Month: October 2017

Why I Left Jewish Education, Part V

Jewish Education

20 Uncomfortable Facts about Jewish Education

Part IV

16. Our Mobility Is Limited

Our chosen profession, Jewish education, is dangerously limiting. Many communities only have one Jewish school, so that if you want to change or your contract gets cancelled, you either need to switch professions or uproot your entire family. Even in communities with multiple schools, often the jobs they have are limited, or you find out about your cancelled contract too late in the year to successfully apply. And there are other reasons that limit mobility in such communities, more details than necessary.

What makes this situation so much worse is that the administration is well aware of the fact and treat their employees accordingly. This means you work every day knowing that not only is your job a click away from disappearing, but the consequences of that happening are dire. Teaching while fearing for your job does not produce quality, inventive teachers. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Furthermore, if you choose at some point to move to Israel, you basically have no choice but to leave the profession, since such jobs have a thousand qualified people applying for any available role.

So, choosing Jewish Education means either staying put and playing it safe, or forcing your family to wander around the country with you as you pursue the non-existent perfect role, constantly draining your extremely limited funds.

17. We Only Ever Get One-Year Contracts

A scary fact of every Jewish education role I’ve had so far: Contracts are never longer than a year, and have a specific clause stating that the school can break the contract whenever they choose.

Each year around May teachers wait in fear as they find out whether or not they will have the “privilege” of returning. The pay is low and the benefits are few… but at least there’s no job security…

Teachers teach best when they know they’re appreciated, they’re given abundant freedom, they are supported by their administration, and their errors are expected and forgiven. Take away all of that and replace it with fear of retaining a job, and you have a recipe for teachers not providing their students with a complete person or the best possible education. A fearful teacher doesn’t take risks, and not taking risks means minimal innovation and creativity.

Some of my greatest moments as a teacher were when I knew I wasn’t returning. All fear was removed and I felt light and free in the classroom. Teachers should maximally be able to feel that way all the time. Minimally, through time and hard work, they should be able to achieve more freedom and security.

18. We Don’t Stand Up For One Another

It’s a very sad reality, and completely connected to so much of what I’ve already said: When contract time rolls around, and we find that our brethren have been dumped out the door, we are forced to pretend like we don’t notice. We just sit and brood quietly.

Why? We’re all good people and care about each other terribly. We watch each other throughout the year and support each other through our trials and tribulations. Why can we not man up and march into the administrative offices to demand an explanation?

Because we all know that our own role is as easily removed as that of our comrade who was just axed. We know that despite the wages being small, we and our families are relying on them to put food on the table. We know that if we lose the job, the disaster that follows next is unfathomable.

And yet we have another example of how we’re not a true family. Or at best we’re a horrifically dysfunctional one. Imagine watching your brother punished severely and undeservedly by your parent, and knowing that there’s nothing you could do to help without risking the same punishment.

19. The Secret To Success

I’m often asked what’s the best advice to give to someone new to Jewish Education. With humor (but not really), I give the same advice every single time.

Marry rich.

It’s sad but true. That single elusive act will solve most of your problems. When teaching in a Jewish school can be done as more of a passion than a profession, you have the freedom to do exactly as you choose. The low salaries will be irrelevant. Professional development costs will be of no concern. There will be no fear of losing your job or needing to relocate. In fact, your financial status will inherently place you in better standing with the school, giving you extra freedom from the administration.

Financial independence will allow you to teach with all of the comfort that all teachers should but most certainly do not receive.

Now we just need to find a network of wealthy folk who are ready and willing to marry Jewish educators, and we’re halfway to solving our problems!


20. It’s Not About The Money

Everyone thinks the biggest problem for Jewish educators is the low salaries. Pay them better, and we’ll solve the whole issue. Teachers will be happier and retention will be stronger.

Money is a factor, to be sure. But it’s not even close to the biggest factor.

In fact, I guarantee you this. Go to every person you know who has voluntarily left Jewish Education and ask them this question:

If your employers were to give you greater freedom over your classroom. If you were treated with respect, and had the ability to earn a longer and stronger contract. And if you were given plenty of opportunities and access for professional growth. If you felt supported and respected by your administration. If you had all this, but there was no change in your salary whatsoever, would you have stayed?

I can all but guarantee you, almost everyone would say yes.

I swear to you, it’s really not all about the money.

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Why I Left Jewish Education, Part IV

Jewish Education

20 Uncomfortable Facts of Jewish Education,

Part III

11. The Sad Reality Of The ‘B’

We are living in a sad situation. Jewish Education has become a commercialized business. The schools are forced to cater to the whims and wishes of the students and parents, or risk losing the tuitions that keep the schools running.

I don’t really know how we got here. The Jewish schools are sometimes bargains in comparison to other private schools. In some places (like Baltimore), parents may choose to send their children to the Jewish schools to avoid the terrible public education. In other places (like Kansas), the public education is stellar and the Jewish schools really need to work hard to convince anyone to go there.

No matter where you are though, some things stay the same. Competing for students and fighting for students to stay has become a giant problem. Schools aren’t and cannot be like a regular business. Fact is: You’re paying for your child’s education, not your child’s grade.

And that’s where things have gotten complicated. Very complicated. And there are so many people responsible for the problem persisting.

One must know when going into the Jewish Education field, in most circumstances, if the students receives a failing grade, the teacher is blamed. And whereas sometimes the teacher actually is to blame, most of the time the student has not performed adequately and has earned the grade they received.

But they know what’s going to happen next.

In my most extreme example, I had to flunk a student who turned in blank exams for opened-book tests. Padding his grade was not feasible. I knew the administration would come down on me, and they most certainly did. But what in the world could I possibly do at that point?

Advice for Newbies to Jewish Education

My advice for a new teacher in Jewish Education: Until things change, do everything in your power to never give a grade lower than a ‘B’. It will save you massive trouble down the road. You sacrifice your integrity for continued employment.

My advice for parents: Demand a great education for your children. Demand hard work from your children. And understand that when a school unfairly inflates your child’s grade, this weakens the entire institution. Back off and let the teachers do their jobs.

My advice for the schools: Grow a pair. Back up your teachers and let them teach the way they need to. If you cannot flunk a deserving student, close your school. Your lack of integrity is embarrassing.

12. Rich Kids Get Away With Murder

Schools are constantly catering to the students who come from money. Perhaps we are training our kids in the harsh realities of the world. That’s all fine and good. However, I’d rather teach them about fairness and equality.

Schools need to have the strength and character not to favor the wealthy. Every student needs to be precious. Equally precious. Those without means need to be honored for their accomplishments; those from money need to be chastised for their indiscretions.

Once again, if a school is not strong enough to do what’s right, even when it could potentially be financially risky, the school should shut down. An institution that stands at the forefront of educating our children with Jewish values forfeits the right to exist when money is of greater importance than ethics and principles.

13. We Are Well-Educated, And It Really Does Not Matter

There’s an unwritten, unspoken expectation that teachers will at some point get their Masters in Education. In and of itself, there is no problem with this. All teachers should want to expand their knowledge and abilities.

However, for those who teach in the public education system, Masters degrees are often paid for by the government and have a significant impact on your salary as well as your professional value. In Jewish schools, this is an expectation severely lacking in benefits. You will have to pay for mostly everything yourself, can expect little if any difference to your salary, and since they appear to be a dime a dozen, no one really cares if you have one.

But yet we do it anyway.

My Jewish Education Path

I spent three years getting my BA, another three getting a rabbinic ordination, and yet another four to get my Masters. When discussing my Masters, I was told that I was already being paid the salary as if I had a Masters, since my rabbinic ordination was a “Masters equivalent”.

There’s more than enough talk nowadays about how people are spending ungodly amounts of money for degrees that don’t yield occupations. This is just another fine example.

If we want our children to excel, we should be able to provide them with teachers who wish to master their crafts, and we should do everything in our power to facilitate their doing so.

While studying for my Masters I read a book by a woman who wished to document several Jewish educators and see how they grew and developed over the course of their first ten years in the field. The author was forced to entirely change the purpose of her book, since every single educator in her study left Jewish Education before the ten years were completed!

Well, I guess I gained something from my Masters degree. That and an expensive, time-consuming piece of paper to put on the wall.

14. No Surprise, The Salary Is Really Not Enough

Yes, I’m aware that education is not the field one goes into to be wealthy. And Jewish Education is by no means an exception to that rule.

However, the current state is simply not OK. Everyone in Jewish Education is working multiple jobs, just to make ends meet. At one point I was working four jobs, and essentially working seven days a week. This was not to live like a king. This was to pay my mortgage and put food on the table.

Teachers need to pay astronomical tuition bills, just like everyone else. They need to live within over-priced communities, just like everyone else. They need not be compensated like doctors or lawyers. However, they do require and deserve more than they are getting. And again, the ones who suffer the most end up being the students. They get teachers who are overly stressed, pulled in too many directions, and will ultimately leave when better opportunities arise.

I’ve seen schools toss money around in countless unnecessary directions, usually in padding an already oversized administration. It should be going where it belongs: Toward supporting the schools’ most important assets: The teachers.

15. There Is Absolutely No Room For Growth

When you are a teacher in a Jewish school, there is absolutely no room for growth. There are no levels. You’re just a teacher. Forever. You salary will grow in tiny little increments, and this will never change.

When I say this, people often remark that you could always go into administration. It’s true. But then you’re no longer a teacher. It’s a different job entirely. So if you’re passion is for teaching, and you go into administration because you’re hoping to earn more money or the like, there’s not really much of a difference between doing that and going into computers or engineering.

If you’re a teacher for 25 years, you’re still a lowly, low-paid teacher who needs to work two other jobs to pay the bills. If you get three PhDs, you are still a teacher. Just a teacher.

You stand on the frontline of Jewish education, arguably the most important part of raising Jewish children. And beyond personal satisfaction from the role, there is barely any incentive to stick with it.

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Why I Left Jewish Education, Part III

Jewish Education

20 Uncomfortable Facts about Jewish Education

Part II

6. The Very Religious Schools Devalue General Studies

One of the schools I taught at during my Jewish Education adventure was an all boy, extremely religious school in Baltimore. I taught English to the entire 11th grade. My classes were in the early evening, right before dinner. After dinner, they still had plenty more study ahead of them. As you could imagine, by the time they saw me, they were already pretty burnt out, and standing as the gateway between them and dinner is not exactly a recipe for success.

It wasn’t long before I realized bad timing was hardly my only enemy to success. It rapidly became apparent to me that my subject was wildly under-valued by the school administration. Students could not read non-school-approved novels in their dorm rooms (and there was no actual process of approving further books). They were forbidden from visiting the public library, lest their eyes gaze upon the wicked internet. Students were discouraged from attending college. I was once requested to black out words in my vocabulary book that the school deemed “inappropriate”. After I left, my successor quit on his first day. Why? He had decorated his classroom in the hopes of making it truly feel like a classroom. The religious studies teacher who taught before him in that same room ripped everything down before the first English class even happened!

I can go on. Easily.

The school had legal obligations toward general studies. And had to make some sort of positive impression on the parents. But the message to the students was clear: This stuff absolutely does not matter. The school created the perfect environment for students to treat their general studies subjects with complete indifference (at best), exactly as was their intention.

Sometimes these schools put on a good show for the parents. But it’s just a show. No one is likely to ever hear them say it, but actions speak louder than words. And these schools’ administrators are shouting from the rooftops how they feel about general studies.

7. The Worst People Rise To The Top

I have had some unbelievable principals throughout my years in Jewish Education. Some were and remain my greatest professional influences. But this was hardly the norm.

It is undeniable that the front line of a school is its teachers. If the administration were to leave for a week, things would likely run pretty smoothly, maybe a couple of hiccups here or there. No teachers for a week?

The school falls apart.

Therefore, what should be the primary role of the administration? Obviously, to support their teaching staff. Administrators should be very knowledgable and capable educators themselves, able to offer valuable advice and assistance to their staff. They should know that the quality of their school is directly proportionate to the quality of the teachers, and thus see it as their sole mission to provide them with everything they need to succeed.

Some are like this.

Most are not.

What are they actually like?

Most administrators I’ve met along the way are uninspiring, self-aggrandizing climbers. They’re in it for themselves. They will gain as much personal wealth and glory as they can from their institution, and when they’re satisfied, they’ll hop on to something bigger and better.

The trickle down effect inevitably means a worse school. You have teachers who feel they have no proper role model and no one there to help them when needed. I’ve already mentioned the principal I had with no sympathy for those who couldn’t find subs. I’ve had principals who’ve denied requests for $10 items! Others who’ve thrown me under the bus to parents or their superiors. And ones whose exclusive goal was to create an effect as if the entire institution revolves around them and their charisma.

The principal gets their glory… until they leave. The teachers are un-empowered and frustrated… until they leave. And the students are always the ones who lose out.

8. Suggestions Aren’t Suggestions

Another trait of lousy supervisors is how they relate to suggestions. In my most recent role, I had a boss who was constantly giving me suggestions for how to teach my class. Sometimes I took them, sometimes I attempted to discuss them further.

Discussion was not taken well.

I quickly learned that suggestions were just passive-aggressive orders. And that not taking these suggestions would be faulted heavily.

You might think that it’s a silly complaint. In all jobs, when the boss wants something, you do it. And for sure that’s true. However, there’s something deeper at play here. First of all, education is by no means an exact science. And there are environments teachers do better in than others. When a teacher disagrees with how to run their own classroom, it’s often because they know something the principal does not. To force them to go against their instinct will likely damage the instruction, and will certainly damage the mentality of the teacher.

Teachers thrive in environments in which they’re given creative freedom. To block that freedom is simply a power move, and lessens the will of the teacher to continue thriving in their classroom. A less motivated teacher equals a worse classroom experience. A worse classroom experience equals a lower-quality school.

Principals need to support, not oppress.

9. We’re A Tad Behind On The Technology

I spent a good portion of my time in Jewish education working as a Director of Education Technology. It’s a subject I feel very passionately about. It also ended up being the gateway to my career switch.

I wormed my way into education technology because I was teaching most of my subjects exactly the same way. I wanted some variety, so I began creating comical and entertaining PowerPoints to accompany some of my subjects. And in no time at all, I was distinguished as the “tech guy”.

Now, this was great for me, personally and professionally. However, it does not say much for the schools at large, since PowerPoints are hardly cutting-edge technology, and I in no way felt like my tech skills were up to par, let alone exceptional. But apparently a small amount of initiative is all it takes to distinguish oneself, and that’s something that needs to change ASAP.

What is a “special”?

When I left the school I was teaching at in Kansas, I made a proposal that fell on deaf ears (most of my proposals there did… ). The school, like so many, had the basic primary subjects, such as math and science. In the younger grades, students also went to classes called “specials”, which they attended for a short period once or twice a week. These classes included such things as music, gym, art, and… computers. These specials ended after 7th grade, and were never heard from again.

I explained to the administration that having “computers” on this subject list is wildly outdated. It stems from times when kids were using Basic on clunky computers to make the number “3” repeat down the screen. Computers, or technology, is no longer a side subject. It has progressed to a level of importance at or exceeding that of the usual main school subjects. It’s time for a curriculum overhaul. To treat technology like a cutesy little art class, and to deprive students of necessary life skills once they surpass age 13, is inexcusable.

But for whatever reason, many Jewish schools out there are having a hard time accepting this change. The change in the world has happened whether you like it or not; either accept and adapt, or serve as a detriment to our children’s futures.

10. All Schools Call Themselves Families, Few Actually Are

The word “family” is tossed around a lot at Jewish days schools. It’s a beautiful concept, even when you think about it in all of its wacky details. Sometimes the family has Crazy Aunt Sally who gets drunk at the Passover Seder each year. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing. But nobody could picture the seder without her. It would be broken, and we’d feel sad.

Schools do things all the time that fly in the face of the concept of a “family”. Teachers get dumped on their asses without proper warning or without sufficient time to find a new job. Students are often not given the individual attention they need or deserve. I remember at my last school we got an email on Monday morning that the head of the school got married over the weekend. Some family!

Families are precious. The members cherish one another, and truly care about each others’ wellbeing. If a school community is like that, use the word. Use it freely and often. But if you’re not a family, don’t abuse the concept and please learn what it means.

It’s an ideal to strive for, not a gimmick to be tossed around by the clueless or the manipulative.

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Why I Left Jewish Education, Part II

Jewish Education

20 Uncomfortable Facts, Part I

1. Many Of Us Got Stuck Here

Unfortunately, years upon years of a Jewish education don’t lead to all that many career choices. Like me, many an enthusiastic student spends several years studying for a smicha (rabbinic ordination), only to find that the world isn’t lining up to give us loads of high paying jobs.

Then there you are. Tired, married with kids, in debt and in desperate need of a job. And before you know it, the only choice open to you is to teach in some form of Jewish day school. I’ll speak about the realities of teaching in these schools later, but for now, it’s important to note that the lack of room for growth–professionally or financially–will likely lead to this temporary endeavor being either permanent or semi-permanent.

And there you have it. Chance and inertia are among the largest contributing factors to who is entrusted to educate your children in a life of Torah and Jewish wisdom and practices. And many of those teachers would leave… if they could.

2. Subject “Experts” Do Not Necessarily Equal Great Teachers

This is not a problem unique to Jewish schools, but I believe exacerbated there. We all remember that teacher who was good at math or science, but couldn’t teach to save his life.

In many institutions of Jewish Education, your kids’ teachers have no education background whatsoever. And oftentimes their most recent Jewish studies were toward rabbinic ordination. This means that the person entrusted with teaching your child Bible and philosophy has, instead, spent the last several years studying Jewish law. And to top it all off, the amount of resources available to them, both in how to teach the material and in already available lesson plans, is far more limited than what’s out there for general studies.

So, your child’s teacher (A) likely has no background in education (perhaps the school will give them a mentor… ). (B) They are possibly only a hop, skip, and a jump ahead of their students in their knowledge of what they’re teaching. And (C) they’ll likely have to create all of their materials from scratch, increasing their stress and pressure.

3. The Job Really Is 24 Hours

Another reality that comes with such a job is how much of your life is consumed by the role. Yes, you need to work really hard at work, and yes, a whole lot of it comes home with you. But you can say that about most jobs in education.

No, this is something much more all-consuming.

When you work in Jewish Education, you likely live in a community. Whether you go to synagogue or the grocery store, you’re constantly bumping into students, colleagues, and parents. You need to be on your “best behavior” at all times, no matter what you’re doing. Unless you’ve chosen a lifestyle of sitting at home all day, you have no escape from the realities of the role.

For someone like me, who enjoys the freedom and joy of occasional anonymity, this can get quite uncomfortable or even painful.

4. Compulsory Jewish Education Can Build Resentment

In my first year in Jewish Education, I recall the other teachers and I walking around a room yelling at kids to pray. We were like the prayer equivalent of prison guards. Once one of the most uncomfortable thoughts hit me: “If I were brought up with this, I would have left a long time ago.”

I chose a Jewish lifestyle at a later stage in life. I never had to endure the process of attending a Jewish school, and I’m quite grateful for that fact.

In general, how many people love school or its subjects as a child? I certainly did not. Any subject from my youth I now enjoy, it’s in spite of my schooling. Either I learned to appreciate it on my own and/or much later on as an adult.

People send their children to Jewish schools expecting their teachers to impart a profound love of Judaism. And they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hopes of achieving this. But a school is a school, and kids are kids. It’s fairly likely the schools are pushing away as many if not more students than they are pulling in.

Never underestimate the importance of choosing your school carefully and, even more importantly, providing positive Jewish experiences at home and outside the school environment. There is absolutely no guarantee that your child’s school will have a lasting, positive impact.

5. Your Kid’s Hebrew Sucks

In the United States, we are infamous for our lousy foreign language skills. One might think that a K-12 Hebrew education, supplemented with synagogue, rituals, and occasional trips to Israel (and an investment of over $100,000), might thwart the norm. Unfortunately, no such luck.

Outside of families who speak Hebrew at home or the occasional aberration, I have seen little evidence of Hebrew fluency from your average Jewish school education. This even applies to the so-called “Ivrit B’Ivrit” programs (literally “Hebrew in Hebrew”, where Jewish subjects are taught entirely in Hebrew).

While studying for my Masters in Education (something else I’ll come back to), I did a great deal of research into language acquisition. And we’re doing it all wrong! There’s a reason the US has such a lousy reputation with all of this.

Ivrit B’Ivrit

The only schools that have consistent success with imparting some level of fluency upon their students are the immersion schools. Some of these schools have students studying in the foreign language in question for the entire day. The one’s who do a partial day are careful to ensure the most important subjects are taught in the foreign language. Why? So the students will have no choice but to pay attention or fail. So what do we do with Ivrit B’Ivrit? We take the subjects the students see as optional or non-essential for success in life, and we put them in a foreign language. All we do is add a further incentive to space out! And we create the perfect recipe for the students to absolutely fail at two subjects at the same time.

How we arrived at a situation where people are willing to spend well over a decade and exorbitant amounts of their hard-earned money for so little a reward, I will never fully understand. All I know is, we could be and should be doing a lot better.

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Why I Left Jewish Education, Part 1

Jewish EducationWhy I Left Jewish Education

I worked in Jewish Education for a decade, nine of those years immersed in formal education. I’m dedicating my next several posts to exploring not only why I left Jewish Education, but why I left with my head held high without ever looking back for even a moment. My hope is that some insights along the way might be beneficial for some who are looking into a career in Jewish Education or are currently struggling with their career.

Even more so, maybe someone who has the power to make a difference will see what I write, and use my words to make some real positive changes. Education is way too important to lose its enthusiastic talent pool to mismanagement of institutions and mistreatment of employees.

My time in Jewish Education was hectic. It took place in four institutions in two states over the course of nine years. What this means is that my stories and lessons will be hectic as well. I’ll do my best to keep my thoughts organized within the craziness that were my experiences

I’ll get the ball rolling with five lessons I learned from year one. Let me stress, the first school I taught at–Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore–no longer exists. One could write a textbook based on the mistakes the school made. However, the first half would be intelligent lessons any institution could learn from. The second half would be a series of bloopers for which there can be no excuse. Lessons from that list would make for an amazing satirical piece, but would likely just make people scratch their heads and say, “Did they really do that!?”

Never Pre-Judge a Teacher

It’s an odd and unnerving feeling to know you’re being judged when standing before your new boss.

I started at Yeshivat Rambam in 2006. The tradition of the school was to hire graduates of Yeshiva University, which I was most certainly not. And as I stood there, I could feel judgment oozing from my new employer. I was not what he was looking for; I was who he got stuck with.

Despite working in such an uncomfortable situation, I persevered. I was brand new to the world of formal education, and had countless lessons to learn. But I grew every day. I had way too many classes for a seasoned teacher, let alone someone who had to create everything from scratch. I was given classes that all the other teachers had rejected. And I had less than no support.

Nevertheless, I succeeded in ways that surprised and impressed many.

With one of my groups, I was told by a trusted colleague that I had succeeded with that group more than any had before me. In fact, when the school decided I was no longer going to remain with them, this colleague argued that very point to the dean of the school. Nevertheless, their minds were made up. Did I make mistakes along the way? Absolutely. Many! This should be expected of a new teacher. Hell, this should be expected of anyone.

Great Teachers Make Mistakes

In fact, I believe the best teachers often make the most mistakes. Why? Because they take the most risks. Taking risks ultimately leads to innovation and excitement. It also lends itself to more error. Sadly, you can’t have one without the other.

However, I wasn’t let go for my mistakes. I was let go before the school year ever began. I wasn’t what they wanted, therefore I wasn’t provided the support, encouragement, or means to succeed. (And yet still succeeded!)

It should be noted:

When the school let me go, not only was I quickly offered two other full time jobs in the area, but the parents’ reaction to my leaving was so powerful, the principal was forced to offer me my job back. If I need some wry laughter, I can still picture him squirming in his chair!

I am grateful. This incident led to six glorious years at a different institution (Beth Tfiloh); however, I’m sure pre-judging educators happens all across the world. Every teacher needs to be given a fair chance. Every teacher needs to be provided endless encouragement (on their own terms) and copious room for failure.

I may have left the school and found my way into a better situation. Sadly, this remained a part of my story. Sadly, it was the first step in a career that would need to come to an end. I moved on, but an indelible mark was left behind.

Learn to Know When Your Program Has Failed

Sometimes you learn a lesson that logic might dictate should not need to be learned. Unfortunately, that would be true if school administrators were reasonable people. A theme I will come back to again: For some odd reasons, in many schools often the worst people rise to the top.

I watched that year as hubris drove the principal to continuously pursue inane projects, regardless of any and all feedback received from others, and long past the point when a reasonable person would recognize failure.

Unfortunately, humility is a rarely a trait that pushes one toward school administration. And the wildly arrogant often don’t ask advice of others, or do so without intention of paying heed.

Recognition of failure is how we grow. Ignoring complete failure is how we stagnate at best, burn in infamy at worst.

That year at Rambam I watched silly idea after silly idea bomb and backfire, and I watched one man champion those ideas with gusto.

They make for hysterical stories; and they make for unhappy teachers, students, and parents, and a school that no longer exists. So… not  so funny.

Mentoring Isn’t Inherently Positive

There are many words or concepts in the English language people think are inherently positive. Love? Inherently positive, right?

“I love to strangle small children… ”

Doesn’t sound so positive anymore, does it?

Words and concepts are, for the most part, inherently neutral without context.

Mentoring is such an idea. Schools will toss new teachers with a mentor, never looking at whether or not the mentor is actually good at what they do, or whether or not the two are compatible.

In my first year as an educator, I was assigned a mentor whose idea of mentoring was gratuitously insulting anything and everything I did in the classroom. I dreaded her “help”. She actually once said to me, “Well, it was good to see you actually teaching something today.”

I love personal development. However, this was not personal development. If anything, all this did was repeatedly make me feel like garbage. But I knew this is what the school wanted me to do, and I needed to try to slog my way through it, no matter how miserable it was.

Eventually I requested to move on. I knew I would be faulted for it. I knew in their eyes it was considered hubris on my part, as if I was saying that I did not need to be mentored despite my rookie status. And they completely ignored the mentor moving on to torment another one of my colleagues.

Mentoring is a neutral concept. If you toss mentors at teachers without feedback or any real process of creating quality mentorship, you are tossing money into the wind and doing more harm than good.

The “Bad Kids” are Amazing

I mentioned earlier I was given a class no one else wanted. There are countless reasons why this concept bothers me. The idea that the most challenging students would be given to the least experienced teacher is borderline criminal.

Big discovery: The so-called “bad kids” were my niche.

Perhaps this is because I don’t really believe in such a concept. And I most certainly should not have in this instance. In some capacity, I’m in touch with almost every student from that class, over a decade later. Many are married with children. They’re all extremely fine adults. One’s a city councilman!

These students were not so much “bad” as they were neglected. They didn’t fail the system; the system failed them. Over and over again. Students can only excel when their teachers treat them as human beings rather than burdens. Many had unaddressed learning difficulties  or attention issues. They were amazing, but severely lacking in people who told them this, or knew how to pull out their gifts.

There is no excuse for a Jewish educational institution to abandon any student. My students were gems left to get dusty by a system that just didn’t care.

No excuse.

Administrators Should Get Their Hands Dirty

This school had a problem. All teachers were overworked and had minimal free time. Substitutes were nearly impossible to find. We were made to feel guilty if we fell ill. We were forced to chip in heavily in the process of finding our own substitutes.

And I’ll never forget one time explaining to the principal how I needed desperately to miss several classes and had no solution. He stood across from me, nodding, and said, “Yes, that is a problem.”

I just wanted so bad to gently place my hand on his shoulder and calmly state, “Hey, you don’t seem to be doing anything at the moment.”

Contrast this with a future boss of mine. I remember several times my principal offering to substitute for me when, for whatever reason, I was over-loaded or over-stressed. I never took him up on it, but I was always inspired by it.

Let’s face it, when you’re an administrator, you’re no longer a teacher. You’re not “one of the guys.” And a lot of your work is done behind closed doors. If you want to lead your faculty, they need to be impressed and inspired by you. They need to see you work, and they need to see you work hard. They need to see you get your hands dirty. And when they do, they will follow you proudly, enthusiastically, and consistently.

If they perceive you as hiding in an office, completely unwilling to contribute to the overall betterment of the community when things get challenging, they won’t follow you. They won’t like you. There will be no loyalty. And your school might ultimately be forgotten. (Next article in the series.)

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, education, jewish education, 1 comment