When Jenni Greig started a PhD in 2011, she was busy, but she also had some newfound flexibility in her life, and she realised she could use it to help out with SRE in a local school.
Jenni had a friend who coordinated SRE in a local public school in Bathurst, where they both live, so she was aware of the need for more SRE teachers and helpers.
She’d taught before, but at the university level, and upon signing up found herself thrown fairly quickly into teaching a Year 1 class of excitable little kids. She remembers, “One of the people who also teaches SRE in the school told me that I looked particularly shellshocked coming out of that first lesson!”
But soon Jenni settled in and she came to see the huge opportunity that is teaching SRE – which is why she’s still doing it now, into her 12th year.
The joys of SRE
Jenni thinks SRE is an amazing opportunity for many reasons. She says, “I think it’s really helpful for kids of any age to know that faith is not something you’re assigned by whatever family you happen to be born into. It’s something that you can think through yourself. SRE is about helping them to understand that this is something that God wants to talk to them directly about.”
Even at such a young age, Jenni sees kids who are already facing pressure to make certain things priorities in their lives. Into that, she shares, “It’s really exciting to be able to say, ‘Hey, look, Jesus has something to say about your life. And it doesn’t matter how messy our lives are. You don’t have to wait until you’ve got everything sorted to come to God.”
As an academic, now with a completed PhD and working in research, teaching and supervising research students at Charles Sturt University, Jenni also relishes the opportunity to plant the seed that Christianity is not an irrational belief – a common misconception even among young kids.
“I remember one child who said, ‘I believe in science, not in God’,” Jenni remembers. “So I got to say to her, ‘Well, I work in science and I believe in God!’ It was great to provide that alternative perspective; the more you understand God, the more you understand science and the more you understand science, the more you can see God. They can go together.”
Of course, entering a public school classroom to teach kids about God isn’t always easy. Jenni says classroom management can be a challenge, but she’s learned to seek the advice of the classroom teacher and friends who are experienced professional teachers.
She’s also committed to figuring out how to connect with each cohort of children, utilising technology like the SMART boards in the classrooms to share pictures and videos.
Sometimes certain interests emerge over time that help Jenni relate to her students. Jenni notes that for the boys in particular, they have a special fascination with fire. She remembers seeing many drawings of things on fire doodled in SRE workbooks, so she took the opportunity to share the story of God speaking through a burning bush with an enthralled audience. She’s also starting to see that her class this year particularly loves playing Simon Says, so they’ll often start class with a round of that game to settle in and end the lesson with it if they get time.
COVID has posed challenges. Jenni can tell that the Year 1 students she’s taught this year and last just aren’t as settled as Year 1 students normally are, having spent long periods of time learning at home during lockdowns. The restrictions placed around schools have made organising classes more complicated, and there is a role for SRE teachers to be a supportive part of school communities. Jenni is grateful for a supportive school principal who was keen to get the SRE classes started up again this year.
The challenge to you
Jenni believes this teaching SRE is not an opportunity to be taken for granted. “If we, as Christians lose interest in doing SRE, then we will lose the opportunity altogether,” Jenni says passionately, noting that in other parts of Australia, SRE has already been removed from the regular curriculum.
But despite the great opportunity that SRE is, it remains challenging every year to find enough teachers to teach all the classes across NSW.
So, Jenni urges all Christians to consider whether teaching SRE might be something they could do. She encourages interested people to start with doing some of the training offered by the Presbyterian church, coordinated through PY, and then spend some time helping in classes and observing how different teachers approach things like getting through the curriculum, relating to the schools and engaging kids who might struggle with listening and bookwork.
For those who can’t see themselves actually in the classroom, Jenni suggests finding other ways to support the vital ministry of SRE. As an example, Jenni shares, “I’m terrible at craft, so it’s really helpful when one of my friends who is not keen on teaching can help me prepare for that. Or, I don’t have kids, but maybe you could look after someone’s kids so they can teach Scripture? There are lots of ways that people can be involved, even if the idea of teaching itself is a little bit intimidating.”