A New Challenge for Christian Schools: Finding Qualified Teachers

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1, NRSV

The teacher shortage that is affecting most schools in our area, public and private, is also now affecting MCA. The growth of our student population over the past three years has led to us having to add additional classes and increase the hours of teachers for specials classes like PE, music and art. But as we have needed to increase our teaching staff, we have encountered difficulty in finding individuals who have a college degree and teacher certification.

The vacancy created in one of our third grade classes by the early departure of one of our teachers has proven difficult to fill. The fact that it occurred in the middle of a school term is one of several obstacles that are present in finding and hiring a replacement. At MCA, our teachers are required to have at least a B.A. or B.S., and either be licensed by the state of Illinois or certified by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).

But beyond academic and professional qualifications, teachers at MCA are also called to ministry service. Our classroom teachers must be mature, faithful Christians who see their position as more than just a job. They must be engaged and supported in a local church, and in addition to being qualified to teach academic subjects, like math and language arts, must also teach the Bible and help with the discipleship ministry to their students. They must be able to identify themselves as being in a spiritual relationship with God by grace through faith in Christ and also be able to testify to this experience to the parents of the students in their classroom, since not all of them may necessarily be Christians. The school is a ministry, and our teaching staff are the foundation of it.

Our mission and purpose is discipleship, which is a ministry function of the church, and evangelism, testifying to the salvation provided to us by God’s grace through faith in his son, Jesus the Christ. Our teachers must be qualified to instruct and to lead in both of those ministry functions.

Salaries are the Main Reason Finding Qualified Teachers is so Difficult

No one is in this business for the money. Among Evangelical Christians, schools have historically been founded by groups of parents who had a vision born out of what they saw as a need to provide support for their God-given responsibility of raising and educating their children. And so a balance developed between the cost of providing an education in a Christian context, with a sacrifice on behalf of parents who pay tuition for this support, and a sacrifice on behalf of teachers who use their gifts and talents, and their professional training, to operate the school. Many teachers were, themselves, parents of students, with spouses who were the primary breadwinner in the family, enabling the other to work for less in order to have the blessings and benefits of Christian school education.

But time and circumstances have changed all of that.

This isn’t a complaint, and shouldn’t be interpreted as one. Finding qualified teachers for a Christian school was never easy. But fewer college students are majoring in education and graduating with teaching credentials. Most of those parents who were able to work in Christian schools because their spouse earned enough to cover the difference have seen their children grow up, graduate and move on, and many of them are now retired or getting close. Of those who are now graduating from college, the number of student majoring in education and getting teaching credentials has dropped 40% in a single decade. The pool of potential teachers with our unique set of qualifications is drying up rapidly.

Why are the numbers so low? On average, a student graduating from college in the United States with credentials required to teach will have accumulated student loans averaging a debt of over $50,000. The average starting salary for a teacher entering a public school is just over $40,000, including some insurance and legal benefits. That makes it difficult to repay the loan and cover costs for housing, food and transportation. So most students enter a higher paying occupation.

The Scope of the Problem with Teacher Pay in Christian Schools

According to available economic data, the education profession ranks in the top third when it comes to educational requirements for certification and placement, but in the bottom third when it comes to salaries and benefits, compared to other professions. On the average, teachers, who make up the vast majority of educational professionals, across the board are paid an average of 30% less than other professions requiring similar professional development, including factoring in the amount of time spent on the job.

When examining teacher pay in the private school sector, the numbers drop significantly for schools with a religious-based support system or constituency. The Catholic Church operates the largest system of religious-based schools in the United States and the average annual teacher pay in their schools is 26% less than their public counterparts, according to a recent survey done by a Canadian research firm. Among all religious-based schools, independent, non-denominational, Evangelical Christian schools have the lowest salary figures, according to the same research, 20% lower than Catholic school teachers, and just under 50% lower than public school teachers.

“The laborer is worthy of his hire.” I Timothy 5:8

We won’t see a surge in potential teachers any time soon. In the meantime, we need to be faithful stewards with our resources and work to get an even balance back in the sacrifice made by parents who pay tuition to send their children to our schools with the salaries of their teachers. And that means we need to seek sources of income for our schools aside from tuition payments made by parents. I know of one Christian school in the city that operates several for-profit business enterprises from which the proceeds go to the school’s budget. That’s a win-win situation. Finding business people who are willing to share their prosperity in a commitment to support Christian education requires educating them about the mission and purpose of the school, and helping them see how their own business will benefit from their support.

Most churches don’t support Christian schools, either with their money or the use of their facilities, which stand empty for all but a few hours a week. Our facility at MCA, because it is debt free, is a major factor in our low tuition rate. Here in the Chicago suburbs, there is a Christian school which moved into the largely empty facility of a small, older congregation which was slowly losing the ability to keep up the maintenance. The rooms are filled every day with students who are engaged in learning consistent with the church’s original purpose in building that educational space, their presence helps pay their own share of the maintenance and utilities, there’s no mortgage or lease, and the church has caught the vision for Christian school education. That’s also a win-win situation.

We were able to fill our vacant, mid-year position with a qualified teacher who just graduated from college and, because of her husbands occupation, relocated to Chicago and was looking for a job. That was an answer to prayer. That’s the best way to get teachers. But God has given us a mind to figure out the logistics of everything else, and it is something to consider. We are giving our teachers a well-deserved raise next fall. It will not make them rich but it will help balance the sacrifice they make with that of their students. The academic excellence and spiritual atmosphere of our school, both of which are excellent, is a testimony to their work. Showing them appreciation is a way to help increase their sense of fulfillment and self worth, and goes a long way toward their consideration to stay in the city and continue to work here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: