I am able to confess that I am absolutely obsessed with my subject. I really love RE and I hope in some small ways this is infectious to my students:
- “Sir, why are you getting so excited about the Great Schism of 1054?” Because it is SO monumentus in the history of Christianity. Why are you not as excited?
- “Mr Lewis, is Thomas Aquinas really this interesting?” Yes.
- “Do you need to jump up and down / stand on a chair / shout for no reason about Gandhi?” Absolutely.
It is pleasing that my enthusiasm is evident and noted in lessons. I’d hate for students to not realise that I passionately believe that RE is one of the most important lessons they study. After all, it’s where we discuss and attempt to answer the big questions such as ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Why are we here?’. It’s where we can challenge Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, and where we can discuss death and the suffering of friends and family. We study literature, history, politics, culture, music, film. We address moral and ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia. We learn about the things that matter to a huge number of people are the world, and ask why people will die for these beliefs. We explore spirituality and that whole ‘other dimension’ to human nature.
So how do people know I love my subject?
I blog about religious issues at TalkingDonkeyRE.co.uk. This is primarily geared to my own students; I want to pick out a variety of stories that will be useful to their study but also go beyond it. I provide questions for reflection and often focus homework tasks on a news story that I have recently written about. RE is not the only subject that works well with the news, however, rarely is a religion out of the news! I am also trying to get my 6th form students to share in this interest by writing their own blog posts: shomrs.blogspot.co.uk.
This goes hand in hand with the blog. My @TalkingDonkeyRE account is for students and links to the blog. Once a story is published, I will tweet about it so students will view. I also carefully select articles to retweet, if characters allow, with a personal comment to encourage them to view. It’s amazing what students do pick up, and often students will say, “I saw your tweet about…”. It is great for picking up news too, and often a lesson will begin or end with something I have seen on Twitter. We also sometimes use in lessons… students tweeting Richard Dawkins was a highlight!
Having helped organise a number of TeachMeets, I wanted to do something specifically for the subject community. RE teachers can be quite isolated, sometimes in one-person departments. Sometimes they are keen and willing nonspecialists. It is also clear that the biggest area of concern is a lack of subject knowledge or a lack of confidence. As a result, The London RE Hub was born (TheLondonREHub. com) and I am leading this first event in March. We will have over 100 delegates and it has been organised from scratch by a number of teachers. The internet (particularly Save RE on Facebook and #rechatuk on Twitter) has enabled this to happen. A whole day, not of pedagogy, but of members of the faith community talking about their faith. I literally couldn’t be more excited.
There are now a variety of ways to do this. Many teachers have moved away from the original sites which dominated the resource sharing market. It is now possible to set up or join various cloud storage facilities such as DropBox or GoogleDrive. Many teachers share via these, and then share links via their own blogs or through sites such as UKEd Resources. I have set up an A-Level RS Dropbox (bit.ly/uked15mar20) and an RE Dropbox (bit.ly/uked15mar21), there is a Save RE GoogleDrive which is often filled via discussion on the Facebook group. I’ve even gone as far as to set up a website to try and bring together and share more resources, CatholicREsource.co.uk.
There are ways to get involved with your subject nationally through subject associations and national bodies. For RE teachers, NATRE (natre.org.uk) is very active but there are also local SACREs who help promote and support the subject. As a Catholic RE teacher, I am also in regular dialogue with the CES who are easily accessible via Twitter and email.
There are often conferences where you can meet other likeminded obsessives and continue to work on projects with them long after returning home. There are also charities and other organisations who are often looking for teachers to help them with their work and you can input into national programmes and help shape resources; recently I’ve worked with CAFOD and the Apostleship of the Sea. There are also obviously exam boards, who in RE are currently looking for people to help write new specifications.
Study and Read
Three years ago, I completed my MA in Catholic School Leadership from St Mary’s University. I love the challenge of returning to studying and since then have completed my CCRS (Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies). I am looking for my next academic challenge, but do not have the funding, nor time for my PhD at this time. One day… Much of my ‘reading for pleasure’ consists of subject specific books. Recently I have finished, “God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason” by Thomas Morris. It’s nice to have a break from school (and reading education books), but if you are interested in your subject, it does not feel like a chore. I also then often go into school and begin with, “I’ve just read…”
I cannot walk past a church, or any place of worship for that matter, when on holiday; Rome was a bit of a nightmare. There are lots of pictures of places of worship, and me in places of worship. These often find their way into lessons or the classroom wall. Often there will be a tweet or two. Students love them.
Fight Your Corner!
RE is always in the news for the right or wrong reasons. Some people share my belief that it is vital, other people would quite happily get rid of it. I believe the best way to promote RE is by it being GOOD. It is vital to be part of the promotion of good RE. Share what you do; shout about it to anyone who will listen. If you blog or tweet professionally, don’t be afraid to talk about your subject!
What about primary?
In Y6, my teacher loved sport and in particular hockey. I still play hockey every week and captain a youth development team. I joined the team she recommended and I still play for the 20 years on. In Y5, my teacher loved history. Despite the ‘specialists’ at secondary school, she was the best history teacher I ever had. As a result, I didn’t do it at GCSE as the new ones weren’t up to scratch; they didn’t care as much and didn’t enjoy it as much. I still love history. I think it is vital to ask “What’s your passion?” and “What will your students remember you for?” Maybe you can’t be passionate about everything, but there must be things that you are passionate about.
There are obviously plenty more questions:
- How can we keep this passion alive?
- What happens if we are not in the classroom as much? Becoming a member of SLT means less time in the classroom and sometimes ‘filling the gaps’ in the timetable. Can you be passionate about all 3 subjects you teach, none of which you were trained in?
- Can you find time to do this? Workload, workload, workload! Family. A social life?
- Does it improve results? Is there any way of telling?
I hope to keep my passion. I love RE, and I love learning more about RE. This is a key part of who I am and what my lessons are about. Perhaps this article may give you ideas about how you can let your students know that you love your subjects too.
Andy Lewis is Head of Year 10 and Assistant Subject Leader in RE at an all girls Catholic school in the London Borough of Havering. He tweets as @TalkingDonkeyRE and @iteachRE and blogs at MrLewisRE.co.uk.