Chance to guide young minds

Chance to guide young minds

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Volunteers are often amazed by students' discussions in the class.

Volunteers are often amazed by students' discussions in the class.

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GRANDPARENTS are going back to school, with a growing number volunteering as ethics teachers in NSW primary classrooms.

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GRANDPARENTS are going back to school, with a growing number volunteering as ethics teachers in NSW primary classrooms.

About 32,000 children receive ethics education in some 420 schools, with 30 new schools starting the classes for the first time this year.

The classes are taught by trained volunteers, about a quarter of which are seniors. And the numbers are increasing according to Primary Ethics, the not-for-profit organisation that runs the classes.

One of these volunteers is Blue Mountains retiree Val McCrae, a former teacher who was one of Primary Ethics’ first volunteers when she started six years ago.

“I had tried various volunteer jobs, but this was the first one that really interested me,” said the 69-year-old Warrimoo resident whose previous jobs have included teaching “soft skills” to prison and parole officers.

“I love children and I like teaching and I also found the idea of ethics appealing.”

She now teaches a couple of classes a week to Year 5 and 6 students at Blaxland East and Glenbrook primary schools, as well as supporting other ethics volunteers.

Classes run for 30 minutes and are available for students who would normally attend “non-scripture” during the Special Religious Education/scripture timeslot.

Val said she feels uplifted after every lesson.

“The children are so bright and usually very compassionate,” she said.

“Their discussions amaze me. They often come out with the funniest things. I don’t think I’ve ever not laughed in a lesson.”

The aim of the optional classes – in which the children sit in a circle with the teacher – is to help children develop skills in ethical reasoning, critical thinking and respectful discussion. Each week they tackle topics such as laziness, voting, punishment and working out what is true.

Val said while having a teaching background is not essential, it helps when it comes to classroom management.

“Some of the kids might try and shock me sometimes, but I am unshockable.”

She said while it may not be everybody’s cup of tea – “I insist on people talking one at a time, but they can get quite opinionated and it can get a bit loud,” – she encourages other seniors to give it go.

“Grandparents are under-resourced, but if you love children that's a great start.

“I think some people underestimate young people’s ability for compassion.

“I often say to them, ‘I feel so happy knowing that you will be running the world!’”

How to volunteer your time

Primary Ethics is looking for volunteers in all areas.

As well as teachers, there are vacancies for those who would prefer to volunteer to use their skills outside the classroom.

Ethics co-ordinators and regional managers organise programs at a school or regional level.

Training is offered by the organisation.

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