand who and what we are’.
Challenges to RE Teachers’
Development of a Professional
In your professional and/or personal life
have you encountered negative,
erroneous, prejudiced views of RE and the
RE teacher?
What was/is your response to these views?
1. Challenges that Beginning RE
teachers face
2 examples of the challenges that RE
beginners faced as they grappled with the
relationship between their personal and
professional selves
The challenge of developing a
professional identity in the face of
negative images of RE/the RE teacher
Particular challenges for beginners with
strong personal beliefs.
1a. The challenge of developing a professional
identity in the face of negative images of the RE
‘RE Teachers do get drunk you know!’
‘RE Teachers do get drunk you know’
During our 1997-2000 research we discovered that
many of our trainees entered teacher training with
their own negative perceptions of ‘the RE teacher’
acquired as pupils and from the perceptions of
others (parents, peers and media).
During the course and first year of teaching they
encountered the negative perceptions of trainee
teachers of other subjects and in school, those of
pupils and teachers of other subjects.
Trainees’ memories of RE/RE Teachers during
their school days
‘I hated RE it was so boring - a Mickey Mouse subject
taught by Mickey Mouse teachers - it was a joke !’
‘I went to Catholic schools and had it rammed down my
throat so no I didn’t have a good impression of RE and
RE teachers’.
‘ I thought of RE teachers as either Christians with an
agenda or hippies with guitars and sandals’
‘I don’t remember any of my RE teachers’.
The RE Teacher : Encountering negative perceptions
from other student teachers and pupils
‘Even the other trainees, when you’re introducing
yourself and they say ‘What’s your subject?’ and you say
‘RE’, ‘Oh, Um, Well’ and they take a step back and look
embarrassed and you can see them thinking, ‘What do I
say to this person now?’. It’s really obvious’.
‘I had a lot of negative reactions from pupils. I was called
“Bible Basher’ and they assumed that I had no friends
and no social life because I was teaching RE’.
‘I never expected teaching RE to be easy. I know religion
isn’t cool but that doesn’t stop me wanting to do it
because I know it’s worthwhile ...To be honest though I
hadn’t expected to work so hard to convince people that
I’m still me even though I’m doing this job’.
Trainee Teachers’ Responses to Negative Perceptions
‘I make sure to tell pupils early
on that I’m an atheist’
‘On occasion I was called
“Bible Basher’. They assumed
I had no friends and no social
life because I was teaching
RE. At first I ignored this
stereotypical view but when I
felt more comfortable with my
pupils I chatted with them
about music and nightclubs. I
will always remember the
astonished 30 faces looking
back at me. I think this was a
good thing to do because the
pupils finally saw that I was
‘human’ and I was ‘normal’ and
that religion is not simply
confined to ‘stale’ and ‘boring’
people as they once thought’.
The Value of the Research
As a teacher educator I was able to hear what the
trainees were experiencing/feeling and realise that some
were responding to this inappropriately
A conviction that I needed to know and understand for
every trainee group that I teach
But also clear that trainees had benefited from research
opportunity to reflect on their experiences and express
A conviction that opportunities should be provided during
training course for reflection/expression and strategies
developed to help avoid inappropriate responses.
1b The challenge of teaching RE and remaining
true to personal beliefs
Case Study 1: Clive’s
Case Study 2: Chip’s
A Personal and Professional Response to Case
Study 2
My negative reaction to Chip’s evangelical position and
attitudes - I should not have introduced a person with
such views in to the RE profession.
Recognition that I was reacting personally not
professionally - I had a responsibility to recruit, enable
and support teachers from all and every religious
background and belief
I needed to develop an awareness and approaches to
enable all trainees to feel sufficiently included and
trusting to explore and develop the relationship between
their personal and professional lives. In Chip’s case I
had not done this.
A Personal and Professional Response
to Case Study 2
 ‘Preservice teacher preparation programmes are
usually too short, too structured and too insensitive to
individual needs to do anything but provide a thin overlay
experience, one that usually does not meld with previous
life experiences and beliefs about teaching. By not
accommodating and dealing with the biographies of
teachers in preparation, future beginning teachers are
bound to become teachers who teach in the way that
they were taught and who will be limited in the ways in
which they can professionally develop (Knowles 1992
Enter Trevor Cooling:
‘No RE teacher, religious or non-religious, can be
(‘Commitment and Indoctrination: a dilemma for
Religious Education?’ 2002)
Cooling 2002
We are all shaped by our ‘meta-narratives’ + by the stories we tell about our life
experiences, which both influence and are interpreted in accordance with our
All teachers need to be aware that they come to RE with meta-narratives which
define their view of the nature and importance of religion and the way in which
society should approach it .These will be held with great conviction.
It is easy to be blinded by the seeming common sense of our own
commitments, so beginning teachers need to identify features of their own
meta-narratives and consider how these have been shaped by their life
experiences and might influence the teaching of RE.
All teachers need to find a harmony between their personal meta-narratives
and their professional responsibilities. This can be achieved if it is accepted
that the teaching of RE can be based on shared goals which can be
supported by teachers who have very different personal narratives.
If teachers can see these goals as justified and derived from their own
meta-narratives it’s possible to think in terms of ‘a coalition of RE
teachers’ in which partners pursue the same goals but for different
Some ITE Strategies – Comments ?
Building a trusting and supportive learning environment
Introductory group sharing of personal beliefs (including tutor)
Written autobiographies in relation to aims + periodic return to these
Discussion of/reflection on issue of ‘neutrality’ + Cooling
Case studies from research
Reflection on school placements to include personal responses
M level study of ‘Reflexivity’ related to pupils and teachers +
Sessions on representing religions and personal perceptions of/
reactions to these.
2. European teachers‘ attitudes to and ways of
dealing with diversity in the classroom in relation
to their personal and professional biographies
The REDCo Teachers Research
A small sample of practising secondary school RE teachers in
England, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands and
Norway - to investigate:
The teachers’ understanding of, attitudes to and strategies for
dealing with diversity - in all its forms but especially related to
ethnic and religious diversity
The key influences on these, with particular reference to
teachers’ personal and professional biographies.
REDCo Findings: Similarities
Despite v diff backgrounds, all teachers v committed to
teaching RE - many identified themselves personally as
teachers ie ‘I am a teacher’ not ‘I work as a teacher’
All viewed religious/cultural diversity positively + there
were common strategies for ‘dealing with’ diversity =
Enabling pupils to express their own beliefs, views +
experiences + make up their own minds - concern that
teachers’ beliefs and views should not be an obstacle
Classroom discussion a key strategy but concern about
pupils’ privacy and drawing attention to difference – all
attempt to create a safe and inclusive classroom for
personal sharing.
Some REDCo Findings: Differences
National socio-cultural factors – including
dominant views of relationship between religion
and education – affected how teachers
prioritised aspects of diversity
English + French prioritised socio-economic
differences; German and Dutch = religious
differences; Estonian = attitudes to religion and
RE; Norwegians = learning styles + prior subject
knowledge and attainment
REDCo Conclusions/Recommendations
Teachers’ attitudes to/strategies for dealing with diversity
related more to life experiences and personal beliefs
than to initial or in-service training
But also influenced by national socio-cultural factors
A need for teachers to reflect on the influences of the
personal + national in order to be aware of these + for
awareness to lead judgements about how to respond to
diversity in the classroom
A need for more research on personal and national
influences on teachers’ attitudes/strategies + support in
enabling them to make professional judgements with
awareness of influences.
3. English trainees‘ use of and beliefs
about teachers‘ personal life knowledge in
the RE classroom.
In recent years awareness of trainee RE
teachers’ increasing use of their ‘personal life
knowledge’ in the classroom
Use of teachers’ personal experiences
(individual, social, spiritual) in teaching
strategies – researching what, how + why ?
Summary of Key Findings
Although not required or even expected to do so,
trainee RE teachers make regular use of their personal
‘life knowledge’ in their teaching
They believe this is a valuable, even necessary practice
in RE but use their knowledge in differing ways +
recognise differing ‘purposes’ for using it
These differing purposes reflect the trainees’ own
‘theories’ of teaching and learning in RE
Some view the use of their ‘life knowledge’ as an
important aspect of their teacher identity + as
contributing to their sense of fulfilment as teachers.
Summary of Key Findings
Trainees appear to have an intuitive
understanding of when and how to use their life
knowledge but recognise difficulties + dangers
The research provided opportunities for trainees
to explore + reflect on their life knowledge + use
in the classroom
These were valued and appear to have led to
positive developments in trainees’ thinking
Knowledge acquired in personal lives
during upbringing and from family
during adolescence and schooling
through membership of a faith community or
from significant events + experiences eg illness,
bereavement, parenthood, gaining/losing a
religious faith + holidaying/working in unfamiliar
in ongoing, everyday life – from ‘hottest’ DVDs
and popular TV programmes to ways of relaxing
in the evening.
Beginning Teachers’ Life
‘I was teaching what a numinous experience
is and I was saying for me I have had awe
inspiring experiences but that hasn’t indicated
God for me, but that’s just me – cos we were
sharing our different experiences – but I was
also saying, for some people it does indicate
God’ (Agnostic trainee).
Beginning Teachers’ Life Knowledge
In one lesson on Buddhism reference made to:
teacher’s own experience of learning to ice-skate –
struggle and achievement
teacher’s own experience of a ruptured appendix, painful
operation + struggles to cope with medication
a celebrity’s wealth – teacher’s view that he could feed
Africa for a year on his annual income but wouldn’t
because of his expensive life-style
TV reports of earthquake in Japan – teacher’s view that
this shows there’s no apparent reason for some suffering
– it just happens.
a popular TV ‘soap’ - statue of the ‘smiling Buddha’ in a
family’s living room.
What is the purpose of using life knowledge in the RE
classroom ? Trainees’ answers + theories
You open up yourself so that they (pupils) will open up’
Sometimes simply encouraging pupils to volunteer their ideas /experiences
by giving teacher‘s own examples - creating interest and modelling
More often aim is to create an atmosphere of trust and openness –breaking
down barriers between pupils and teacher-pupils so there can be open
sharing of personal matters – emphasis on the relationship between
teacher and pupils ‘It’s not us and them. We’re all in this together, the
kids and me’.
‘If they know you’re on their side, they’re less hostile to RE’
Non religious teachers working with anti-religious pupils reveal aspects of
their own secular backgrounds /experiences to counter negative views of
RE/RE teachers
Muslim teachers working with Muslim pupils use personal knowledge of
pupils’ reference points, attitudes and language to challenge negative
views of other religions eg encouraging use of ‘non-Muslim’ rather than
‘kuffar’ (disbeliever) and quoting from the Qur’an.
What is the purpose of using life knowledge in the RE
classroom ? Trainees’ answers + theories
’They didn’t understand the numinous until I talked about my sunset
photos and then they got it !’
 Teacher creates a bridge between the pupils’ world and religion studied by
choosing + using a personal experience that s/he believes will help pupils
understand or interpret a particular religious concept/belief.
‘They seemed to think of people living in separate boxes so I told them
how I celebrate Christmas the same way as they do (Sikh trainee)
 Teacher acts as a bridge between pupils’ world and religions studied by
‘personifying ‘ the ease with which many people live in ‘religious’ and
‘secular’ worlds.
‘You’ve got to make religious stuff real and relevant for them - to get
them involved and interested’
 Teacher draws on own life knowledge to offer lively examples and
illustrations that will draw pupils in to the topic - trading on pupils’
fascination with teachers’ personal lives and desire to ask questions about
English trainees‘ use of and beliefs about
teachers‘ personal life knowledge in the RE
classroom: Why ?
Analysis – why this recent trend ?
Socio-cultural influences – RealityTV shows, Facebook,
Twitter = Intimacy
‘Tyranny of Intimacy’ (Bennett (1993), Aldenmyer
(2010)) = concerns re teachers sacrificing professional
distance and focus on learning
But ‘Communications research’ indicates that effective
learning = teachers who establish positive relationships
thru affinity incl disclosing personal information about
themselves (Richmond and McCrosky 92)
Pros and Cons – teacher educators in France, Nlands
and Germany very wary ! What is your view ?
English trainees‘ use of and beliefs about teachers‘
personal life knowledge in the RE classroom:
A need for initial teacher ed courses to provide
trainees with opportunities ...
 to explore the role(s) of the RE teacher + nature
of their classroom relationships with pupils
 to explore the use of personal life knowledge in
planning and teaching – what, how and when +
benefits and dangers
 at an appropriate stage, collaborate with tutors
in identifying guidelines
 to examine and reflect on relevant research
Final Discussion
In your view now – is the relationship between
RE teachers personal and professional lives
something to be ignored or explored?
Are differing national contexts a reason to
undertake more comparative studies ?
Are differing national contexts a major obstacle
to collaborative research and development?
(Toledo principles on European wide guidance
to RE teachers)
Establishing a European network for the study of
teachers’ personal and professional lives?
In Conclusion…..
‘Being an RE teacher is so hard sometimes and I wish people
understood us and what we’re trying to do. But I love it and I don’t
want to be or do anything else !’.
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