With the holidays at hand, religious beliefs tend to come up in conversation more frequently than other times of year. So what do you do when a student asks you directly about your own practices? Here’s how WeAreTeachers Helpline members say they approach discussing their personal religious beliefs with students.
1. Be honest about what you believe.
One route is to be honest but brief about your own religious identity. “I tell them what I believe in,” says teacher Kirk H. “I see it as a personal fact, and therefore okay. It’s when teachers try to give their opinions or influence others that it’s not okay. I teach in a public school that’s about 70% Jewish, by the way, and being Christian puts me in the far minority.”
2. Shut it down.
Most Helpline members tend toward this direction, invoking the good-old “don’t talk about politics, religion, or money” rule that applies to family holiday dinners and often, depending on district policies, the classroom. Teacher Katie M. says she responds to all questions in this vein with the same phrase: “As a teacher, I can’t share my political or religious views. It’s a rule.” (Of course, even if it ISN’T a rule, you might invoke your admins to help close the conversation more easily).
Another simple but direct way to handle it is to simply say “I’m not going to answer that,” says teacher Kelsey R. And then move on.
3. Deflect or change the subject.
Many teachers say they respond to religious questioning with a broad “I love and respect all religions, but I’m not going to share my personal beliefs.” Or, they shoot back with something like “That’s a personal question. Why do you ask?”
“I just say we all have things we like and don’t like, and we each get to decide for ourselves and isn’t that great?” says teacher Rachel M. “Then I follow up with ‘And we can still like each other even if my favorite color is yellow and yours is blue and you believe one way and I might believe a different way.'”
4. Ignore the question.
This one might be the trickiest to pull off, because we all know how persistent some students can be when it comes to questioning the teacher! But some teaching vets swear it works. “I ignore the question and redirect the class back to the content by repeating the direction or question…multiple times if needed, with a smile,” says teacher Darsha N.
What are your thoughts, teachers? Do you talk about religion with students? Do you have any additional advice for teachers handling these questions? Please share in the comments!