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Having faith in teachers

SU Chaplain and Uniting Church member Stephanie Kennedy at work at Wellers Hill State School. Photo by Robert Scott
By Mardi Lumsden

PEOPLE GO into teaching professions for many reasons. Perhaps they were inspired by a great teacher or determined that they could do better than a teacher they didn’t like. But coming in contact with so many young people every day creates a special duty for teachers.

It is more than a duty of care. For many, it is the challenge of moulding students into the best citizens they can be. For teachers who have a faith; be it Christian or other, expressing that faith in a delicate way can be quite a challenge.

Stephanie Kennedy is a Uniting Church member and Scripture Union Chaplain at Wellers Hill State Primary School in Brisbane. She sees over 750 students each week and said it was important to respect the secular environment of her role as pastoral carer for students, families and staff.

“There are clear demarcation zones within which I must operate. Observing those limitations is for me, a matter of integrity,” she said.

Ms Kennedy said she was amazed to see how well God had prepared her for her role as chaplain.

“My past experience as a missionary in Africa, and subsequent ability to speak Swahili has proven to be very helpful in communicating with some of the non-English-speaking refugee families,” she said.

Ms Kennedy said her nursing background has also been useful, especially on school camps, and even losing her father when she was of school age has given her an understanding of and passion for helping children who are experiencing grief and loss.

“Modelling Christ in a secular workplace will often be judged by the authenticity of personal relationships,” she said.

Kirwan Uniting Church member and associate professor in Human Geography at James Cook University in Townsville, Dr David King said his faith played an integral part in his career choice.

Dr King, who is also director of the Centre for Tropical Urban and Regional Planning and director of the Centre for Disaster Studies, said he has always had a passion for helping people and communities.

“When I was eight I got to reading missionary stories and I wanted to go exploring. I wanted to be a missionary teacher,” he said.

He later began his career as a volunteer teacher in a Methodist High School in Africa. Dr King said his research and teaching in social geography and development, specifically looking at Africa and Papua New Guinea, and his later work in disaster studies stemmed from his belief system.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in wanting to do things that might make the world a better place and wanting to help people who were less able, capable or fortunate,” he said.

He said teachers need to respect the secular world in which they teach.

“I don’t think it would be right to use lectures that students are paying for to preach to them.

“Caring, supporting and building is the core of the way I teach, but I don’t express my faith directly in that format,” he said. “I am there to help and support all students regardless of their background.”

Despite a number of years outside the institution of the church, Dr King said his ethos behind teaching did not change.

Dr King expresses his faith by volunteering on boards and councils, including that of the James Cook University Uniting Church College, John Flynn College.

“I do a lot of course advising, student advising and helping people sort out their academic problems,” he said.

Dr King said he aspires to find ways to make things happen, rather than putting barriers in students’ way.

Living a life that reflects the values of Christianity is something Vicky Jones strives to do.

As head of middle schooling at Clayfield College, Ms Jones said doing that required the development of a deep sense of self.

“In order to achieve this I work hard at being courageous, resourceful and open to others and their ideas,” she said.

Ms Jones said she aims to make the theories and doctrines of Christian life, a tangible, liveable reality.

“I strongly believe that a spiritual community will provide both believers and nonbelievers with an experience of love,” she said.

Ms Jones said the Gospels provided a fundamental basis for the development of a child’s moral education and spiritual formation.

“Schools need to provide learning experiences that enable students to acquire useful information, skills and means to handle our changing world with confidence,” she said.

Photo : SU Chaplain and Uniting Church member Stephanie Kennedy at work at Wellers Hill State School. Photo by Robert Scott