2 November 2022 | Friday morning, Oct. 28, brought an alarming North American Division (NAD) Year-End meetings report from Dr. Arne Neilson, Vice President of Education for the North American Division; Dr. Betty Bayer, Director of Education in Canada; and Dr. Berit von Pohle, Vice President of Education for the Pacific Union Conference. As mentioned in our last report, the majority of the Adventist workforce is nearing retirement age. Schools are closing not for a lack of students, but for a lack of teachers.
The retirement trend began about ten years ago, stated von Pohle, when 200 teachers were already over the age of 60. The union’s two universities were only graduating ten or so teachers a year. This is a trend seen all over the division; the number of education students doesn’t fill the void of the number of teachers retiring. Neilson reported retention is also a problem for the education department. Teachers are leaving Adventist education due to the lack of compensation and the working conditions which are not conducive to a healthy work/life balance.
Recruitment and Retention
Dr. von Pohle discussed the education scholarships offered by her conference to five students each year. Over the four years in the education department, the conference provides $9,000 if the student stays in the union. She reported mixed results. Since the start of the scholarship, three teachers have been fully launched, two of which stayed in union. Currently, there are 26 recipients throughout the four-year process. She also unveiled an early college class offered to academy students in the Pacific Union. This would allow seniors to receive three credits through Pacific Union College towards Introduction to Teaching. Finally, she wanted to develop career guidance programs for the academies, many of which are without guidance counselors, which would steer students towards careers the church needs filled.
“We might have to relook at policy.” President G. Alexander Bryant
The delegates were sent into breakout rooms to discuss possible changes which would encourage retention and recruitment. During the discussion on Friday, various financial incentives were suggested 22 times, including scholarships, twelve-month contracts instead of ten-, and loan forgiveness.
Dr. Jim Davidson, executive secretary of the Southern Union Conference, suggested research into why young people don’t want to work for the church, why we really struggle with retention, and shoring up the lack of job security for teachers due to the structure of the hiring process. This was echoed by several other delegates who suggested exit interviews. There was also a push for an honest conversation about the structure of our institutions.
Doing Something Now
On Tuesday, the following four actions were sent to committee:
- Re-vision model for financial funding of Adventist education.
- Develop recruitment strategies that span elementary through higher education that identify, provide mentoring, and prepare those who demonstrate potential for excellence as educators.
- Provide comprehensive whole person care for educators, including reasonable work schedules and expectations.
- Provide student loan forgiveness for teachers, similar to the financial assistance given to hired pastors who were unsponsored through their MDiv program.
Image: Screen capture of the NAD live stream including Berit von Pohle, at the podium; Betty Bayer, right; and Arne Neilson, background.