20 Uncomfortable Facts of Jewish Education,
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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