Monday, 30 March 2015

Conference Reflections [2015]: Laura

Today I was an RE teacher, and a pretty passionate one too. It was hard not to be when there are so many of you gathered in one place exchanging intellectual wisdom and teaching gems. After all as Andy Lewis reminded us “if not you then who, if not now then when?” So I filled in my postcard with promises to implement new ideas and lead a hub of my own in the East of England but after battling the wind to get home I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated. Let me tell you why.

I have always been told that I would be a good teacher encouraged to take that route from a very young age. Being able to talk to both the popular kids and the unpopular kids and being in the top sets but not excelling as always led to me being chosen to be a guide to new students or interview prospective teachers and as my mother bought me up to be polite I did. My mum teaches in primary schools and for much of my life I have helped. So I am an expert at putting up displays, labelling drawers and telling stories using voices. But how did I end up as an RE teacher? 

I studied Religious Studies at university or at least that’s what my records say. I never was a very good student, any work that needed to be completed on my own time was rarely done, I hated to read and was lazy. (Turns out that I am dyslexic and need a coloured overlay but that’s just me trying to excuse my laziness) So I become a waitress and was quickly promoted to management but suffered with depression and had money issues. This was after I had already been offered a place on the Cambridge PGCE and turned it down. So one sunny day in May, near my birthday, my best friend and my mum sat me down and told me to go and be a teacher. Mum said that she would help with money and Rachel said she would help with my confidence. So I applied and failed to get onto the SCITT course and I then I made the big decision; I applied to Cambridge again. Interview went well and I exuded and air confidence and readiness for the classroom. 

Fresh faced and eager I moved in to Hughes Hall taking one of the last places due to my late application and I began my PGCE. I very quickly realised that my subject knowledge was poor and that I couldn’t remember anything I had learnt in the past. I didn’t study A Level Philosophy and Ethics, I didn’t go to a Russell Group university and I didn’t get a first. Feeling very unworthy I fought on. Socially it was a fantastic year, being a student again really suited me and I even managed to just get by financially. I met Ian, my now boyfriend and he has helped to change my life completely. 

Having worked in schools previously I found that I had a natural presence in the classroom, not the best with behaviour management but which young, new female teachers are. My first placement was awkward, my mentor and I did not have the best relationship and the students perceptions of RE were not good, I was glad when it was over. My second placement came with its own issues. This time my mentor was second in command in RE PGCE course and was kind of a big deal. However he was absent a lot and feedback was not always helpful. I started to struggle and I saw a counsellor. With support for lack of sleep and ocd tendencies I got an extension on a deadline. Despite it all I made it and got a job quite last minute. 

My first day in September, not too sure where I was supposed to be but I was excited. I had my own classroom and varied timetable. But it turns out I was not just an RE teacher in fact I wasn’t even that. Teacher of Religious Studies was my title but GCSE law and GCSE humanities filled half of my timetable. Excited to finally have resources and sow to use I logged on to the computer, opened up the shared file marked ‘RS’ and was bitterly disappointed. 

My NQT year had many struggles, I was the only trained RS teacher in the school (the other RS teacher being trained as a music teacher), the other main RS teacher was a head of year, the head of RS was a law teacher and on maternity leave for most of the year, there were no SOW or resources, the respect for RS in the school was minimal and I felt alone. But I was determined not to give up.

In my NQT year I wrote SOW for most of the GCSE RS course, the ethics AS and A Level, GCSE Humanities and ordered and organised the KS3 SOW. I completed an NPQML training course which changed the way we assess students in KS3 RS. I helped to ensure that our numbers grew for GCSE RS and AS Philosophy and Ethics. I did a pretty darn good job reforming my badly behaved, poor attendance, disengaged Year 8 form. Finally I got a promotion to joint Head of the House System. 

Now I am in my second year of teaching, my old Head of department has left so for two terms I have been promoted to Head of RS with no extra time and very little extra money. I now only teach RS and have no form group due to the House System role. I run sessions for all staff and assemblies for the whole school. I manage a group of sixth form House Leaders and am responsible for all charity fundraising. I have 13 different classes and manage five non-specialist teacher for RS. I am also completing a TLDW project looking at Enquiry Based Learning. I am an active member of the RE teacher world attending CPD, consultations about the proposed changes and spend a fair amount of time on twitter. Three weeks ago I filled out an application form for a non-teaching job, I am still struggling with money and my depression has returned. I have told SLT that I am considering stepping down from the House System role next year in order to have the time to re-write the SOW again for the changes to the syllabus.

So today I was an RE teacher passionate about my subject and fighting the fight for academically rigorous and consistent RE across all schools and Key Stages. On Monday I will be a fundraiser, a moral guide for students not comfortable enough to talk to other teachers in the school, a mentor for 5 teachers who know little about religion, a SOW writer and resource maker, a researcher for enquiry based learning, a person battling with ocd and depression, a motivator for extra-curricular activities, a collator of house points, an example of a passionate teacher who uses new ideas in her classroom but I will definitely not be an RE teacher. 

That is not where this story ends as after a cup of tea and a biscuit and re-read the above and realised something new.

Today I realised that every person in that room was fighting and it was all for the same cause. Fighting against the haters and the ignorance about religion, fighting the idea that we are just a version of PSHE, fighting the idea that we are restricted to comparing names of holy buildings, fighting the issue of inclusion of all ideas including other world views, fighting to teach meaningful content in one hour a week, fighting to teach students the ability and skill to make informed decisions and grow as members of society, fighting to battle pre-existing prejudices, fighting to be academically rigorous and above all fighting to remain a subject in the curriculum.

So why did I become an RE teacher? Because I think it is a fight worth fighting. Do not view today as a day on its own, do not forget the things you have learnt or shared, do not be afraid to stand tall and say ‘I am an RE teacher’, build on those social connections because together we can succeed.

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