Fixing Adventist Education: Career Fault Lines

Time and time again, as a Seventh-day Adventist educator, I have seen my teacher friends and coworkers leave our church’s schools and become much happier. They report less stress and increased job satisfaction. One friend who now works outside the denomination recently stated, “I didn’t know teaching could be this fun.” Why are many teachers happier when they leave the Adventist education system?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Would it not be stressful to teach in any school system that was focused on ‘indoctrination’ vs ‘education’?


Having left Adventist education at the end of last school year, I echo the sentiment that I am much happier. The time demands, the low pay, the lack of guidelines for appropriate behavior/expectations of wealthy donor parents or influential people in the church community, the lack of a true HR department, the absence of separation between work/personal/spiritual life, the constant monitoring of whether or not what one is teaching is line with the beliefs of whichever board member or parent is looking over your shoulder, administrators without skills and education to do their job… This is just a short list of the reasons why teaching in the Adventist system is exhausting and causes burnout. It also results in exactly what Kevin McCarty mentioned, spiritual abuse. That is why so many educators who leave the Adventist system also end up leaving the church.


Given that Adventist students are spiritually abused from the outset due the concept of original sin, is it reasonable for the teachers who have legally agreed to do the proselytizing to expect that they should be indemnified from such abuse?

On what grounds can they seek protection from such irrational, cultic mistreatment for themselves while they impose this irrational, cultic nonsense on their ill prepared mentally, and spiritually unprotected students?

I can count on one hand all the times during 12 years of SDA education when I felt any sense of empathy from my teachers so I find it difficult to sympathize with an article which is very concerned with the agita of the educators while making almost no mention of the plight and welfare of those supposedly being “educated”.

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Each person is on a journey, arriving at points along the way at different times. Perhaps recognizing that, is important to finding ‘sympathy’ for others in their own journey.


It would help if teachers were employed by the conference and not contracted out to the local church. That’s what the Michigan Conference told us we were. Our check came from the conference but we were contract employees to the local church.

Teachers would gain greater morale if we were employees of the conference, not subject to the vagaries of the local church. Another financing system should be developed so that teacher salaries aren’t so directly funded by the local church. Maybe an educational subsidy should be assessed to each congregation based on membership or perhaps teachers should be paid directly by tithe and the tithing system restructured to permit this.

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Call me hard-hearted if you like but I don’t waste my sympathy or forgiveness on those who cannot or will not admit that what they’ve done, or are doing, is apathetic and wrong.

My only problem with the system was with the old time donors, who expected to solve any problems before the board meetings - by phone - after hours. One as much as told me after a board meeting when I had brought up an issue, “We don’t bring up issues we don’t plan for.” Who knew…

The other issue was how the staff, teachers, were expected to do home visits, recruiting. I got the board chairman pound his fist on the table, when I suggested the teachers were already overloaded.

I ended up as principal for three years, teaching classes at the same time. It was my experience, the kids were great, but no different from the public school kids. One non-SDA girl, dressed up in the “all black grunge,” with black eyes, mouth and nails came to register. I told her we didn’t have uniforms but the grunge had to go. After the first week of school I asked her how she was “coping”. She said it had been tough, but she knew it was good for her to be there. After graduation she went on to some Mormon college.

We had quite a number of non-SDA students, one who went on to one of the SDA colleges. I think our staff was pretty good. I taught one “religion” class. We had a text, and I made it clear, the class was based on that text, as SDA history basically.

I did run into push-back when I thought it would be a good idea to play intermural sports with another Christian school in the area; and once when we had a fund-raiser and I had a local SDA music group (with DRUMS!!) come in to play. Other than that - it was all good.


Admittedly, I did 1-12 in Adventist schools and dropped out of college a few credits short of a degree, so maybe my reading comprehension scores aren’t what they should be.

But isn’t the point of this article that things are not “all good” in the Adventist School system?

I understand that you worked for them but did you ever attend Adventist schools as a student?

And were you taught from birth that you no matter hard you tried to be “a good boy”-I wasn’t ever sent to the principal’s office once until boarding school-that you were a “natural born sinner” and, according to EGW your chances of salvation were about equal to hitting the lottery?

Call me out of synch in a basically SDA forum if you like, but to not see and admit the basic flaws with such an “education” seems, at best, willfully myopic if not flagrantly self-absorbed.

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My personal experience was, petty much, good; and no, my SDA student days didn’t start until college - that was good too; but that was because of the major I chose - English. The education classes were pretty much all EGW, of course. The religion classes were surprisingly good, even in retrospect. I credit my good experience to couple of outstanding classes with Dr. Ottilie Stafford and Dr. Madgwick for “New Testament Epistles” - great British accent. I guess it’s all what you make it.


I guess that’s one way of putting it all off on the students.

“It didn’t matter if I taught truth or nonsense, what they learned was up to them.”


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You sure have an uncanny way of turning everything into a negative. :wink:


I learned from some of the best!


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One can also ‘unlearn’ and relearn and continue to learn, just saying!!!

I have learned that one can learn a lot about oneself by the things he-or she-sees in others.

Take negativity, for example.

Just sayin’….


BTW, I’m not saying that I didn’t learn anything from my Adventist education. (If nothing else it taught me to be okay with being “out of synch” with pretty much the rest of the world!!!)

However, I’m convinced that it’s not the “sure ticket to paradise” that EGW implies it is.

Also, and while I’m not a guidance counselor, it seems reasonable to suggest that any teacher who finds the career choice as unfulfilling as described in the article should do themselves and, more importantly their students, a favor and go find a job working with “those who can”!

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  1. As a former Chair of a School Board, I have found there to be ethical issues to arise when one of the teachers was married to the congregational pastor.
  2. I have found there to be issues of improper use of school funds when the congregational pastor was able to control school funds.
  3. I was once a congregational member in a church where the teachers could choose whether to be employed by the Conference or employed by the local congregation. The business people on the School Board were able to offer salary, medical and retirement benefits at a lower cost to the congregation than what they had to pay the Conference for Conference teachers.

Comment by Gregory Matthews

I knew there were parents in Adventist churches who got themselves a seat on the school board just so they could use their influence to make sure their kids don’t get kicked out of school.

I also knew of parents who threatened legal action to get their kid reinstated in Adventist schools after having been thrown out.

I also know of parents who were remorseful for having sent their child to an SDA school in the first place when the student started talking about being baptized and who blamed the school for all the child’s subsequent life problems.

I know of parents like my mom who ironically worked in the local public school system to pay for us kids to stay in private Adventist schools even though she knew that some of the public school teachers were much better at their jobs than their Adventist counterparts.

And I know of teachers who have apologized later in life to their students for the what they’d put them through while in SDA schools, or who’ve alluded to their difficulties with situations similar to what The Police described in their song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”.

IOW, while I know some people thrive in the environment, I understood even before reading the article that teaching in an SDA school isn’t easy.

So as a chronic, life long quitter whose worked in the automotive industry, wood manufacturing, construction, writing and sales, I’m probably not the right person to give career advice. But my suggestion to Adventist educators who think the road ahead looks rough and rutted, is to take a risk, quit that pot-holed track and get on the interstate!

I’m pretty sure you’ll find that in doing so, you’ve done yourself, and your students, a favor.

Unless, of course, it’s just too difficult to give up those yearly, two month long summer vacations with another two weeks at Christmas time…



My dad has been an educator, vice-principal, and principal with an education administration degree from Loma Linda University.

He has helped save save many schools financially. I’ve heard some of the stories as to why there are problems within the Adventist education system.

I used to work for Adventist Health; I remember reading and hearing stories from people who were a part of the Adventist hospital split from conference management. Without that decision and implementation, we would not have a lot of Adventist hospitals in existence.

The same should have happened with the educational system, a split from the conference office with its own leadership who are educators, not pastors. Pastors (in general) did not study to work in the education part of the organization and yet they are in conference leadership roles and make decisions that affect the education system.

My dad left twice from the education system because of the poor decision-making at the conference level and the schools boards afraid of taking action (because they’re not educated properly to what their board power can/can’t do). When a superintendent throws their weight around it doesn’t mean the school board has to take their opinion as gospel truth. However, that happens a lot.

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