Staffing Seminary

I am a member of the Relief Society Presidency and a few weeks ago we got an assignment from the Bishopric to “think of someone who could sit in on Seminary lessons” in order to have two deep leadership.  I live in what some members might call “the mission field” so seminary is taught by a member of the ward for free at 6:30am.  We also have to have another adult to just sit in the back of the room and be there.  At the beginning of the year our seminary teacher was a man, and one of the seminary dads was able to sit in the back and work remotely on his laptop.  Then we changed seminary teachers and now the teacher is a woman so we have to have a woman to sit in the back.  As we know, any time a man and a woman are together without adult chaperonage adultery ensues, even in a room full of teenagers at 6:30 am when one of the adults is working remotely.

The Relief Society Presidency got this assignment because no one in the Bishopric could think of/persuade anyone to do it, but we might be able to find that special someone.  I summed up the necessary qualifications.

  • Ideally would be the mother of a seminary student for reasons of fairness, reasonable expectation, and probably dropping off anyway.
  • Must not have a job that is incompatible with sitting at the Church at that time
  • Must not have any children younger than high school who have to get ready for school
  • Must not have any other early morning obligations or goals of her own
  • Must not have any health problems that make the job unduly burdensome
  • Must be willing to commit to sitting in that room every weekday morning from 6:15-7:30 even if she is retired and wants to enjoy some well-earned rest.
  • Must not have any evening commitments in order to go to bed early to be ready to teach a class at 6:30 am every day.

The request for volunteers had been in the bulletin for weeks.  The Bishopric have racked their brains.  And unsurprisingly the Relief Society Presidency was unable to produce a unicorn.  Honestly it is a miracle we have someone who is willing to teach.  Being Seminary teacher amounts to taking on an unpaid part time job in a field entirely out of your own sphere of expertise.  The teachers that I have known told me their routine is to teach, get the kids to school, then spend the morning studying for the next day’s lesson.  When done with diligence (assuming it is your first time and you’re creating new lesson plans) the job can take three+ hours a day five days a week.

This is an unreasonable expectation that is not equitable across the Church.  In high-density membership areas the Church owns seminary buildings, has enough of a presence to have release-time seminary, and above all has trained, paid teachers.  Now I’ll be the first to say my experience with CES has been problematic.  I’ve heard a lot of speculative nonsense and charisma masquerading as the Holy Ghost.  But if it is a paid job in Utah, why is it a volunteer position in other places? It is an extraordinarily burdensome calling that burns through members and virtually no one accepts with any degree of enthusiasm.

We should pay seminary teachers.  It goes far beyond the bounds of a reasonable volunteer expectation for the vast majority of people.  It comes with a significant opportunity cost.  Paying ward seminary teachers would offset this and likely make it easier to find people who would be willing to do the job.  We could also pay the “two deep” chaperone – or pay two teachers who trade off who is the “sit in the back so no one commits a crime” adult.  Honestly I’ve accepted with grim resignation that this fate will come to my door when my children are in high school.  I’m an experienced teacher, and often the consensus is that if your kid is in seminary you kind of have to be willing.  Much as I hate early mornings, and I had a very negative experience with seminary the first two years (after which I stopped going and did makeups at home), I like to think I could make it less sexist and cliché.  I’d find the prospect less loathsome if it came with a paycheck though.


  1. I live in Ontario, Canada and taught early morning seminary for about five and a half years total (two separate times). For three and a half of those years, I had younger children in the home not attending seminary. This was also during the time that CES still fired paid female seminary teachers once they had a baby (or married someone with shared custody of minors); this rule changed partway through my teaching. The majority of unpaid seminary teachers where I live are women. One time I asked my paid CES coordinator how many women were paid supervisors as he has just been to a regional training in the States. There was only one out of about a dozen. As a more liberal minded man he had asked the GA about that and was told that it makes it awkward for one on one meetings if they’re not both men. My supervisor pointed out that most of his own one on one meetings were with women teachers.

    What I have witnessed is that it is okay to take women out of their homes and even away from younger children who need help getting ready for school IF they are not being paid. And once in a while it’s okay to have a paid female CES coordinator–assuming a man isn’t available. This church runs on the unpaid labour of women (and unpaid men, but let’s compare the number of men who get paid compared to women shall we?) and often the exclusion of women from making real change in a timely fashion.

    (As a sidenote, we currently have the seminary calling split by a man and woman–two early morning days by one, two early morning days by the other, then they alternate Wednesdays in the evening prior to the youth activity. The chaperone usually just hangs out in the hallway outside the class. Though occasionally this has meant that a female chaperone has been in the building with a male driving parent–who is making sure they’re not committing adultery?!)

  2. This is a paid job in other areas, as it should be, and the same should be true in your area. I agree completely. I like the idea of having two paid teachers to split the prep burden and be able to sub for each other as needed. And while 2-deep adult supervision is wise, the same gender as each other rule is insulting and should go.

  3. I taught seminary “in the missionfield” for 8 years. I taught weekdays in my home so my children could get a little more sleep. AND so I could have more control of what they were being taught. There are really some strange things happening in the world of untrained seminary teachers (though in my experience, they aren’t much worse or better than trained ones. I believe there is some pay (this was a few years ago, so I don’t remember for sure), but it’s VERY minimal–like $500 a year or something. Or instead, the church would pay for your trip to BYU to attend the seminary conference.

    • As a current stake-called teacher (in Utah), I can confirm that there is no pay, and the annual conference is now virtual (but that travel reimbursement did use to be the case when I taught in Virginia 1998). We have an annual class budget of something like $25, but the couple times I’ve tried to get reimbursed I’ve given up after triplicate signatures still not being sufficient and just count it all consecration.

  4. I grew up in Utah with paid seminary teachers and it has always blown my mind that there’s a calling this intense out there! (I mean, I guess being a bishop is intense – but they work with so many people. The seminary teacher is with just a group of teenagers who may or may not show up. It’s so much manpower into such a small group, by one single person, at such crazy hours. What did they do on days they were sick before text messages – call a bunch of houses at 5 am to tell them not to drive 30 minutes to class?)

    Early morning seminary blows my mind on so many levels. I was totally spoiled. (Getting up early enough to be ready for high school in time already took forever to shower, fix my hair, look decent and catch the bus (which to be fair to me, was the earliest bus and I was first on the pickup schedule, so it was *kind* of like early morning seminary…I probably got to at a similar time to his who rolled straight out of bed and showered at night). But still – I’m a morning person and I still can’t imagine filling this calling!

  5. In our stake the class is currently early morning for four days via Zoom, which cuts having to travel for perhaps up to 30 minutes just to get to class. Once a week an in person class is held for an hour before the youth activity.
    My own kids did online only, at a time that suited them, when they got in from school. I was adamant that they would not do early morning. That option no longer appears to be available. CES didn’t seem to be able to countenance the idea that those not having the option of release time seminary won’t all be doing it at the same time early in the morning. Such control freaks!
    Sleep deprivation is bad for the health and I for one, have a very low tolerance threshold for it.

  6. They are requiring a second adult to just sit in the back now?! And it has to be the same gender!? OMG. I do respect the desire to keep youth safe, but that’s a big ask. The idea that it has to be the same gender as the teacher is just dumb. Yup, time to pay seminary teachers everywhere — and the same-gender chaperones too.

    And while we’re at it, let’s also pay for building cleaners. That’s another unnecessary and unfair burden on members, given the amount of money SLC has in its coffers.

  7. I taught Seminary in my home for 7 years straight. For the final two years I was also the Stake YW President. My life was insane. After that, I taught Institute for three years every Tuesday morning and evening, so women who worked could attend the night time lesson. There was no pay offered. Seminary was considered a calling. I could collect milage on my car, but as Seminary was in-home, I received zero.

    As I look back, I did it for the kids. I spent hours of prep making a 6 am class worth coming to. We became a family of sorts. I managed to attend a lot of the sports and musical and acting events of my students. Cheering them on, standing at the sidelines. Some of my students had real troubles at school and at home. I always hoped a piece of that daily lesson would stay with them and help them get through an issue at school or when they returned home later that day. Years later, I am still in contact with a few of them. Now grown, with families of their own.

    I feel the church should offer a salary for this position. You cannot throw a lesson together at 9 pm and call it good. It takes study time. It takes your personal time. It takes your creativity. It takes supplies that you provide. I remember attending the monthly CES meeting at the stake center. My CES Boss definitely got a paycheck each week. Why not us? Oh, it’s just a calling!

  8. Hear, hear. I’m a former seminary teacher and during that four years, I could put in for seven cents on the mile for my car – nothing for me. We had a small allowance for supplies that I ended up routinely bolstering out of my own pocket.

    And then there was the annoyance factor. We used what in our building was called the Young Women’s room and mornings after mutual I repeatedly had to vacuum the detritus from the activity the night before and put the tables and chairs back where we needed them. (And yes, we did put away all our tables and chairs after class on Friday and get the room ready for people coming in on Sunday.) Not to mention members of the YW presidency felt it was their room and their room only and weren’t interested in figuring out how to share the space. I’d been told that they got the front of the room, and we got the back, and I was following that. I don’t know whether there’d been bad blood between the two programs by the time I’d been called or what, but when we put up posters or other visuals – in”our half” of the room – the YW president took them down. The class spent some time working on a timeline of the OT, which the YW president then moved to a hidden corner. I moved it back to where we could see it, along with a note asking her to please leave it where it was, because we needed it, and she put a big poster right on top of it. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say, those and others are issues that nobody should have to deal with. That’s the sort of thing that sends volunteers right out the door.

  9. I’m a newly-called seminary teacher outside of the paid-seminary-teachers belt. The idea of getting paid for my labor (and WOW is it labor!) never occurred to me, but now I can’t un-know it. In our ward, we split the teaching between four teachers, three of which are female and only one of whom (one woman) does not work outside the home for pay. There are certainly plusses and minuses to this approach, but I honestly can’t believe that any one person (or two people) ever managed this calling; it’s such a HUGE ask. I spend so much time preparing these lessons, and I’m obviously not the only one who does. I really enjoy teenagers and accepted the calling, but don’t think I would/could have accepted had I been the only teacher or even one of two. Paying teachers could make such a huge difference and really open the pool of those willing and interested.

    • I should have added that we hold seminary in a member’s home. So while no other adult sits in on lessons, there are other adults in the home during class. This makes it easier in our unit, so I feel for those for whom it’s not this easy!

  10. My kids did early morning Seminary and it was detrimental to their health. They were always so, so tired, all day long. And telling them to go to bed earlier wasn’t realistic -their schoolwork load and circadian rhythms just didn’t make that work. My son’s senior year he finally said he was done with Seminary and we let him stop attending. His grades improved, he got more sleep, and was all around a more happy kid.
    These teachers work incredibly hard to make the classes interesting, but the kids are so exhausted they cannot focus. Our ward tried to call me once when my kids were still in grade school. I flat out said no– I couldn’t help with morning routines at home while teaching at church. My husband traveled enough then to make it difficult. I told the bishopric that I didn’t see Seminary as the “badge of honor” many folks place on it. We do a disservice to those kids when we deprive them of sleep. We do a disservice to the men and women who teach early morning Seminary when they are not compensated or supported for the work they do.

    • I think it should not be required to go to Church schools. That’s honestly the only reason to go IMO. The time of day means there’s no real student engagement for the most part, and honestly the only parts are remember are when teachers said things so offensive or weird they were unforgettable. In depth scriptural instruction has value, but the early morning teach-for-free model isn’t working very well.

  11. I taught early morning seminary for four years at a time when I had four small children. My oldest was six when I started. My youngest was just a few months old when I finally quit. I have a Master’s Degree in education and yes, before it was over, I grew to resent all the free time I was asked to contribute. “Full-time” seminary teachers, always men, were paid and they didn’t do any more prep-time than I did.
    A few years ago, I was asked to teach a seminary class every day at noon so the full-time seminary teacher could have a lunch break. I refused and i told them why. (1) students were being released into the care of a volunteer during the school day. School officials were not going to look kindly on that if a student’s mental, eotional, or physical health was jeopardized during that time. (2) I had a teaching degree and I deserved to be compensated for that.
    local church hierarchy found somebody else to teach the class, a woman of course who “didn’t have anything else to do.” The Church gets out of paying a lot of people by couching the job as ‘extending a call’. A number of our friends have gone on missions and the woman winds up as a secretary in the mission home.

    • My dad was paid a stipend to teach seminary in the early 1970s. He was newly married and it was a nice way to make extra money. The church stopped offering pay and the stake president paid him for two years out of his own money.

      I’ve taught seminary for four years and am now the stake supervisor/coordinator. It is VERY difficult to find people for this calling. It’s just so much time. However, if there was pay, I think plenty of people would be interested.

    • That’s gross. If a man is paid to do it, a woman should be paid to do it. Also asking someone to do a job in the middle of the day for free really makes it impossible to pursue paid work of any kind. Grrrrrrrr

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