3 Important Things I’ve Learned from Teaching Primary Ethics

For all of last year I volunteered to teach ethics at my daughter’s school. The classes ran for 45 minutes each week and were offered alongside traditional scripture. The subject matter explored human action and interaction and was supported by a rigorous curriculum provided by Primary Ethics – a body that recruits, trains and manages around 1500 volunteers in around 300 schools across New South Wales. Coming from a background without teaching experience, I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences of my life. Here are a few things I’ve learned .

1. Teachers are amazing – we all knew this already, but the number one thing that really, truly sinks in after stepping in front of a class of 17 bored, hungry, desperate-for-the-toilet primary schoolers is that teachers are amazing.

While ethics volunteers might be drawn to get involved because of a lofty interest in ethical philosophy and moral reasoning, we quickly learn that in the classroom lofty interests mean squat. Behaviour management – using public speaking skills, engaging games, reward systems, etc – is the key to getting any message across. And darn, if behaviour management isn’t both a cerebral and physical skill that our teachers bring to the game every single day.

For any parent whose only exposure to school is parent-teacher night, I absolutely recommend taking a walk in their shoes. Understanding how to do the best for your kid at school hugely benefits from hands-on knowledge of what actually goes on.

2. Kids are smart – I think there’s this perception in the adult world that kids are not quite fully formed; that anyone under the age of 16 is somehow infantile in their capacity to comprehend and contribute. They’re not. Kids may not have a lifetime of experiences to draw from, but that’s a blessing as they don’t have bias or parameters inherently infringing on their ideas. Like super sharp comedians, they are genius observers with wicked comic timing.

Like when I asked them what their favourite lunch food was and Ella* piped up with “Oysters!”. Or when we discussed things you can’t buy and Jack* listed fire, the Universe and love. Each kid tunes out sometimes, and each tunes in sometimes. But every single one of them has something to add – it’s an incredibly rewarding job make space for their contributions and listen when they do.

3. Kid-adult relationships are rare and meaningful – when you were little how many grown-ups friends did you have who weren’t part of your family? I’m guessing only a few. But I bet they made an impact. I bet when they said something you listened and remembered.

To the kids, I’m this big, impressive, rare adult voice – quickly forgotten, of course – but, like the stranger who gives a compliment and makes your day, profoundly influential. I take it as part of my job as a grown-up to use this time of my life to not only try be the best parent I can be, but to also be familiar and available to my daughter’s friends – and I hope other adults do the same for my kids. Like Louis CK said in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air: “Not all kids get a great set of parents. Sometimes they get one who puts in about 50 percent and one puts in about 20. So they’ve got to make up that 30 for themselves or find it in other people – in friends and teachers.”

In a time when adult-child relationships are increasingly viewed with suspicion and fear, to me, making time to be a non-family adult friend is a way to make a real positive impact in someone’s life.

For more information or to volunteer as an ethics teacher at your school visit Primary Ethics.

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Image: Getty