Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wanted: Mennonite Teachers

Mennonite Teacher Shortage

It is no surprise to most of us that there is a shortage of teachers in  our Mennonite schools.  Every spring and summer many school boards are calling around in desperation trying to find teachers for the next year.   What may be a surprise is the fact that there are plenty of talented teachers around.  “Where are they?” you may ask.  They are right there, sitting in the pews next to you at church.  They are not just eighteen or nineteen, some are in their thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties.  God says in His Word that the body has been given all the gifts.  Notice the verb - HAS.  Present tense.  (Yes, I was an English major) .  We should not have to call other cities and states to try and find teachers.  They have already been given their gift, and they are in our church bodies already.  

The problem is that many of them do not believe that teaching is a feasible option, and they don’t want to do it even if they do have the gift of teaching.  Why?  

*  It isn’t considered a viable “adult” job in most of our churches.

*  It isn’t a position held in high esteem by others, and thus teachers aren’t treated with the same respect as a business owner.  
*  It doesn’t pay enough.

What a sad situation we are in if we need teachers (sometimes desperately), we have them right here in our own churches, but because of the way people view the job of teaching, and because of some of the ways situations are handled, no one wants to do it.  Shame on whomever and whatever created this predicament.  

First of all, no matter what is going on around us, what people think of us, or what we get paid, if we do indeed have the gift of teaching, we should be using this gift to edify the body.  (Ephesians 4:11-12  “And he gave some. . . teachers; For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”)  We should be motivated to teach because in using our God-given gifts, the body is edified.  

When we first told church members that we were going back into teaching, several of them said, “Oh yes, I did that when I was eighteen,”  as though they had already done their Volunteer Service duty and had now moved on to much more important things.  What is more important than children?  Money?  Prestige?  Respect? 

We would much rather be teaching than doing anything else,  especially since we are with all of our own children all day (Duet. 6).  If we are indeed using our gifts, we should be having a blast.  Yes, there are issues, especially in working with so many little humans and their parents, but if we are trained correctly in how to handle these situations, and have good support and communication with a concerned, effective, school board, then these problems can be minimized. 

For a few years Jeff tried some other types of jobs.  He made drawer boxes for cabinets, he installed cabinets, and he sold Amish furniture at a store. While he was thankful for those opportunities, he was really glad to get back into teaching where he is using his gift to edify the body.  

What about me?  Here is what my husband says.  (And in obedience to him, I obey :-)  II Titus says for, “The aged women likewise, that they. . . may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands. . . to be . . . keepers at home.” 

 All of my children are in school or have graduated.  When God tells me to be a keeper at home, we believe that the home means the people as well as the building itself.  My desire is to be with my children, teaching them (and a few others as well).   And I am at home with my family after school; I do cook dinner, make lunches, and clean the floors.  

Now granted, I do love to teach and I know that it is not for everyone, but I believe I am using my God-given gift, and my desire is to be with, lead, and guide my own children, as well as others.   

Teaching isn’t only for eighteen and nineteen year-olds, although our profession gladly accepts interested, willing, young people.  It is also for those of us who are a little older, who no longer have children at home during the day, who have the gift of teaching, and who are willing to invest our time and energy into children’s lives.    

The previous paragraphs hopefully explain why teaching is indeed a viable profession, and that it is very important and needed in our churches.  I hope that obeying God and using our gifts to edify the body is more important to us that what other people think about our job, or how much money we make for that matter.  

Now for the third point--we don’t make $80,000 a year.  But we are very happy and live a very comfortable life.  We own our own home, share one car, and one cell phone.  We enjoy sharing all of that too.  It knits us together.  We are doing what we love, we are together all day, and we are with our children all day.  We laugh, play, explain, grade, assist, explain some more, and fill out report cards.  We do have problems sometimes, but in a Christian community that is functioning properly, these things should be reasonably worked out.   

I once heard a wise school board member tell a group of  school board members and teachers at a conference how his church decided to pay their teacher. Once a year, all the men wrote down what they had made that past year.  The school board averaged the amount, and that was what the school teacher got paid.  By the way, their teacher was an experienced man who had a family.  No wonder.  

So, what if your church body was challenged to find those who do have the gift of teaching?  What if someone spoke at your church to encourage these people to want to teach?  What if the parents, school board, and ministry put a higher value on the position and sought out older, more experienced parents to be teachers?  What if they paid them to go to training sessions, visit successful schools, and listened to their ideas about the school, since they are the ones there for about forty hours a week?    

Is it possible, that if all these things were done, that there would not be so great of a teacher shortage?  What if these people began using their gifts and really enjoyed it?  What if they wanted to stay five, or ten, or fifteen years?  Our schools have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  Actually, we do have something to lose -- our children -- especially if they do not get adequate scholastic instruction by qualified, experienced teachers, and even more so spiritually if they are led astray in any way by foolishness or ungodliness of any type.  This is a very serious matter.  We need serious, dedicated, godly teachers.  

If your school does need teachers, are you just looking for anyone who is willing to show up and spend the time there for at least one year, or are you looking for someone who is truly interested in teaching?  Are most of your potential teachers not interested because of the way the school or teachers are talked about or not held in high esteem?  Are they discouraged because of problems with students’ behavior?  Have the behavior problems been handled correctly?  Maybe the potential teachers have viable concerns.

We should be seeking out  gifted teachers like we would look for someone to handle our businesses for us if we were going overseas for three years.  We should ask potential teachers what they would need, or want, to dedicate their time to teaching -- and not just as some “side job” for a year, but to completely throw themselves into it and hopefully spend years teaching.  If they are adequately prepared ahead of time and are periodically encouraged by attending seminars and workshops, we will have have a better chance of keeping them long-term. 

Children are our most important assets.  We should encourage those who have the gift of teaching, or who we think may have it.  We should approach it as a long-term position, not like it is just something for eighteen or nineteen year-olds to do while they wait for something better to come along.  We should pray that God will show us the people in our local bodies who do have this gift, and that they will be encouraged to use it.