I started out jotting down a few of my personal observations and beliefs about Chaplains and then asked for input from my colleagues. Now I think I have written a pronunciamento (Ed note: a pronunciamento is a formal announcement or declaration)
To keep this as objective as possible I thought it important to inform you of my background.
Raised a Catholic I am now at best agnostic... more likely atheist. I do like the idea of having a handy guide book for living an empathetic and compassionate life though - be it Bible, Qur'an, Torah, Bhagavdgita, Dhammapada or a Robert Fulghum novel.
My primary concern is that our State school is not secular. My concern is compounded by the government then selecting what religion they will put into our school. I strongly believe this act alone devalues other religions. What message does this send to my Muslim students and peers? My Hindu students and colleagues? Your beliefs are not valued? You are not valued?
The funding used for the Chaplaincy programme could be used to provide teacher aides to assist students with special needs in the classroom, or spent on closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous students. I have worked in a school where the indigenous liaison officer's office was a cupboard and where the indigenous office was on the far side of the oval. In contrast, the Chaplains' offices are always in prominent locations. Again, what message does this send our Aboriginal students and staff?
Liaison officers and teachers contribute countless hours to professional development and extra-curricular activities. While there are always exceptions to the rule, in my 14 years of teaching, I am not aware of a single Chaplain who has contributed any time to either PD or extra-curricular activites. Nor am I aware of a Chaplain completing a 4 year degree as we do. Yet, Chaplains are afforded all the priveleges of a teacher without the responsibilities.
These responsibilities include the Child Protection Policy. As a male teacher I am not permitted to sit with a female student one-on-one with the door closed to my office/room. I must keep the door open and must be in clear sight of other students or staff. School Chaplains do most of their 'counselling' one-on-one, out-of-sight and behind closed doors. This implies that while teachers cannot be trusted, those attached to a Christian church can be, despite the mounting number of sexual assaults on children perpetrated by the clergy.
Chaplains have 'recruited' students for their church at every school I have worked at. Recruiting can be as discreet as letting the students know there will be a rock band or fete on at their church, or as overt as handing out flyers inviting students to join their church.
The students who are attracted to the chaplaincy centre tend to be the special needs children. Also Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) kids who love getting biscuits and Milo in the morning.
I have asked other teachers at my school for any criticisms, recommendations, and/or commendations of the Chaplaincy Centre at our school. They have contributed the following:
- When students have emotional concerns and they want to discuss them they consult their favourite teacher. If not, they see the guidance officer (who is trained and secular). Very few, if any, consult the chaplain unless they want to 'skip' class;
- Trusting Chaplains in a closed environment is a concern for every teacher I consulted (8 in total);
Obviously, Chaplains have provided some much needed assistance to some students. But we contend this advice/support should have come from the guidance officer or a qualified counsellor, not a pseudo-trained Christian chaplain.
- Most teachers did not like that students could use the Chaplain as an excuse to 'dodge' classes - as compared to meeting with the guidance officer who is part of the school hierarchy and therefore accountable.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn how strongly other staff and admin are opposed to this programme.
Thank you for your interest. I admire not only what you do but the grace, dignity and intelligence with which you do it.
Thank you Paul for affording us an insight into the way the Chaplaincy program looks to teachers working in the state school system