Plenty of irony

I had an unusual weekend: I spent much of the weekend actually teaching. On Saturday, I spent five hours teaching 7th and 8th graders in our faith-based sexuality education course. On Sunday, I spent an hour teaching first and second graders in Sunday school; another hour with our vanishingly small youth group; a third hour training canvassers for our annual pledge drive; and two hours leading a writing group. Over two days, I had ten contact hours.

This was an unusual weekend because as a minister of religious education, I’m often lucky to get ten contact hours a month. Most of us religious education professionals act more like school principals than schoolteachers; we are supervise a set of programs and ministries, but the volunteer teachers are the ones who have most of the contact with children, teens, and adults. And often there’s a pretty close correlation between the size of a religious education program and the amount of teaching done by the religious education professional: the smaller the program, the more teaching a religious educator can do; the larger the program, the more the religious educator has to be concerned with administration.

Irony abounds in the field of congregationally-based religious education. Many people go into the field and become religious educators because they like teaching, only to find that once they are working in a congregation they do very little teaching, and indeed have very little contact time with young people. Many congregations want a religious educator to “grow their program,” and they like to hire a candidate who has an M.Ed., or experience as a schoolteacher, and then they don’t understand why their program stays small when they hired such a great teacher. And congregations tend to judge their religious educator’s job performance more on if that person is “good with kids,” and less on what really matters: whether that person can manage volunteers, keep a master calendar, play congregational politics, develop a flexible administrative infrastructure, and maybe do some fund raising on the side.

I’m one of those fortunate religious educators who likes the administrative tasks as much as the teaching. That’s a good thing, because our children and youth programs grew 24% in attendance in 2011, and if the growth continues in 2012 I will be doing less and less teaching and more and more administration. Though there will still be plenty of irony to fill my days, because I’ll still be someone who went into religious education because I wanted to teach.