I begin this year’s round of Christian Religious Education (CRE) classes at the local primary school tomorrow – this is in response to the national statutory permission for churches to negotiate access to Education Department schools for the purpose of “religious instruction” for 30 minutes per class per week.
The experience for a student is quite different from my day, when any untrained but enthusiastic volunteer could enter the classroom and give forth. I remember the dutiful but boring clergyman with the collar that came in and droned on from some book for half an hour. I also remember the delightful motherly woman who told great stories and knew how to engage and encourage us. We knew we mattered to her, collectively and individually.
To teach CRE today, one has to be trained to standards acceptable to the Education Department and observe a curriculum that is negotiated between the churches’ representative service provider and the school authorities. In Western Australia, the CRE curriculum works hand in hand with the values component of the school syllabus.
I experience more adrenalin stepping into a classroom than behind a pulpit. A classroom is a microcosm of the diversity and multiculturalism of our society and one can make no assumptions about family background and experience. I do not have the luxury of assuming common motives and values where “religious education” is concerned yet there is the responsibility to assist each student along a learning pathway. The 30 minute lesson strategy is to open up for exploration a common experience – for example “What is it like to receive generosity? What is it like to offer generosity? What are situations where it might or might not apply?” We would then look at the contribution of the Christian tradition from Bible and people’s lives for further understanding. A period of ideas for application and reflection brings the session to a close. At such times I sometimes feel I receive more wisdom from the kids than what I impart.
The value of CRE is always under scrutiny by church and school alike. The school I serve is very supportive and considers CRE a valuable contributor to its ethos and educational philosophy. It is easy to rest on laurels in such a situation. At the age of 61, perhaps I should stop feeling nervous before entering a classroom – but if I did, I suspect that would be the time to quit teaching.