Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Teacher Burnout

“I’m not being fed.”

I’ve heard that sentiment several times in the past month from precious, dedicated, worn out teachers. One dear lady has taught the preschool class at our church for over thirty years. Never one to complain, she surprised all of us as we sat at a golden wedding anniversary party by saying, “I wish I could go to an adult Sunday School class. I need to learn too.” Her adult daughter, sitting across the table from us said, “That’s why I quit teaching. I wasn’t getting fed.”

I surprised myself with my own answer. I think I was trying to be compassionate but I realized the truth in my own words. I said to them, “I have to work hard at self feeding.”

If you are a Sunday School teacher, how do you maintain your own spiritual life when you are constantly teaching others to grow in their faith?

First, develop a quiet time apart from your study of your lesson. As a busy mother of small children, the only time I seemed to have for bible study was to read the commentary in my lesson book and to mull over the scriptures for the lesson all week. But after teaching for years, there’s only so much I can get out of the story of Jonah for the umpteenth time. Still, it’s all too easy to rely on this study as my only input and I found I wasn’t really getting into God’s word like I wanted to. In those busy days, my mother had a good idea for personal bible study. Set your goals much lower. She suggested that I commit myself to read a Psalm a day. That’s a short, accomplishable chunk of Scriptures that’s still providing me with a regular diet of God’s Word.

Second, go deeper with your lesson in your personal Bible study. If you teach high school, work through the discussion questions for yourself. Use a study Bible to explore the lesson scripture. Check cross references. Use the goals in the application sections of your lesson to do your own self evaluation. If your lesson application is about obeying God when it’s hard, ask yourself, “When do I find it hard to obey God?” then use your answer as a point of prayer.

Seek other sources of learning besides Sunday School. Are you attending a mid week bible study or your church’s Sunday evening bible study? Do you take notes on the pastor’s sermon. In other words, are you doing all you can do to take advantage of the learning opportunities available to you?

Avoid resentment. Our culture thrives on a me mentality. I am so saddened when I see people approach their search for a church with the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” When teachers are tired and frustrated with students who won’t listen, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves and ask, “What am I getting out of this?” Jesus calls us not to be served but to serve as He did. Think of all the years you have already spent in studying the Bible, of learning God’s ways. What a blessing! You are rich in what you have already received. Consider your teaching then as a time to give to others, that God is using you to feed others so they will grow in your faith.

Analyze the real issue. Are you really wishing you could be fed? Or are you tired of squirrelly kids who won’t listen to you, curriculum that is irrelevant or clumsy in its approach, lesson preparations that you just don’t seem to have time to do, or persistent feelings of anxiety that you aren’t the one for this job? Do a self check. Be honest with yourself. If you need to, discuss the real issue with your pastor or children’s minister.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for time off. Church people joke that once you volunteer to teach, you’re in it for life. Church people can be quite uncompassionate when a teacher does want to quit. That is so unfair of churches to do that to volunteers! We need to respect our teachers a lot more. Everyone needs a break, to revamp, refresh and revive, Sunday School teachers included. Don’t reach the point where you want to quit forever or you have to leave the church in order to get away from teaching. If you teach every Sunday, ask for a month’s sabbatical or ask for a substitute to relieve you one Sunday a month. This will give you space to take a fresh look at your class and replenish your creative juices.

God is pleased with your teaching. He is honored that you are reaching His little ones with His Word. He will not ask you to do anything that He will not give you the resources to do including staying frim and healthy in your personal relationship with Him.

1 comment:

For His Glory, Dora said...

wow.. such encouraging words.. I'll make sure to pass it along to all our teachers also. Thank you so much.