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Volunteer Buddhist teachers for children in government schools

Buddhist Educational Services for Schools Inc.
Logo for Buddhist Educational Services for Schools Inc.

Buddhist Education Services for Schools Inc. (BESS) was created with the sole intention of sharing the wisdom of the Buddha with children. BESS is a pioneer in the field of teaching Buddhist values to western children in western schools and is part of the Religious Instruction (RI) program of the Queensland Government Education Department.

Our vision is for children to gain a foundation in Buddhist ethical values, being aware of the consequences of their words, actions, and thoughts. By sharing these values and life skills based on the wisdom of the Buddha, we help the children to develop life skills that benefit their personal development and therefore the wider community, leading them to have happier, healthier lives.

The Job: An accredited volunteer teacher of Buddhism in primary schools must be a practicing Buddhist from any tradition or culture, and competent English is required. Once a new teacher has completed the mentorship program they will have their own class, being fully responsible for that class throughout the full academic year of four, ten week terms. Classes may be a single age group or combined year 3/4- 5/6, depending upon how each school manages their RI program. The classes are thirty minutes long and there may be two classes back to back, depending upon how many students are in each class.

But I’m not a teacher: Potential volunteer teachers very often express concerns about their aptitude to teach, especially as most are not professional teachers and have not been in front of a class of young students before. They wonder if their Dharma knowledge is sufficient and are concerned with making mistakes. However, once they join our supportive mentorship and professional development programs, together with the friendship and camaraderie afforded by working in harmony with Buddhists from all cultures and traditions, these doubts and concerns quickly disappear. Indeed, sharing the wisdom of the Buddha with the children is an extraordinary opportunity for our teachers to learn themselves and look more deeply into the Dharma in new and exciting ways.

Mentorship: Under the mentorship scheme, a trainee will work with a named, experienced teacher, sharing their classroom with them to observe classroom management and lesson delivery, and how to engage the students. The class is the total responsibility of each experienced teacher, who will be with their students once a week and get to know them very well over the academic year and is a special relationship with the children.

What do we teach? To ensure that we maintain high standards, BESS has a fully accredited curriculum in Buddhist studies, and lesson plans that integrate modern pedagogical methods. We also have material resources for our teachers in the form of various reference books, and this helps them to feel more confident when offering the teachings in class, offering inspirational ideas to augment their lessons. BESS has also accrued a comprehensive library of children’s books that can be used to illustrate various ethical concepts that are applicable to the children’s own experiences that they can relate to. Story telling is a great way to capture their imagination.

Buddhist RI is not intended for children to retain the contents of Buddhist texts, books, or to remember lists. It is for them to understand the heart of the teachings and to live well for the benefit of all sentient beings. Our lessons do not demand tests or exams, but simply demonstrate how the Buddha’s teachings are applicable to their everyday lives to make them happier and better able to cope with the ups and downs of life. This includes, but is not exclusive to, Who was the Buddha, the life of the Buddha. What is Buddhism – The Four Truths – The Eightfold Path – The five Precepts and so on. New lessons are being created all the time by the Lesson Development Team.

Meditation: Meditation is a part of our program of lessons, and the children really enjoy learning more about being present, and gentle, safe ways to mediate. This offers them the ability to understand that the choices they make in their thinking, speech, and actions, always have consequences and they have a responsibility to think carefully, speak wisely and act with consideration of others’ feelings.

When do I get to teach? When the new teacher feels confident, and after discussion with the BESS school coordinator, they will be given their own class in a school that has the RI program in place. The mentorship relationship does not end there though, as the mentor will offer ongoing support as long as is needed.