When it comes to American public schools, religion is a subject that is particularly touchy. Inspired by the principles that built this nation, there is a general conviction among the population that Church must remain separate from the state, and in this sense, government funded schools are an extension of state. Teachers can often feel like they’re treading on egg shells when it comes to religion, especially considering that students are able to actively discuss their faith in schools, yet those who teach them must be more careful around that subject. Educators may always be on their toes, watching what they say out of fear that a slip of the tongue could be perceived as proselytizing their religion.
Even as someone who is non-religious, this has been something that has concerned me. I often play out a scenario in my head where I find myself being confronted about religion by my students. Being unable to properly navigate the sensitive subject, I end up putting myself in a corner. What if I let my non-faith slip loose? What if my non-religious bias permeates into the curriculum? How might parents react if they learn I don’t practice any religion? These are all questions that have taken residence in my mind at one time or another.
It was only recently that I came to a realization, that despite my lack of religious zealousness, there is a faith which I will be able to subscribe to once I step foot into the classroom, and that is the faith I will have for my students. As a teacher, I get to love all my students unconditionally, regardless of their gender, race, economic background, and of course, their faith. My lack of religious belief is irrelevant in the context of the classroom. I will have faith in my students to succeed, and to go above and beyond any expectations that may be placed on them, and that is ultimately more important than being able to align with their personal beliefs.
Additionally, I can also have faith in my students’ faith. Knowing first hand, high school years can be difficult. It can be the time of ones’ life, or a period where you feel like the world is coming down on you, and for the latter case, any method of coping can make a world of difference. If a student finds peace in their faith, or is able to get through a rough patch in life because of their beliefs, then I as a teacher will be enthused that they are religious, even if it doesn’t meet with my personal beliefs. If they approach me on the topic of faith, then I shall let them speak, listening intently and finding joy in the enthusiasm that they feel when talking about their beliefs, because that is what good teachers do, they love unconditionally.
What are your thoughts when it comes to teachers consolidating their religious identity in a secular school environment? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have!
As always, have a great day!