2 The Real Lives of Teachers and Pupils in RE
John Dewey, the American philosopher, moved educational philosophy towards understanding children as they are now, rather than simply as future adults. Lawrence Stenhouse, working in the University of East Anglia, added the need for teachers to reflect on and study their own work, writing about research as a basis for teachers teaching as well as pupils learning. In these ways, reflection links to inquiry, and inquiry links to action research. Vivienne Baumfield’s book, Thinking Through RE (Baumfield 2002, with Baumfield based at the University of Glasgow), came from a group of teachers in an RE subject network wanting to reflect on their own practice, and became a work for pupils to reflect on their own understandings in RE.
Maria James (based at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham) researches the work of herself and teachers and pupils in terms of relationships. She is theorising her own practice in order to learn about it, using the action research approach of McNiff (McNiff and Whitehead 2009, with McNiff based at York St John University), and asks questions of herself and others such as which metaphor would you adopt for teaching and learning in RE, what main educational value do you hold, and which aspect of your practice might you choose to research – in the form of ‘How can I develop …’?
This links to work on the ‘spirit’ of the school (Stern 2009, with Stern based at York St John University). Julian Stern’s work stresses how RE must address the real lives of the teachers and pupils, indeed must address matters of life and death. RE cannot be a ‘safe’ subject, and seeing how it can contribute to the spirit of the school can be a form of research for pupils and teachers alike, answering questions on who do you bring in to the school, how do you treat people as ends in themselves, in what ways are you magnanimous, how do you enable friendship to thrive, are you in dialogue, and how do you take part in creating meanings, things, and people, in RE?
Judith Everington (in the University of Warwick) has been research the lives of new RE teachers for over a decade (e.g. Sikes and Everington 2001), and Lat Blaylock of NATRE (www.natre.org.uk) has worked on this more recently. There are many ‘accidental’ reasons for people coming in to RE, with teachers constantly managing the relationship between their personal and professional selves. There are challenges of developing a professional identity in the face of some negative images of RE and the RE teacher, and there are particular challenges for beginning teachers with strong personal beliefs.
James Conroy (at the University of Glasgow) has surveyed student teachers in Roman Catholic schools, asking about their characteristics of an ideal teacher: agreeableness tops the list, with conscientiousness lower down, and educational ideals at the bottom of the list. Their ideals for pupils started with agreeableness too, with educational ideals relatively low even if somewhat higher than for themselves as teachers. ‘The fact that less than 20% of the students have educational ideals for the pupils is somewhat disquieting and may reflect a growing trend in educational discourse to favour self-esteem over intellectual engagement’ (de Ruyter et al. 2003, p 305).
- Baumfield, V (2002) Thinking Through Religious Education; Cambridge: Chris Kington.
- de Ruyter, D, Conroy, J, Lappin, M and McKinney, S (2003) ‘From Heaven to Earth: A Comparison of Ideals of ITE students’, British Journal of Religious Education 25:4, pp 293-307.
- McNiff, J and Whitehead, J (2009) Doing and Writing Action Research; London: SAGE.
- Sikes, P and Everington, J (2001) ‘Becoming an RE teacher: a Life History approach’, British Journal of Religious Education, 24 (1), 8-20.
- Stern, L J (2009) The Spirit of the School; London: Continuum.