I'm planning to be a teacher in the future and I'm curious how much I will be forced to hide my atheism. Has anyone experienced a negative result from being open about their position on religion? Positive stories are welcome as well.
What an excellent question! In your case, I think it will depend greatly on what level you teach at and where you live. I would guess that the more you have to deal with parents, the bigger deal it will be.
I teach (among other things) at the university level, and I've lived in areas where it would have made no difference whatsoever. Here in Mississippi though, it certainly makes a difference. I've had students try to argue against evolution, and I am certainly very aware that the overwhelming majority of my co-workers are Christian.
I think the hardest thing is likely to be that many Christians cannot separate being an atheist from hating Christians. Upon learning that you are an atheist, they are likely to apply every stereotype their church has taught them to you. This can make things tough.
We have the same problem here in Alabama with Christians thinking that atheist must hate Christians. This is the worldview that their church propagates. Sadly many people can not "come out" because their parents would disown them because of this type of mindset.
Boy, am I glad to be living in a society where you don`t get looked at as a freak when you say you`re an atheist.(although, with the current events throughout Europe....). I never had to hide it, and am always straightforward about it. Even with some friends of my girlfriend, who are followers-of-the-cross. They`re always offended, no matter how much I candy-coat my opinion. Bottomline; stand up for your atheism, but be prepared to take some blows. I`m glad to say my manager is an atheist too.
I was a teacher in a Muslim country where, even though daily life was completely secular, the 'a-word' was pretty much completely verboten. Even people who said, 'you know I think I don't really believe so much in God' would still call themselves Muslims only. So, as others have said, I tended to say 'I'm not religious'. Had I called myself atheist, I don't think they'd have hated or mistrusted me, but they'd have looked askance.
The thing is that it's not a bad answer actually; true as it goes and more accurate a response to 'what is your religion?' than 'atheist' is.
Although I'm in what supposedly is the "least religious" state in the US, I too take the "don't ask/don't tell" standard into the workplace with me. As the lucky owner of, shall we say, a gregarious personality, this is the best system I've come up with so far. I also believe in taking the high ground whenever possible and showing by example "what an atheist is" as much as I can (albeit this would be pretty damned tough to do with religious co-workers up in my face). I think that the example of a calm atheist v. a hysterical believer can be a powerful tool to help shatter stereotypes.
I don't work in education, but the other day someone brought an atheist group on my meetup.com profile, and I just said that I love to learn about the history of religion and the parables, but I do not believe that the stories were literal history. I said I didn't believe in people coming back from the dead or walking on water.
My atheism hasn't adversely affected my work life. I think it depends a lot on the environment that you work in. The average employee in my workplace tends to be at least college educated, and I've found that the more highly educated the group, the more tolerant they are as a whole, even in a state like Alabama.
That said, I think you as a teacher could run into to far more problems due to the nature of the work. I hope I'm wrong, but it's something I'd play by ear in your shoes.
In my work, I deal predominantly with black and Latino folks in economically depressed areas, who tend to be overwhelmingly Christian/Catholic. Also, my organization works with progressive Churches, so I try not to bring it up, as a barrier to my job. However, older folks, and those employed by the churches like to bring it up, and I'm always honest with them.
I was also a teacher. (I am now an administrator.) I taught science and sometimes kids would ask questions especially about evolution and such that I felt were coming from their religious family. I always just stuck to the science but at times would toss some sarcasm. One time a girl said, "You know Christians believe that Adam and Eve were the first two people." I replied, "Well Christians can believe whatever they want. But I am telling you that there was never a time when there was only one man and one woman on Earth." A simple statement of fact.
I would only offer the fact that I was an atheist when asked. My feeling was that if a christian or jewish teacher was asked this question they could answer honestly, so there was no reason for me to do otherwise.