Sometimes hearing how other teachers have faced the challenge of teaching the ERC program is, well, just what you need to hear! This is the first in a new series of interviews on how educators have approached teaching Ethics and Religious Culture in our schools. No two views are the same (and likely you won’t agree with every one you read!, but we have tried to keep the questions for each participant the same. If you would like to participate, and share your views, following the same questions, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
First up, Anne-Marie De Silva – Former 6th Grade ERC Teacher, now Consultant @ EMSB
- How long have you been teaching ERC Anne-Marie?
I actually only taught ERC for two years, before becoming the ERC consultant at the school board. I was on the validation committee in 2007 and was a facilitator for training teachers in 2008, so I already had some background. I am really grateful that I had the experience of teaching the course – many of those who worked on developing it did not.
- What resources do you use? Share your best lesson!
I used LES rather than the textbook, as well as Zen stories from a philosophy book. They were good because they were short but thought-provoking.
The best lesson I ever taught was the LES on Gender Stereotypes, with my grade 6. They were the perfect age for that topic, as they were starting to feel the pressure to conform to adolescent gender stereotypes – in other words, they were living it. I meant it to last a month or so, but it lasted the rest of the year. We just kept coming back to it; the students kept bringing in new aspects or information, it was really gratifying and exciting as a teacher to see that level of engagement in all my students. Not just some of them – ALL of them.
- What videos are you using?
I used a lot of Youtube videos on different holiday celebrations. I also had a series of DVDs called Holidays For Children, hosted by a soft-speaking guy a bit like Mr. Rogers, that included songs and crafts. They were intended for younger kids, but my grade 6 loved them, and insisted on doing the crafts.
- What do you like best about teaching ERC?
In my earlier answer I mentioned the level of engagement from the students – as a teacher I have never seen anything like it. I think if you find the right content for your class, it is extremely fun for both students and teachers. I think this course lends itself to the classroom becoming a “community of research” that John Dewey suggested so many years ago – a place where everyone is learning together, and we don’t know where it will take us next.
- What are the biggest challenges about teaching ERC?
Evaluation is challenging, with no formal exam and a lot of discussion and group work. The ERC teacher really has to plan ahead and consider specific things that can be marked during a project (not just at the end), so that the mark is based on valid data and not one single event.
Also the lack of time devoted to the course makes it hard to get continuity going. In elementary, the teacher can overlap it into English Language Arts if necessary; at the High school level it is trickier and involves real planning to make the most of the time you have.
- Would you teach it again? What would be your ideal grade level to teach?
I would love to teach it again! In fact it’s all that I would like to teach. I would enjoy the challenge of teaching it to the oldest kids (sec 4 or 5), especially if they had some background from previous years’ ERC class. The whole curriculum could be current events (i.e. Donald Trump)! I know some high school teachers say the kids don’t take it seriously, but I would capitalize on the fact that it is a ‘relaxed’ course, and the pressure is off. Discussions are much more rich, and questions more authentic when it is not ‘for marks’, but instead it is real life.