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Why I teach RE: A Personal Reflection #whyiteachRE

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This is a personal reflection on second level religious education and opinions expressed here are my own.

For those who know me they are aware of my online presence on twitter. Recently I found myself creating a new hashtag #whyIteachRE. Yes, I am a religion teacher, and absolutely love every minute of teaching religion. So, I found myself reflecting on why I teach RE. This reflection highlights just a few reasons why I love this subject.

If you type in religious education in Ireland into Google or any online platform you will see that it is quite a controversial and talked about subject. The majority of public comments under newspaper articles are calling for an end to religious education in schools, for religion to be left at the school door and only practiced at home. There is a mis conception that religious education is there to convert or indoctrinate our students. However one argument I read recently that I loved was ‘We do not teach french so our students can become french.’ There is also a call for philosophy or ethics classes to replace religious education. One recent example was a radio station suggesting that the new coding syllabus to be introduced into primary schools could replace religious education in schools. When it comes to subjects on the curriculum unfortunately the opinion of quite a few is that religion is at the bottom of the barrel.

Why is this? Whether you are religious or not you cannot deny that religion is part of human nature. Human beings have always had a need and desire to search for meaning in our lives. Throughout history ancient societies questioned the world we live in, where we come from and why we are here. Newgrange, the pyramids, astecs and ancient greek philosophers are just a few examples of how we search for meaning.

While searching and questioning some people found God. In fact in 2012 The Washington Times wrote that approximately 84% of the worlds population has some form of faith in a higher power. [1]

You can’t deny that this is a lot of people. Religion has been a part of our culture for centuries, it has formed the world we live in and continues to have a major impact today. We all have a form of belief. Even those who are atheist have a belief in science or believe in no higher power. This is also a form of belief.

From years of studying religious education I have come to the understanding that any major world religion humanist or non religious form of beliefs in the world stems from one simple concept. This concept is Love. Whether it is love of nature, love of God, love other people or one that is often forgotten how to love yourself, every belief system began from one simple idea how can we show more love? However, as many might argue religion has also been used for hate and I would have to agree. One modern day example that my students constantly ask about is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS. They learn about ISIS from the news, radio stations, from social media, from listening to their family members talking about the terrible acts of violence carried out in the name of ISIS. Yes, religion has one major flaw, human beings. I argue that religion is not the problem. In fact uneducated, violent, ignorant, prejudice and intolerant human beings are.

Simply removing religious education from the curriculum does not eliminate the problem. Students need to be educated about major world religions and other forms of belief to show that Islam for example is in fact a very peaceful religion. Muslims throughout the world, donate a percentage of their earnings to charity, they pray to Allah to show him love and respect, they fast to thank God for everything he has given them. Many beautiful ideas and traditions that people do not know about.

Removing religious education from the curriculum eliminates any opportunity for students to be exposed to world religions and other non religious forms of belief in a non biased fashion. Removing religious education promotes ignorance. When we are ignorant how can we teach our future generations that we can all coexist? We need to teach our students to show compassion and tolerance for different world beliefs. We need to create a future generation that shows L-O-V-E. Ignoring the problem does not eliminate it. This is why I teach RE.

To address the call for lessons in philosophy and ethics the religious syllabus at both junior and leaving certificate levels teaches students about issues of justice, peace and morality in the world. Students have the opportunity to talk, debate and learn about controversial issues such as the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, religious conflict and the search for meaning in life. They study these topics from a religious and non religious point of view exposing them to different points of view. This allows them to have a well rounded educated opinion on controversial and difficult ethical and social problems. So, religious education provides the opportunity for students to encounter this much sought after ethical education.

The leaving certificate programme also gives students the opportunity to learn about philosophy. As part of the LCRE programme students learn about ancient greek philosophy, christian philosophers and modern day philosophers. This is one of my favourite topics to teach and the students absolutely love it.

So, to round it all up. In a world where acts of terror are done in the name of religion, in a world where 84% of the population are religious, ignorance in my opinion is not the solution. I teach religion to show our future generations that we can all coexist whether you are religious or not. To teach others about major world religions to promote tolerance and respect, to fight against groups like ISIS, to teach students about social and ethical problems like abortion and to teach them how human beings search for meaning including the development of philosophy. Religious education unlike other subjects on the curriculum has the unique ability to challenge students academically, ethically, morally and spiritually all at the same time. It is one subject in the curriculum the educates the whole person. This is why I teach RE. #whyIteachRE

[1] Jennifer Harper, 84 percent of the world population has faith; a third are Christian, The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2012/dec/23/84-percent-world-population-has-faith-third-are-ch/
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New Blog for Students!

 

Every teacher can agree that in their classroom their students are number 1. All we care about and hope for is that any bit of knowledge we try to pass down to our students will somehow stick and stay with them. So, as I passed out my 10,000th worksheet and prepared another power point presentation…I decided to write a blog designed with my students educational experience in mind. The aim of this blog was to help my students and any other students studying Religious Education for Junior Certificate. This new blog contains, power point presentations, worksheets, videos and other useful websites for students who missed class and for student who are preparing for their exams.

It is currently a work in progress however, I hope by using this blog I can keep all my resources in one place save online and I can help my students learn through a multitude of resources.

A little side note if you are in a Green School it also helps save Paper 🙂

Clink Here to View my new Student Blog!

I hope this helps other teachers and students out there 😉

Happy Studying

 

Personal Reflection: My Life as a Young Teacher in Ireland

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Over the past two days interest in this, my most recent blog post has far exceeding any of my expectations. So, I sit here feeling the need to state very clearly that all opinions expressed here are entirely from my own experiences and my own challenges. Mine is just one story of thousands. I hope by writing this other teachers both young and mature of all ages will grow in confidence to share their own challenges and difficulties and stand together as one. 

Let’s begin.

In school I was asked what do I want to do when I get older? What did I want to study in college? There was always one answer I wanted to teach. So, I went to college feeling incredibly blessed to be able to do so. I was going to have a respectable job and a job that I loved to do.

In the first year of my degree we found out that due to the recession and cut backs newly qualified teachers who qualified after 2011 would be hit with a cut in their pay. At the time, this didn’t really bother us. Qualifying seemed like a distant dream when you have essays to write, teaching practice to prepare for and a daunting thesis that needed to be finished yesterday. Despite the workload I loved every minute.

Then in 2013 reality hit. Job’s were nowhere to be found. After we graduated over half my year left Ireland for jobs overseas. I decided to stay home and upgrade my CV. So, I enrolled in a Masters degree in Education.

In total I spent 5 years studying to get a job. I left college with my degree in one hand and my Masters in the other ready to face the world, how naïve I was. My first year out I was unemployed for months. I received my first job in November 2014, a 6 hour Maternity contract. I was delighted. Employed until May 2015.

When summer 2015 came along I signed on to receive the social welfare. Slowly as time went by anxiety, depression and anger began to set in. One thought constantly haunting me ‘I have done what society has asked of me, I made all the right choices, I worked hard, I went to college, I received a masters degree and here I am unemployed and lining up to collect my social welfare every week.’

After a few weeks on the social welfare I received a letter from my local office stating I had to attend a meeting. This meeting would according to the department of social welfare help me find a job. It would introduce me to the jobs bridge program and I would get my own career guidance councillor. The anger, anxiety and depression began to set in deeper. I did not need Jobs Bridge and I did not need a career guidance councillor. I needed a job, a job that I trained for. I needed the department of education, the minister of education and my unions to hear me. Instead I felt alone and forgotten.

September 2015 passed and I found myself yet again without a job. December 2015 a guardian angel was looking over me and I found myself with two jobs in two schools. I work a total of just 7 hours a week divided between two schools. I will be receiving the social welfare again in the summer. After tax one week I earned €80. If I did not have the security of living at home with my parents I would be living out of my car. I would be homeless.

This is my life, I cannot save money, I cannot move out of my family home and I cannot plan for my future. I am faced with constant job insecurity. I know I am not alone with this struggle. There are thousands like me.

Currently Newly Qualified Teachers are fighting for equal pay. Being heard and listened to is a big step. I am 100% behind all teachers fighting for equal pay for equal work. One thought however lingers in my mind. What good is this pay equality when I cannot get a full time job? Any prospects I have are cover sick leave, maternity leave or if I am really lucky cover a career break. As controversial as this may sound if someone turned around to me tomorrow and offered me my own full time teaching hours at the lower pay rate I would cry tears of joy.

Some of the public have forever scrutinized teachers over our holidays and short working days. Now we face more scrutiny for wanting to be paid as equals. If these people knew that teachers are living in such poverty with no job prospects what would they say?

Teachers are not the only group in public service that this is affecting. This is happening to nurses and gardai also. People who have made a decision to enter the public service. We have chosen to serve others, to dedicate our lives to educating future generations, to heal and to protect. To help people and hopefully make the world a better place.

This year we are surrounded by memories of 1916. But what have we learnt in 100 years? Young people are still emigrating, leaving their home country for a better and more secure future across the seas. Unions are still striking for better working conditions and better pay. Families are once again living in poverty and homelessness is on the rise. I often wonder if the seven signatories could see Ireland today would they be proud? Would they be proud of a society that begrudges others for wanting better working conditions? Would they be proud of a country that has forgotten the younger generations?

I live in hope that one day we can achieve an Ireland described in the proclamation “the republic guarantees…equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation.”

 

Junior Certificate RE: Section B Foundations of Religion: Christianity

Over the next term I will be preparing my third year students for the religion exam in June. I have decided to prepare slideshow presentations on each section to help my class revise and study for each topic. Each slideshow is accompanied by worksheets to help the students write down the key points they will need to learn and remember for their exam. It is in a way a crash course of each section on the RE syllabus.

I hope all RE teachers find this helpful. I apologies in advance as slideshare does not let you include animations or fancy fonts that I have used throughout the presentation. However, I hope the content helps.

Christianity Worksheet 1

Christianity Worksheet 2

Link to download worksheets: Christianity Worksheet 1

Junior Certificate Religion Journal

As RE teachers one of the biggest hurdles we must conquer is the religion journal with exam classes. Below I have included a powerpoint and worksheets I used to help students and teachers when writing up their journal work. The power point and worksheets include a checklist for students to keep organised and up to date with what they have done and need to do, helpful hints and keywords that students will need to include in their write up in order to help them achieve the max points.

I hope they help!

RE Journal Student Checklist

RE Journal Work Helpful Hints

The ‘No Makeup Selfie’ Bare it all for Cancer: Review

Recently we have all witnessed new fads and crazes on facebook such as neknomnations the foolish game of drink or dare. Videos and pictures invaded our newsfeed with people hoping on numerous bandwagons as they grew in popularity on all social media platforms. 

However, there is a new online craze capturing our attention called the ‘no make up selfie’. The idea behind this new trend is to capture a picture of yourself wearing no make up and donate €4 to cancer research. Since the emergence of no make up pictures online and especially on facebook I have seen and read countless people disagreeing with the purpose and failing to recognise the true intention of these pictures.

I would like to draw you now to other cancer awareness projects and action plans that have grown in popularity over the years such as Movember and Shave or Dye. The idea behind these concepts is to change your appearance for cancer raise awareness and get donations. To those people filled with doubt about the no make up selfie I ask can you see a difference between all three cancer awareness concepts and ideas?

I urge those full of pessimism to sit back and really consider the thousands of women in the world who suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence. Wearing make up is something we can do to quickly and temporarily change our appearance. We are constantly bombarded with celebrities and ideas of what society consider being beautiful. As a result women feel inadequate and confidence levels drop.

Now imagine the confidence levels of those women who are living with breast cancer. Breast cancer and its treatments can cause changes to your body and the way you look. You are left with scars loss of hair if you had chemotherapy, weight gain or weight loss. Looking at your body can be upsetting and difficult. Suddenly our low self-esteem without make up seems very insignificant.

So to those people who see ‘no benefit’ and ‘no point’ to posting a picture of wearing no make-up. This is a sign of solidarity, it is a sign of support between all women that we are willing to forget about our minor insecurities and unite in natural beauty to show our support for all woman and men suffering from cancer throughout the world. We are stripping ourselves of our comfort blankets and raising awareness for cancer research and showing the online world the real beauty behind natural beauty.

If you feel this craze does not boost awareness for cancer research you can’t deny it has built a community of women encouraging others to take off our comfort masks and unite us in building up our self esteem and confidence.

Finally, numerous people have argued that posting a no make up selfies does not raise money that they would rather just donate money instead. Yet, would we all be talking about donating money for cancer research if it wasn’t for this new campaign? Would you have donated that €4 if you didn’t see a picture of your friend wearing no make up? It is not just raising €200,000 for Irish Cancer Research and £1 million in the UK it is creating a platform for everyone to talk about cancer research, to think about all our self conscious issues and compare them to those who suffer from cancer.

As a teacher of teenagers, this is one craze I will definitely be encouraging my female students to be taking part in. Teenagers as we all know have a mountain of self- confidence concerns and problems. This is one idea how a school could unite and increase awareness by holding a no make up day or week, encourage students to come together lose all make up as a sign of solidarity with those suffering from cancer raise money whilst also boosting confidence levels of our female students. 

The Tortoise and the Hare: Concerns in the new Junior Cycle Student Award

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Before I begin I would like to highlight that I am a newly qualified teacher currently studying a Masters of Education in the hopes of finding a teaching job in Ireland. I am not a journalist or a professional writer.  The opinions express in this post are all my own. I am no expert in politics I am yet to join a teachers union and my first love is always my interest in Education.

Recently teacher’s unions in Ireland have announced that if the concerns of many teachers surrounding the new Junior Cycle Student Award are not addressed they will stop co-operating with the Minister of Education.  Since this announcement I have seen and read many articles online outlining the main concerns of teachers and explaining why teachers around the country are awaiting the arrival of September 2014 with great anxiety and caution. Each newspaper, online journal, twitter post and facebook status was followed by the expected “Teacher’s are always complaining”, “Teacher’s have it easy three months off for the Summer along with Easter and Christmas Holidays”, “Teacher’s constantly complaining damages the profession”. It is not my intention to delve into any debate with these individuals who seem to be over looking that teachers concerns are not for their jobs, it is not over pay cuts and it is not over working hours. The main focus of this announcement is our students and preserving the high standards of education we have within Ireland.

I was first introduced to the new Junior Cycle Award in college and I sat in the exam hall in my 3rd year exams answering a question based upon implementing the new Junior Cycle Award. My first reaction was “this is fantastic, finally moving away from root learning”. As a student continuous assessment was my forte. Projects, portfolios and group work were always the area that allowed me to show my creativity. The exam at the end of the term was my downfall. I could never perform to the highest of my ability.  So as you can imagine, as a teacher in training and a CA enthusiast the new Junior Cycle sounded like the perfect solution.

However, as I studied the new Junior Cycle as part of my education module the cracks began to show. My main concern is the removal of external examiners.

External Examiners

The new Junior Cycle will see external examiners removed and replaced with internal continuous assessment carried out by schools. The minister and department of education have stated that there will be guidelines and mock papers for each teacher to follow when correcting and assessing students work. This I feel is not enough. Removing external examiners can make it impossible to regulate, compare and preserve standards of education throughout the country. For each student to get a fair and equal award external examiners with a neutral perspective are essential. Many have said that the whole world today operates with internal inspectors and assessments and to a certain extent they would be right. However, I say yes to both. Keep internal inspections but also use external examiners to make sure standards are upheld. Internal inspectors know the students, they know how hard they work and they have worked with the students throughout the year and want each child to succeed. However, an external examiner can uphold standards and make sure assessment guidelines and protocols are being kept.

As a teacher I do not want to undermine or damage the teaching profession by what it seems to be “complaining” by many in the general public. I want to preserve the teaching standards and keep these high standards of education within Ireland. I want my future students to have the best education I can give them and in its current state I do not believe the Junior Cycle will be able to provide the standard I and everybody else should expect within our schools.

There are those within the teaching profession who stand behind the Minister and urge him to stand strong when implementing this new Junior Cycle Award. They believe slowing the process down is not the answer that Teacher’s, good teacher’s are the key to implementing this new Junior Cycle. To those individuals I thank you for your show of confidence in the teaching profession but I would also like to remind them about a certain Aesop’s Fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’

The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”

The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”

”That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”

”Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.

Moral of Aesops Fable: Plodding wins the race.

Now picture this story:

The Minister and department of Education along with other education professionals were once boasting of a new Junior Cycle Student Award. “move away from root learning, promote creativity and great opportunities for students to experience new subjects and all to be put forward and implanted as soon as September 2014…it cannot be beaten…the sooner we start the better”. Now some teachers said quietly “we accept this challenge….but we think we can do better…we don’t think implementing this new Junior Cycle as soon as September is the right way to go…let’s slow down and make it right first the first time around”. The department and minister said “Is this a joke?” “The new Junior Cycle will be in place by September 2014…and we will adjust as we go” So the teachers and the minister decided to race. So a course was made and the race began. September 2014 arrived and the minister pushed ahead with the new Junior Cycle but stopped along because education standards had dropped and internal assessment was not being regulated, the capacity of schools to implement the new Junior Cycle programme in the wake of a litany of cutbacks, and there was a rise of inequalities between schools.” The department of education looked up and saw the other teachers who amongst themselves implemented a Junior Cycle that addressed and dealt with many of the cracks that began to show early on had reached the finish line.

Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race. Fix the problems now listen to the concerns of the teachers and together we can all win the race…..and give the prize to our students.

A Homily prepared by Me (Family Mass 25 year Celebration Mass)

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Growing up I was part of the Family Mass group within my Parish. This year that family mass team celebrated 25 years in the making. The parish priest invited me back and gave me the unique opportunity to prepare and give the homily during the mass. It was an honor. This speech shows how being part of a family mass can enhanced a child’s faith and enable their own faith development to grow. It captures the essences of what a family mass can bring to a community. Here is a copy of my speech:

Please note names have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned.

At the beginning of the Mass we were asked a simple question “what would this child turn out to be?”.

Before I began to write down and contemplate what I was going to speak about today I asked myself “how did being a part of the Family Mass impact my life?”

One of the first things that came into my head was Mary. She taught me how to read in front of the congregation and I hope what she taught me helps me today. During practice every Thursday she would stand beside me where I stand in front of you today and teach me. My job every week was the first reading and I will always remember Mary lining the page with instructions, when to look up and when to pause but one very important word she taught me that stuck with me for life was how to pronounce a reading from the book of Deuteronomy and for that Mary I thank you whenever I see Deuteronomy I think of you.

I remember Claire sitting in the front row and I know she is sitting there now today before I look up…hello Claire! Directing us, showing us where to stand on the alter with hand signals and Joan sitting beside the children ready for the prayers of the faithful and rushing to the back of the Church to prepare to the offertory procession.

Being apart of the Family Mass allowed me to feel included and important within the Church community. When I was entrusted with a job to do during the Mass It gave me a sense of pride. I was proud of myself. I also began to understand the message of the chosen Gospel that day or when we say the Our Father and when do we sit and kneel during the Mass.

I realized the Family Mass played a huge role in determining what I as a person would turn out to be.  (Ask Children what they would like to be?)

For parents you wonder how your child will turn out. You have hopes and dreams for them-for friendships, love, prosperity and many more. You have fears and questions of anxiety just like the people in today’s Gospel when they said “what will this child turn out to be?”

Whilst John’s parents knew that there was something really special about their son they also had the usual parental fears. They put their child into the protection and hands of God, as you do at each baptism ceremony.

For a moment I invite the children and the congregation to close their eyes and picture this scene.  Your son or daughter arrives home from school and announces that they have been picked to join the school sports team. There is a great sense of enthusiasm and pride and you as parents are delighted. You promise to help them prepare and get the team ready. You drive them to training sessions and encourage them from the sideline. On the drive home and at the dinner table you talk strategy and skill and offer suggestions for difficulties and help your child. The big match day comes along and you invite relatives and friends to attend. The neighbours show their support, you are so proud. The team score and then …..victory. The final whistle blows and the celebrations begin. The manager says his parting words hoping that the team will remain together that he will be looking for them in a few years to play for their country.

Now open your eyes. At baptism we all became part of the Church community. We became a team. Your whole family were so proud that day and they made a special promise to God. They promised to bring you up to follow Jesus and be part of the Church here today. Do you think they kept that promise? Part of keeping that promise is coming to Church and showing that you love Jesus by sharing your faith with everybody here today. Being part of the Family Mass is like a sports team. Your parents drive you to practice, they help you prepare at home and when Sunday arrives they are there to support you as you participate in God’s team.

When my parents gave me the opportunity to take part in the Family Mass they kept their promise to help me know and love Jesus. So thank you Mam and Dad. At the end of Mass today take a little time to say thank you to all the people who help you prepare to be part of God’s team here today. The work of the Family Mass is so much more than a reading from the book of Deuteronomy. It is journey and a promise to be part of God’s team.

Personal Reflection on Synagogue in Dublin: Day Trip Idea for RE Class

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The trip to the Synagogue in Dublin was very informative and interesting. After learning a great deal about the Jewish faith in lectures this trip gave me an opportunity to find out about Jewish people in Ireland.

From reading one of the signs on the wall I discovered that the building itself was home to Rachel and Samuel Brown form 1922 to 1931. They were emigrants from Czarist Russia. They met in Europe and by the end of world war one had eventually settled in Dublin. Samuel Brown was also a garment manufacturer.

The main focus of the talk given to us in the Synagogue was based around Jewish origins in Ireland. To my surprise there seems to be numerous accounts and historical evidence to suggest that there was and still is a great deal of Jewish people situated in Ireland. One point I found extremely interesting was that as far back as 1079 Jews were arriving in Ireland. Also, evidence has been found that dates back before biblical times to suggest that some tribes got lost and landed off the west coast of Ireland. Anthropologists were digging on the Arainn Islands where they found skulls, which upon further research were found to match skulls found in Israel and Lebanon.

One point that was made very clear to us during our visit was that Jewish people were not victims of persecution in Ireland. A Jewish man from Portugal even became a Mayor in Ireland. One interesting fact about him was that he was forced into Christianity but then confessed to being a Jew. The lady who gave us the talk, her father in law was also the first Jewish mayor of Dublin in 1957. His son also became mayor of Dublin after his death. One point she made was that these mayors were not elected by only Jews, which, she said proves that “there is religious tolerance and very little anti Semitism in Ireland“. This remark I believe reflects on the history of the Jewish people throughout the world. They are a people who have suffered persecution throughout history. Her remarks about religious tolerance highlight to me just how important the aspect of being accepted in society without prejudice is to the Jewish community.

One interesting legend she told us about was about a young Jewish princess who married an Irish King. One day a year she would disappear up a mountain to fast for about 24 hours. This was known as Yom Kippur in the Jewish faith. Right to this day this mountain is called Mount Kippur.

Overall, the visit to the Synagogue was very engaging and interesting. The main points made during our talk that stood out to me where how Judaism arrived in Ireland many years ago and how it has survived and grown in this small country without any persecution or prejudice. This would make a very enjoyable and educational day trip for any RE class.