Why I Left Jewish Education, Part V

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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

Jewish EducationA 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

Jewish EducationIt’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

Jewish EducationI’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

Jewish EducationEveryone 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 V

2 thoughts on “Why I Left Jewish Education, Part V

  1. You make a lot of excellent points in this article. You clearly have given it a lot of thought. I cannot go through each point, but I will share just a few ideas from the other side.
    3. The Job Really Is 24 Hours and 14. No Surprise, The Salary Is Really Not Enough
    Yes and no. Teachers who have been at the job for a number of years can have very little preparation time. Their day is NOT 24 hours. Yes, there are late night phone calls to parents and occasional “all hands on deck,” but by and large the day ends when the bells ring. I have been a teacher and I have worked in other fields and I believe teachers take home less work than others.
    Let’s talk about the unmentioned elephant: time off. Summer vacation(!). Yomim Tovim off. Time off to prepare for Yom Tov off. All legal holidays off. Out early on Fridays. Teachers get an enormous amount of time off. When teachers move to other fields, they are often stunned by the sudden loss of vacation time. This needs to be factored in when considering the fairness of a teacher’s salary when compared to other jobs. Many teachers can make money during their time off: side gigs, weekend gigs, summer jobs, etc.
    As for the salary itself, this depends on where you work. In many schools, the salary is quite respectable. The median salary for all workers in America is $44,000. Day School teachers make more than that. The median salary for all workers with a graduate degree is $78,000. While teachers do not make this much in salary, very often the school will have health insurance and tuition discounts. Depending on how many children the teacher has and how generous the school’s tuition policy is, this could put the package within conversational distance of that higher number.
    7. The Worst People Rise To The Top and the various Numbers dealing with dysfunctional family
    I ask you to consider that this goes both ways. Administrators often have a difficult time firing, guiding, or even assessing teachers because of these teachers beloved position in the community. One principal told me he does not evaluate his teachers; there’s no point. He can’t fire them–they are too well connected in the community and there would be an outcry.
    It is curious to note that the average tenure of a head of school or administrator is short. The job is hard and it spits out its seekers. One school I know recently interviewed 20 candidates for a senior administrative position and hired no one. Administrators must serve various constituencies: a Board, Parents, Teachers, Donors, and maybe Students. “You can’t please everyone.” And in the case of a school, EVERYONE has very strong feelings which they share freely.
    Tuition at Day Schools is prohibitively expensive. But it reflects the true cost of a Day School education. Most families do not pay full tuition. It becomes the job of administrators to please everyone without enough resources to make it all work. This is often accomplished imperfectly.

    1. Hey. Thank you for commenting!
      As far as #3: I think you need to look at what I said a little more clearly. As a role model in a small community, there is no escape. You will see your students all the time, wherever you go. That’s a lot different than being a math teacher somewhere in New Jersey, who bumps into maybe one student a year outside of school.
      And I almost never had a summer vacation, since in order to earn enough money to survive, I worked all summer long. I piled on jobs, and tutored plenty. It’s a necessity in order to make ends meet. And I have NEVER heard of a day school teacher making $78K. That certainly would have been nice!
      For #7: I agree with you that the tenure of heads of school is short. However, I don’t agree with your reason. I believe they are climbers, always seeking a better offer. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with the difficulty or stress of the role. And even if the role is challenging, they are certainly compensated accordingly, perhaps because of that supposed challenge. Still, no amount of work stress excuses the behaviors and disrespect I have witnessed toward teachers.

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