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Religion and Spirituality, Science and Philosophy Use this forum to discuss what you believe in. This is a place where everyone may share their views freely.

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TakeTheLeap Offline
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Religion and Public Schools - March 20th 2013, 02:40 AM

I recently took a long-term substitute teaching job, teaching 2nd graders from now until the end of May. I have been with my students for about a week now.

Today, during Guided Reading, my reading group and I were talking about times when we have been worried (the name of the book they are reading is called "Wemberly Worried"). One student mentioned having faith when you're worried helps because God and Jesus are there to protect you and take care of you.
It was really sweet to see her SO open about her faith and so willing to talk about her love for Jesus.

Now, the issue that I have is this:
Teachers in public schools have a lot of restrictions when it comes to speaking about religion in the classroom. We cannot talk about our own religion, and some school districts don't even allow teachers to wear religious jewelry (like a cross/crucifix necklace) because of the implications that it can have on students.
I do understand that teachers have a huge impact on students and the impact isn't just academic. I also understand that the classroom isn't the place to have religious discussions (unless it's a private religious school, of course).

But, being a very faithful individual, in situations where a student mentions religion in some way, or asks me questions about religion or my faith, I find it very difficult to hold my tongue. I know I have to... but I have never had to "censor" my faith for anyone before. How do I handle this? I hate just pushing those kinds of comments aside, especially when religion is SO prevalent in a student's life and they have made a connection between their religious life and a classroom topic. We always encourage children to make connections between their academic and their daily life, yet when they do, we have to push them aside as if they mean nothing, just because they mention God?

I would like to be able to acknowledge a student for making a religious connection without fear of some kind of reprimand. I would like students to be able to feel that they can ask me a question about religion or their faith (and be able to answer the question) without feeling like I have to walk on eggshells to give an answer. I don't want to have to say, "Ask your parents," or, "Ask your /priest/pastor/preacher." To me, there's a reason why they would ask me about it or why they would talk about it with me. I live by the mantra, "Students don't care what you know until they know that you care," and if I push them aside, I fear that they will think I don't care.

The simplest response is to say, "Then find a private school that follows your beliefs to teach in," and believe me... I'm trying. But while I'm working in a public school (as I will be until the end of the current school year at least), how do I hold my tongue? It's probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do. :/

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Re: Religion and Public Schools - March 20th 2013, 03:57 PM

Well, the problem is that most people cannot be objective about it which is why this rule exists because little kids are impressionable so they don't want a teacher telling the little kids what the right way to believe is. For example, if a 7 year old kid came up to you and said Ms. Teacher, is there a God, well, according to you there is, but it's not really your place to teach them what to believe.. But you could say something "I believe that there is a god, but there are many different beliefs in the world and that it is also ok to believe in a different god than i believe in or to even believe in no god at all because there is no one right answer" or be like "well, what do you think about it, do you think there might be a god" and let them answer and then talk to them about it within their own world view. Yes, that might be contrary to what you believe IF you believe in the philosophy of strict monotheism... Religion has typically been the domain of the family and in a setting where people are not taught all the same values as you it is necessary to tread carefully, it's one thing if your teaching within your religios community (like a Catholic or Jewish school) but in a public school you have to be objective.

I do think that you should be able to talk about religion if it is asked about,,... but I do think you have to be objective and make sure you help them understand it within their own world view without giving a skewed view of what you believe... Like for example, I am an atheist but I am fully capable of discussing Christianity, belief in god and the Bible with people to the point where I can quote the bible, Like i can use a Christian framework, not an atheistic one, if someone came to me wanting to discuss their beliefs... But a lot of people can't or don't want to do that...

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Re: Religion and Public Schools - March 20th 2013, 05:59 PM

I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge what they said, but to focus on it too much or to make it sound, even without meaning to, like the student's beliefs are 'right' and others therefore would be 'wrong' because you happen to share their religious views. Maybe say something like, "It sounds like God/Jesus /religion is important to you and is something that keeps you from being afraid, and then ask the rest of the group "What are some other things we can use or do to help us not be afraid?" That way you haven't left the student hanging, but you aren't making it sound like she has the only right answer and possibly making other kids feel bad if they weren't raised to agree. It also steers you away from them starting a religion debate, but I don't think you have to worry too much about that with 7 year olds

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Re: Religion and Public Schools - March 21st 2013, 04:19 AM

I would look more into the school's policy. I feel it should be okay for you to acknowledge that a student's individual beliefs and lifestyle are positive. For example, you could tell that student that it is good that she's found that place in her life. But you'd have to be consistent across religions/lack of religions; for example, if a Muslim student were to make the same comment, you'd have to encourage them the same. I seem to remember many of my teachers talking about religion in public school from an outside but positive perspective; for example, my second grade teacher having a Jewish student do a presentation about Chanukah for diversity teaching. Teachers shouldn't teach what students SHOULD believe religiously, buti see nothing wrong with encouraging an already Christian student about her faith. But that's just me. Look into what the policy is.

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Re: Religion and Public Schools - March 21st 2013, 08:52 AM

I don't think it's necessary to shove the topic of religion aside; you aren't allowed to talk about your own religious or political views to your students because as a public school teacher, you're expected to represent a neutral perspective as not to color the perceptions of your students who are thought by whomever makes those rules to be impressionable... but mostly to avoid accusations of school-sanctioned propaganda and parental drama.

Why not give the floor to the students? If they actually want to discuss religion then that could be a cool opportunity for discourse where you could play referee and teach them something about respecting each others' views. If their questions are about your personal beliefs, that's hardly educational anyway, though I can imagine your frustration in being asked to censor yourself in this way.

I can't speak to the mentality of 2nd graders, really, but teachers are cool and I think that at that age I certainly concerned myself more with what they thought of me than I do now. I know one girl caused quite a stir at home because she wanted her parents to change political parties since elections were coming up and the vast majority of the class' parents were voting differently from hers. Awkward. And that was 2nd grade. Maybe there's something to say about the whole impressionable-child thing, however briefly it lasts with such intensity.

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