THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH, SPIRITUALITY, AND SPIRITUAL INTERVENTION IN ADDRESSING ISSUES OF TEACHER BURN OUT- A special thank you to my cousin Dr. Gloria Harris, a professor of education at Queens College of the City University of New York, who provided the emotional, spiritual and educational support necessary to stay the course and bring this project into existence. Thank you Dr. Thomas, of the Riverside Church, in New York City, for the patience in waiting for the project. Thank you to Rev. J Hill, Minister of Youth and Young Adult services, and to the Career Day Committee for agreeing to expand our Career Day programs to include the Ministry for teachers. Thank you to my friend Lynn Moore, a guidance counselor for the Board of Education who helped me to remember the days when we started out teaching together, and what is was like being a new teacher in the system. Thank you to the public school teachers who attend the Riverside church, for agreeing to participate in one of the pilot studies and focus groups after church. Thank you to all of the public school teachers and principals who sat down with me and discussed issues relating to their feelings and concerns about school. It is also important to remember and thank Jacqueline McDonald, Cheryl Anderson, David Harris, Kevin Harris, Rachelle Bradt, Tim Alcolesse, Andrea Stevens, Danette Henry and Raymond Weis, for their contribution to the initial ministry and supervision of the Youth at the various Church facilities.

This project is written for pastors, teachers, students, and those involved in the helping professions. The church can provide the tools for intervention into the problem of teacher burnout. Teachers, who enter the New York City public education system, soon find out that they may have to take a bite out of forbidden fruit if they want to teach all children, and leave no child behind. The education system is a coded system, and without the codes, it can be a difficult task for some. Pastors will be called on to provide pastoral counseling for teachers experiencing symptoms from the stress of teaching.

This project provides information on some of the issues

When preparing to become a teacher, it is necessary to be wide-awake to what you are learning. The information becomes part of who you are, and decisions and choices have to be made on what will be taken that will be useful in the full development of the human spirit. Eve, in the mythical story in the bible, took a bite into the fruit of knowledge, and the course of human history was changed. The teacher’s bite can do the same. The biblical story about the New York City education system is yet to be told. The fruit of knowledge is still forbidden to select populations, and few teachers have the courage to take a bite. This lack of courage can cause frustration to occur and eventually result in some leaving the system all together. For those who have the courage to bite into the fruit, this project is dedicated. The road is difficult, but for those who have the courage to stay the course God’s children will call you blessed. This project is a journey through the world of teaching, and provides a guide for those who want to step out on faith and walk on water.


This project is divided into six chapters. Chapter one will include a statement of what the writer believes to be the problem in teacher retention. It presents the question, which ask why are so many teachers leaving the classroom. This chapter also covers the purpose of the study. The reader will note the specific limitations of the project and get the understanding that it is written as a helping document and does not intend to place the blame on individuals or systems. The ministry context will also be included in this section, and what the writer believes is an opportunity for leadership. The spiritual autobiography will include a look into the life and passions of the writer and the qualifications to lead this project. In order to help the reader to understand the anatomy of the project, this chapter included the inspiration for the project.

Chapter two reviews the literature in the field on teacher burnout and some of the reasons teachers have indicated were reasons for bailing out of the teaching profession. Chapter three provides a biblical and theological framework for the project. The reader will be encouraged to look at some of the works of St. John and Saint Paul as they help us to understand how teaching involves right mental attitude and provides reference to Jesus his life and His message.

             Chapter four provides three methods used by the writer to organize the project and to determine the need for the project. The reader will learn what part a pilot study at the UTS seminary played in helping to provide the courage to start the project. Special attention will be given to focus groups held with teachers to listen to their stories about some teaching experience and what they would like to see in a program for teachers.

           Chapter five will include a look inside of the daycare early childhood system in order to provide some information on how some teachers handle stress and remains in educational environments. The writer spent many years working as a daycare teacher and day care director. The writer also completed an extensive study into the daycare environment looking at the leadership style of the director and its relationship to the job satisfaction of teachers. It was believed that this would provide helpful background information in looking at how teachers feel about their jobs and how feeling influenced decisions to leave or remain in the field of education and service to others. The case study with public school teachers is significant because they are factual accounts of the writer’s own experiences and the experiences of teachers with whom the writer worked. Names and locations have been changed to respect identity.

Chapter six discusses what was found in these three methods used to determine the need for the project. The most significant part of the project will be how the Riverside Church became a supportive force in this project and demonstrated how the church could play a critical role in spirituality and spiritual intervention in addressing the issue of teacher burnout.





Something happened on the way to completing this project on spiritual formation with teachers as a means to prevent burnout. It was the intention of the writer to find teachers who just needed some spiritual uplifting and a few words of scriptural comfort, and the problem would be solved. This was not the case. It was expected that the review of the literature would reveal reports and studies of teachers complaining about student diversity and lack of parental support as the cause of teacher burnout. Study after study reported teachers feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, not because of the population with which they had to work, but frustrated and overwhelmed with the preparation they received from preparation programs.

Teachers were also concerned with the induction programs designed to help them handle what was expected of them in the classroom. This information had an effect on the project designed by this writer. Originally it was intended to have the church set aside some time for teachers to have spiritual reflections before going to school. The literature and the research project revealed that the church had to take a more pro-active approach to the problem of teacher burnout. The church had to help the teacher- whatever the teacher identified the need to be – and teachers were indicating that they needed help in handling classroom responsibilities. The suggestion was made that the church had no right to enter into the teacher preparation business, and what proof was there that the church could do a better job than the colleges or universities?

This writer must admit that there was no preparation ready to answer such a question. The writer was also not prepared to enter into a pedagogical discussion on educational theory. The writer did however go back into the literature and present information relating to this discussion

The question of when did the concept of spirituality as a factor in teacher preparation present itself as an idea may be of concern to the readers. Twenty years experience working as a college professor at a parochial college located in New York State, provided some background and experience in the area of teacher preparation and spirituality.

The College of New Rochelle required that the faculty and staff provide a warm nurturing and supportive environment for the students. Spirituality was a factor in encouraging some undergraduate students to remain in school and complete college degrees. The college had an alternative route for individuals planning to enter the teaching profession and was concerned with the number of graduates who were experiencing difficulty passing the state certification examination.

The writer was given the assignment to prepare and present a program designed to help teachers prepare for and pass the New York State certification examination. The writer’s area of specialization was Curriculum and Instruction, and so this writer was able to write a program and conduct a series of workshops designed to help some students in the preparation process for the state certification examination. The success rate was ninety eight percent. The workshop involved spiritual formation for teachers in the curriculum. The students had to attend religious services as well as trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, Ellis Island and Washington D.C. The workshops started with spiritual formation and provided a foundation from which to approach teacher preparation. The trips helped students to have a broader view of information necessary for teaching. Included in the program was a strong review of math, science, writing, technology and methodology of teaching. They learned how to prepare lessons and deliver lesson from a spiritual foundation. Students passed the test because they were spiritually motivated and academically prepared with subject content not covered in some college courses.

Looking back over years of teaching experience revealed that it was the spirit of teaching, which made it possible to remain in the profession. Riverside Church was the center of that project and played a significant role in helping individuals prepare for the teaching profession. As a classroom teacher in the New York City public schools, it is not acceptable or permitted to use the term spirituality in teaching. Therefore, students and teachers were encouraged to attend the Riverside Church after school for this spiritual preparation. The question of ethnicity continued to be a topic of conversation with issues concerning teachers and teacher preparation. This writer discovered that the issue was not ethnicity; the issues were more complex and related to preparation and spirituality.           

This introduction provides insight into how the writer thinks and how those thoughts were the underlining spirit of the project. This project was written by someone who cares very deeply for teachers, children, families, the country and the presence of peace and justice in God’s world. This project celebrates the teacher as an individualization of God acting as Him and through Him at the point of his or her existence. God is the answer to the loss of spiritual feeling described as burnout. God can re-light the flame of passion and purpose.

The teacher is the carrier of the flame of knowledge, which was lit by the hand of God. Nothing should interfere with the light coming from the flame. Teachers prepare themselves to be receivers and carriers of the flame and if the winds of challenge seek to blow out the flame, it is necessary to return to the source and restore the flame. This project addressed the restoring centers of the flame, and places where teachers could go to help them stay the course. Several years ago, while working as a teacher, an event occurred, which provided an understanding of the source, strength and courage to teach. It also provided a support source for spiritual teaching. Each morning, this writer would pass a church located one block from the school where my teaching assignment was located. One day, the thought entered my spirit and said,” Stop by this church and renew your spirit.” Entering the church, I joined in a short Catholic Mass, which ended in time to permit me to arrive at my school on time. I continued the process throughout the assignment. The short daily mass provided a new sense of purpose, which made it possible to handle any and all challenges of the teaching assignment. Somewhere in the back of my consciousness the thought came that it would be nice if all churches and different faiths would open doors so teachers could drop by and get some God centering spirit before going into the classroom.

St. Paul tells us to stay the course through the renewing of our minds. This project was a journey through an education process. The writer sought to have a thread, which connected education and religion. The idea of “stopping by” for God before entering the classroom was the thread, which connected this project. Who should stop by for God; where should they stop; and what can they expect from God during one of these stop-by visits? The purpose of stopping by was to renew the strength to remain in the profession and avoid burnout. This project was about the realization of the idea of a time and a place where teachers can drop in and renew the spirit and receive the strength to teach. The writer will use several sources to validate the position that the church and spirituality can renew the spirit and the mind. These sources included a pilot study, interviews, questionnaires, focus groups and a small study of teachers who use spirituality as a means to handle stress on the job.

Leave a Reply