What is a Religious Teacher?
A religious teacher is an instructor who teaches students about faith. They could work in many settings. Like, private schools affiliated with a church. Or a church program that provides religious instruction. Some religion teachers may even instruct at the college level.
Many religion teachers may work in K-12 education. Here, their role may be to help prepare students for life in their faith. For instance, a Catholic school may hire teachers to instruct students in doctrine and faith practices. Or, other subjects such as math, science, and English—but with a Christian perspective.
A catechist is another kind of religion teacher. They may instruct Christians who are about to undergo sacraments. This type of education is called catechesis. Catechists may teach the doctrine and meaning behind religious customs and rites. They may cover what the student should expect and how to prepare.
What Does a Religious Teacher Do?
A religious teacher or religion teacher often plans and teaches lessons about faith. It may sound as if these educators teach one fairly straightforward subject. But in fact, they may cover diverse areas of religion. These could include the history of Christianity, world religions, theology, and more. Others may teach general education lessons at a primary or secondary school. But they often teach these subjects through a Christian lens. And still others may teach college students about their own faith traditions or those of people around the world.
Whether they teach in elementary school or high school, religion teachers typically need classroom management skills. This may involve keeping students focused on their lessons. Plus, handling conflict and providing discipline when needed. Religion teachers may also need to do administrative tasks. Like, taking attendance and grading papers. But most importantly, they may serve as models and mentors for their students. They may set an example by living to the standards of their faith. And they may offer guidance to students who need a little extra help. Whether that’s with an academic concept or a moral dilemma.
And let’s not forget religion teachers who may not work in schools. These instructors may teach programs for various age levels in a church or other setting. For instance, they could educate adult converts on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Or they could teach youth in a Sunday school, guide Bible study classes, and more. Like educators in a school setting, these religious teachers may also have to plan and teach lessons. They may also have to handle administrative tasks. And, they may supervise activities in the classroom and beyond.
Some of the duties and responsibilities of the religion teacher may include:
- Develop lesson plans to achieve educational goals
- Teach lessons, give lectures, and guide activities
- Collaborate with school and teacher leaders
- Work with students in groups and one on one
- Assess student performance and set learning goals
- Communicate students’ progress to them and their parents
- Be able to communicate religious teachings in simple terms
- Have strong knowledge of the Old Testament and New Testament
- Demonstrate and promote moral behavior
- Offer guidance to students with behavioral, academic, or personal issues
How to Become a Religious Teacher
To pursue a religious teacher career path, candidates may take some or all of the following steps:
- Be a practicing member of the faith. A religious education teacher may help bring faith alive for students. So, it’s important that they practice what they teach. In other words, you often need a strong understanding of your faith to help others learn about it. So, don’t be afraid to boost your involvement with your church. You could even join an adult Bible study group.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree. Private schools may have different teacher education requirements than public schools. But in general, you likely need to earn a bachelor’s degree. This could be in religious studies, theology, or a related area. You may also find Bachelor of Religious Education (BRE) programs.
- Meet teacher requirements. In public schools, educators may need to complete a teacher preparation program in college. They may need to do student teaching and other steps to learn classroom skills. And they may need to meet state licensure requirements to earn their license. In private schools, that may not always the case. But churches and schools may have their own requirements for preparation.
- Pursue continuing professional education. Even once teachers begin working in the classroom, they often still need to keep learning. For instance, Catholic school religion teachers may need ongoing professional and ministerial development. Educators could complete non credit courses, professional seminars, and more. Or, you could progress to Step 5.
- Earn an advanced degree. In some cases, a religion teacher might go on to earn a graduate degree. Such as a master’s. For teaching religion at the college level, you may need to earn a doctoral degree. This should be in theology or a related area. According to ONET, 74% of employers prefer to hire people in this role who have a PhD. In other cases, teachers may seek to enhance their careers. Say, by becoming a teacher leader or administrator.
Salary and Job Growth
Salary and job growth for religion professors depends on where they work. For instance, according to O*NET, college level religion teachers earned a median annual salary of $75,240 in 2019. In addition, they saw job growth of 5 to 7%. That’s faster than average for all professions. In primary and secondary education settings, salary can vary based on the school and geographic area. The same goes for the number of available job opportunities.
As provided by BLS, the 2019 median salary by state is:
Here’s what you could learn at each level of your religion teacher education:
While education requirements can vary, many religious teachers earn a bachelor’s degree. This could be in an area like religious studies, theology, or religious education. For instance, a Bachelor of Religious Education program may cover both subject matter knowledge and classroom skills. You could learn about human development and how people learn. You could also deepen your knowledge of scripture and the life of Jesus Christ. Here are some areas of study, courses you could take, and the curriculum goals:
- Introduction to Christian Theology
- New Testament
- Hebrew Scriptures
- Understand Christian theology—and be able to explain it
- Know the Bible inside and out
- Gain practice interpreting scripture
- Christian Worldview
- Youth Ministry
- Understand the role of an evangelist
- Be prepared to teach students about Christian views
- Guide students as they grow in their faith
Some educators may pursue a graduate degree, such as a Master of Religious Education (MRE). A program like this may have the goal of expanding your knowledge of theology. Plus, you could explore advanced teaching strategies. And often, you’ll do independent research in an area of interest. Here are a few broad areas of study, courses you could take, and learning goals:
- Systematic Theology
- Church, Sacraments, and Liturgy
- Spirituality, Morality, and Ethics
- Broaden your knowledge of Christian theology
- Build your expertise of Christian rites and beliefs
- Apply theology to moral and ethical issues
- Small Group Ministries
- Contemporary Evangelism
- Digital Media and Ministry
- Prepare to lead and guide students in faith formation
- Understand the role of an evangelist today
- Explore the use of digital tools to reach new audiences