Why I Left Jewish Education, Part VI: The Nail In The Coffin

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Jewish Education
After seven years of living in and working in Jewish Education in Baltimore, I moved to Kansas for very personal reasons. There is one Jewish day school there, and I was offered a job.

My job description changed my first week. It was someone else’s miscommunication, but I was faulted for it. New classes were added into my schedule right away. Not because I was the right person for those classes, but because they needed fill gaps, and teachers’ time was considered dispensable.

It’s traumatic to come to a new institution knowing nothing you did before you arrived mattered at all. No one in the school seemed to care that I had been teaching and teaching successfully for seven years, nor that I was inches away from finishing a Masters in Education with a near perfect GPA, nor that I was awarded the “Teacher of the Year” distinction from a far larger and much more prestigious and impressive institution.

No, I was starting over. Again. Because it just wasn’t hard enough the first time around.

Jewish Education in Kansas

My time at this school was short, but long enough to seal my fate as an ex-Jewish educator. We’ve all had bad employers in our lives. We’ve all felt the sting of wanton disrespect. But this was on a level I still can’t comprehend.

My first taste of who I was dealing with was very early on. I erred, I’ll admit that freely. But there are errors, and there are errors. And there are certainly appropriate responses to the mistakes of employees.

One day, I was late for work.

My wife was out of state, I was brand new to Kansas, I had to get four kids out the door on my own, and despite that, I made it to work just five minutes late. It was the first and last time this happened, another teacher seamlessly hopped into my spot to make sure there were no issues, and life went on.

Or it least it should have in the world of a reasonable employer.  But no. I was crapped on, for several days, by multiple administrators.

Should I have been late? No. Despite being new, should I have gotten in touch with the school to inform them of my tardiness? Likely.

What to do?

But what would a reasonable administrator have done?

They would explained to me why my lateness was complicated, instructed me what to do if this were ever an issue in the future, and then–and this is key–they would have moved the hell on.

But these were hardly reasonable people.

And that was just the beginning of the joy and pleasure I would get from working at this lovely institution.

My most vivid memory was of a meeting with the Head of School. I had an initial meeting with him to discuss my sour relationship with my principal. She and I did not see eye to eye and I didn’t understand why things were so bad and only getting worse, so I sought the advice and perhaps intervention of the head honcho. He smiled. So, so warm and friendly. He looked me in the eye, placed his hand on my shoulder, and assured me he would take care of everything and it would all be fine.

But what actually happened?

A few days later I was called into his office. He sat across from me, with the principal in question and another administrator. They then proceeded to rip me to shreds in every way conceivable for about an hour. I was not given any opportunity to defend myself. Efforts on my behalf to speak were met with a dismissive wave of the Head of School’s hand, as if to say, “Pion, you will speak only when I deem your word’s worthy. For now, you must listen to the pronouncement from on high.”

I walked away from that meeting fuming. I hacked another year and a half of that institution before the excrement finally hit the air conditioning. But it was never the same after that meeting. I knew at that moment that I would eventually leave the school. The question was when, not if. In my forty years on this earth, I have never felt less respected than I had in that meeting. This is how a school creates employees willing to put in 30% effort, at best.

But something else happened that day. It wasn’t just the knowledge that I was one foot out the door of Kansas’s premier Jewish day school. I knew that this was the last time I would be leaving any Jewish school.

The fat lady had sung. My career as a Jewish educator was veering toward it’s final day.

RIP

This was the nail in the coffin.

Who knows? Maybe if it had been my first job, I would have pushed forward and stuck it out longer. But the collective experiences had taken their toll.

My time in educational technology had taught me about a world of employment out there. A world with limitless room for growth, tons of available jobs, massive income potential, and most importantly: No. More. Friggin’. Ties.

And two years later, I haven’t looked back.


Where we go from here?

I’m not bitter. Not toward Jewish Education as a whole, nor toward the school that gave me my final push out the door. To them, I’m actually grateful. They helped me get where I needed to go ahead of schedule.

I am sad, however. I know what’s at stake here, and it’s terribly upsetting.

The world of Jewish Education could be doing so much better. And it’s been my refrain from the beginning: The ones who lose out the most from our perpetual mediocrity are the students. And that’s not acceptable.

We should be able to provide our children with a quality Hebrew curriculum, one based on research and intelligent implementation, rather than just tossing random Israelis at children and hoping for the best.

Administrators in Jewish Education should be held to a higher standard, and should be carefully selected and monitored to ensure they’re acting in the best interests of the school.

Schools should behave according to what is right and proper, rather than cater to money and influence. Jewish Education should have a standard that transcends financial concerns.

Parents should demand the religious schools take the general studies courses with the highest levels of seriousness, and boycott the ones that do not.

Teachers should be compensated better than they currently are. They should have better contracts, more job security, greater access to quality professional development, ample possibilities to use technology in the classroom and learn about the most recent educational technology advances, more freedom in their classrooms, more room to breath from their employers, opportunities to advance in their careers, and generally be encouraged to have a healthy longevity at their institutions.

And schools should call themselves families. And mean it.

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