Word Magazine June 1992 Page 14
RECRUITING CHURCH-SCHOOL TEACHERS
by Department of Christian Education
Recruiting volunteer church-school teachers is a problem that many priests and/or church-school superintendents face each year. Although the problem seems to be getting new teachers, part of the problem is also keeping the teachers that have already been recruited. If there is no turnover, no dropouts among the existing teaching staff, usually there is no need to recruit new teachers. So the problem is really a twofold one not only recruiting new teachers but keeping the ones you already have.
Dealing with the problems of recruiting and keeping teachers takes some evaluating of both the recruiting techniques used and the parish church-school program itself. Many times the techniques and the program may have some aspects that contribute to the problem rather than to the solution. For example, when some people being recruited to teach protest that they don’t know enough to teach, they are often told: “Don’t worry. You’ll learn as you go along.” Before using this technique, recruiters need to ask themselves in what ways the church-school program is constructed to help teachers learn as they go along. If learning as they go along simply means that teachers can read their manuals and teachers’ guides and learn enough to get through each lesson, perhaps the program can be expanded to include a little more help — a qualified person to be in charge and to whom teachers can turn with specific problems, monthly teacher-training meetings, funds for teachers to attend teacher-training conferences outside the parish or for inter-parish workshops, a good resource library where teachers can find answers to their questions and books for self-study. These support systems can help raise the quality of religious education while giving recruiters specific points for selling teaching to those who protest they don’t know enough to teach. If these support systems operate, they also tend to cut down on turnover by decreasing the teachers’ feelings of being alone with no one to turn to for help and guidance.
Recruiters also tend to recruit people to teach by saying, “Teaching won’t take much of your time.” But teaching does take time, and fostering the idea that teaching shouldn’t take time only undermines the church school program. It also leads to teacher frustration when teachers discover that teaching takes more time than they were led to believe, and frustration can lead to dropouts. It is much fairer to the teacher and to the church-school program to give prospective teachers an honest and accurate description of the job and the time it takes to teach. This can be done by borrowing an idea from business — the job description. A job description for church-school teachers can include a general description of the job, the specific responsibilities, the abilities needed, any training necessary and how it can be secured, the person to whom the teacher is responsible, the term of service, and the time requirements of the job. Writing a job description helps the parish church-school program because it requires those involved to think about the expectations held for teachers. It helps recruiting because the recruiter can give prospective teachers a realistic picture of church-school teaching. In preparing the job description, however, those involved should be thorough. For example, specific responsibilities might include not only teaching a weekly class but also planning the lesson, attending teachers’ meetings, taking part in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, etc. Time requirements would, then, be tied to these responsibilities, for example, one hour teaching weekly, 2 hours weekly preparing lessons, 11/2 hours weekly attending Liturgy, 3 hours monthly attending teachers’ meetings, etc.
If prospective teachers keep saying “no” to the recruiter, the recruiter often resorts to saying, “But nobody else wants to teach; Somebody has to do it.” Now this well may appeal to someone’s sense of obligation, and the recruiter just might make the person feel guilty enough to accept. But the first part of the statement isn’t a very good advertisement for church-school teaching, and the second part isn’t exactly an enthusiastic vote of confidence in the person being recruited. Recruiters need to be a little more positive than that. It may be that nobody wants to teach, but that’s not the prospective teacher’s problem that’s the recruiter’s problem. Sometimes recruiters are so aware of what teachers have to give — time, effort, study — that they don’t focus enough on what they can get from teaching. Any teacher will tell you that you learn a lot when you teach — about the Orthodox Faith, about people. You also become more involved in the church community because you get a new group of students each year to share with and because somehow the kids you teach become ‘‘your’’ kids because you have shared. And teaching can be fun; it’s not all drudgery.
There are times when there are closeness, sharing, joy — and learning. But most important, teaching is more than a task; it’s a ministry to which people are called. And this call is to follow in the steps of Christ and teach the faith that leads to salvation.
Teaching is not an easy job always. It takes commitment; it takes time; it takes an openness to learning and experimentation. We can’t fool people about these requirements. But the parish can clarify its hopes and expectations, and ask teachers to share them. The parish can provide help so teachers can meet these expectations. The recruiter’s dream may be to find 20 extraordinarily qualified church-school teachers in the parish standing in line to teach, but the reality is that we must find the few committed people whom we can teach and shape and help reach their potential — if we give them the necessary facilities, training and moral support.