career

Work from Home: The Choice of a New Generation

Work From Home

A bit over two years ago, I sat down to my first day as a Customer Support Specialist, in the coziest office imaginable… my own home. That’s right. I work from home!

This was daunting. At best. Who wouldn’t be terrified of the prospect of sitting for hours on end all by yourself? Wouldn’t I go crazy just sitting there in solitude? Would I become consumed with boredom?

And after two years, I’ve never looked back. I love my job. I love my gorgeous alone time. And I have learned so much, grown more than I could have imagined, and I don’t really have any interest in ever finding another job, since my lifestyle is so great.

And the commute is incredible!

But that doesn’t mean the ‘work from home’ fears aren’t real. It’s very easy to become exactly what we all fear. It’s quite simple to look back and say that your only accomplishments were sending out a whole lot of emails. If you look back at the end of the day and you did nothing but work, you’re woefully unhappy, you’re terribly lonely, and you’re 300 pounds overweight and diabetic, something went horribly wrong.

Here are my five strategies to make the work from home experience absolutely fantastic:

1) Learn to Love being Alone

I feel like being alone is a lost art. Nowadays, even while alone we’re still connected to the world in a dozen different ways.

But solitude, for those of us who have learned to embrace it, is beautiful.

I’m at peace when I’m by myself. That’s not to say I don’t thoroughly enjoy being social (sometimes). It just means that I don’t run away from being alone. I love it. I make great use of it. And I relish in the quiet and enjoy all of its benefits.

But what if you simply don’t know how to be alone well?

Like all other habits we wish to create, sometimes you just need to dive in and grow naturally from there. Go to a restaurant by yourself. I know. It’s weird. Go to the movies by yourself! I promise, it gets less strange. Ultimately, you might even grow to love it. No one asks you to explain anything, and you get to keep all the popcorn for yourself. What’s not to love?

If you love to be alone, loving to work from home is just a tiny hop away.

2) Find Creative Ways to Spend your Time

As the hours pass on by, especially on a slow day, there’s unlimited things you can do with your time. Those who master the art of being by themselves and loving their solitude will like their time working… and love the downtime even more.

Sure, it won’t always be easy. There will be days and periods of extreme wasted time. You’ll have re-watched a TV series for your third time. Or you’ll get to that unfortunate moment many of us have tasted where we feel we’ve “finished” YouTube.

But a moment will click. A moment in which you’ll realize that the possibilities are truly endless. You can get an advanced degree from your living room. Or write a novel. You can learn a new language or master breakdancing. And you have countless hours to do with as you please, no one looking over your shoulder judging you or wondering why you’re not “hard at work”.

I’ve had office jobs with massive amounts of downtime and it doesn’t even compare. Every moment you spend doing something not work related in an office, you fear someone will be judging you. Someone will be angry for your not advancing the company’s needs forward. But not in your own home. You do as you please. No one knows, no one cares.

Write down every single thing you wish to accomplish in this world. Then do all of them!

3) Embrace the Work from Home Advantages

My home is normally spotless, since I can wash my dishes during a break or clean that weird spill in the fridge. I was able to buy a dog, since he can joyously sleep on my leg while I work. Dozens of amazing Couch Surfers slumbered away just a few feet away from me as I typed away for my glorious job.

What happens when you’re out the door first thing in the morning and you return 9-10 hours later? Those dirty dishes stay dirty. The spill in the fridge becomes harder and harder to clean. Your poor pooch is so sad all day long that it’s borderline cruel. And your tired guests get kicked out the door first thing in the morning.

There are countless advantages to working from home. Explore them all! And find some new ones, while you’re at it.

4) Fill your Home with Healthy Eats

A great advantage of working from home is the ability to cook. You’re not tempted to go to Subway during your lunch break with your co-workers. There’s no vending machine. There’s complete accessibility to your kitchen, and you can’t use your commute as an excuse for rushed trips to 7-11.

You’re sitting in front of a computer anyway. Hop on Google and look for easy, healthy recipes. Get tons of plastic containers. And instead of spending your day knee deep in Cheetos and Mountain Dew, you can be eating like a king each and every day.

If after your first year working from home you’ve gained 70 pounds, it is unlikely you will be happy with the situation. So at the very least you’ll need to strategize about how to not become a huge, portly mess as a result of your amazing lifestyle.

5) Work from Home… But Get the @#$% out of the House as Soon as you Can

When my workday ends, I close my computer and head to the gym. If for whatever reason I don’t, it feels like it has a severe impact on the quality of my entire day. I might finish off my day having done many, many things, and I might feel a strong sense of accomplishment, but ultimately I’ll known I’ve been trapped indoors the whole time. It’s unhealthy, both physically and mentally.

So at the earliest possible moment, before your dopey brain can start coming up with excuses, get off your ass, and see what the outside world looks like.

You need to love to work from home. But you need to be a part of the world too!

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, opinion, 1 comment

My Overwhelming Dilemma: What Would You Do?

dilemma

The First Dilemma

There are a lot of reasons I am writing this post. However, the biggest reason is to just get some things out into the open. Things I’ve been bottling up for way too long, all starting with the first dilemma.

Many years ago I worked at Cornell University. I was in charge of a Jewish outreach program there.

My wife was running an incredibly important program, sadly filled with complications and controversies. The extraordinarily noble goal was to unite the different elements of a rather divided community in a program that was educational, fun, enriching, and spiritually invigorating.

We had a special guest visiting from Israel, who would be leading a musical prayer service followed by a communal meal. The dilemma? We wanted to try and get all the different elements of the community to join together for the prayer service.

This issue was not just one of preference. There were countless philosophical and theological issues and concerns at play here.

The stricter elements of the group (orthodox) pray with what’s called a mechitzah, a physical separation between the males and the female. The purpose is essentially to improve concentration on the prayers. The other groups not only do not pray in this manner, they find it anywhere from antiquated to offensive, and would never willingly pray in such an atmosphere. And neither group is known for making a lot of concessions on their beliefs or practices.

But the whole program hinged on getting everyone together. And it was my responsibility to figure out a way to make it work.

The Solution

I contacted an authority on Jewish law in Israel, someone I knew and greatly respected. And he had a solution, which seemed to be a great idea. There would be three sections: A men’s section, a women’s section, and a section where people could sit how they choose. The ideas was simple. From the strict perspective, we just needed to give the ability to do the “right” thing. From the less strict perspective, they just needed the option to do things the way they preferred and were used to.

This seemed to solve all problems. And I flew with it.

But not without serious trials ahead of me. I fought battle after battle with many people over the course of well over a month. However, when all the smoke cleared, I was on top of the world. I had conquered every objection.

I even recall a student who vehemently and vigorously argued with me about the permissibility of the mixed section. After he couldn’t take it any more, he contacted his own religious authority… who confirmed everything I said.

I fought and won an uphill battle. It wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.

Now all we needed to do was survive the nightmarish logistics and we were on track to have an epic program. We would unify the elements of a fragmented community, and inspire a multitude of students hungry for such inspiration.

And then my phone rang…

Through the wild Jewish grapevine, my boss had heard about the program we were running, and the solution we had devised in order to make the program work effectively.

He told me in no uncertain terms that the solution was completely unacceptable. And for all issues like this one, we were now required to ask him and only him. He even approached the rabbi who I had spoken with and requested he no longer answer my questions, thus closing off a major resource in my life.

The Big Dilemma

There I stood, stuck with an insanely difficult challenge.

I could uproot things as they were and try and see what new solutions we could come up with on short notice. It is fairly likely I’d find no viable alternative in time, thus in essence destroying the program we’d been working on for months.

The inevitable results of doing so would be personal and professional embarrassment. A community that liked, trusted, and respected me would need to rethink their position, since I had stood so firmly behind this idea, and cancelling the program would just be a giant declaration that I was wrong and had been the whole time.

I would watch endless hours of hard work coming crashing down beneath me, as our program gets projected toward certain failure. I can only imagine how great our international visitor would feel, knowing that he arrived to work with a mere fraction of the students he was expecting, and would only be reaching a very limited population.

And let’s not forget the potential marital discord that could erupt. My wife had put everything into making sure the program was all set up and ready to go.

Or…

I could just ignore the phone call, run the program, and risk the overwhelmingly likely consequences that would arise.

And I chose the second option.

I took the phone conversation and just bottled it up inside me. Until now.

The Future

My contract for that job was not extended for a second year. I’m sure this “incident” was hardly the only reason for my dismissal, but I’m certain it was a hefty contributing factor.

This story has been eating at me for over a decade.

Sometimes it’s healthy and healing just to get these thoughts and feelings outside of you. I wonder all the time if I did the right thing. I wonder if it was wrong to place the health of my marriage and my personal integrity ahead of job concerns. Or if abiding by my employer’s wishes would have ultimately been healthier for both of these things. I wonder.

 

What would you have done?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 8 comments

Is College Useful Anymore?

college

Is College Useful Anymore?

Really off the beaten path with my posts, but this is just a topic I’ve been thinking about a ton lately. How can I not? I’ve got two degrees, a job that has nothing to do with either of them, and four kids who will one day enter the work force.

I’d be crazy NOT to be thinking about this every minute.

Previous Generations

Several months ago I had a bit of an argument with my father. I told him it wouldn’t bother me if my children didn’t go to college. My father is an extremely even-tempered person… but he was quite the displeased with my statement.

And why shouldn’t he be? My father comes from a generation in which the elite went to university. End of story. You were an outcast in better circles if you didn’t. There was never a question in my youth about whether or not I’d attend college. The only question was which one.

In addition, in previous generations a college degree basically guaranteed you employment.

But we’re living in a very different world now. We’re certainly exposed all the time to wildly successful people without college degrees, like these low class slackers. Universities are getting more and more expensive (understatement), and degrees have become commonplace and by no means even come close to guaranteeing employment. So what do many do? Graduate degrees! More time outside the workforce, more debts, and still no guarantee of employment. That’s no guarantee for any employment, let alone quality employment.

The Analogy

This is the analogy I make when speaking with my son.

Imagine two kids in high school in America (we’ll call them Will and Bill). Will decides to take the traditional route. He studies hard, does well on all of his tests, all with the aim of getting into a fantastic college, with hopes and dreams of using his degree to launch a remarkable career.

Bill really doesn’t care about academics or college, but loves to learn and explore. When he was fourteen he found some free online program to learn a computer programming language. He kept up the studies, and by age sixteen he was extremely proficient and had already written his first program.

Will succeeded. He found his way into a top notch private university, and even though it was well beyond his means, a small scholarship and some hefty student loans made everything possible.

Bill decided he wanted some time off before college. Instead he found a lowly job using his computer skills. The job did not pay well, since they were reluctant to hire someone so young and without a degree. But they decided to take a chance, since he really knew his stuff.

Will in College

By age 20, Will was well along the way to completing his degree. He even decided on a major! True, he still lacked real world skills and was tens of thousands of dollars in debt. But he could almost taste his precious degree. Bill, on the other hand, truly proved himself at his workplace, and had since switched companies. He’s now making double his original salary. He’s still living at home, so his bank account is overflowing. (And he forgot to go to college!)

By age 23, Will is still proud of his degree, but has had lots of trouble finding employment. Everywhere he looks he’s passed over for people with experience, which he is sorely lacking. Furthermore, his debts are suffocating him. He just doesn’t know how to get himself out from under all of them.

And Bill keeps trucking on.

By age 25, Will is part of the way through his graduate degree, has more debts than you could imagine, still has no quality professional experience, but he remains hopeful. For sure having TWO pieces of paper will propel him toward a utopian future!

And Bill just paid off his first house.

But Bill’s a Failure!

Sadly, Bill flunked calculus in high school, has zero debt to brag about, and painfully lacks in pieces of paper to cover the walls of his beautiful new home. He’ll just have to make due with professional and financial well-being.

Are either of these scenarios far-fetched? I really don’t think so. If anything, I think I’m underselling my point. Bill, with the right motivation and luck could develop a unique program and after just a few years sell it to major corporation for millions of dollars. Will could find himself trapped in a black hole of student debt that he might never be able to climb out of. (See here if you’re unsure about how horrendous student debt really can be… and you want a few good laughs too.)

My Generation

I’m in a unique generation, born after the most important time in history to get a college degree, with children born into the least important time in history to bother with one. I grew up thinking college was everything, and developed into an adult who thinks college is wasted time and money for most people.

And it’s not just about careers. It’s about knowledge. I grew up thinking–probably accurately–that all wisdom lay in the minds of the great university professors. I also grew up before Google took over the universe. We no longer need to seek scholars to become knowledgeable, nor do we need to pay gargantuan fees or traverse dusty libraries in search of wisdom. It’s right at our fingertips. And those who wish to learn are just inches away from easily filling their minds with a greater variety of information than has ever been available.

Obviously there are still some careers that require a degree or professions where specific degrees serve as prerequisites. Perhaps even there the system could use some revamping, but until that happens, people need to do what they need to do. But what about the other 90%? Is college anywhere near as important as it used to be? Is there any benefit to incurring endless debts in order to become a college graduate? And why would someone in this generation shell out their financial well-being for an education they can get for $1.50 in late fees from the public library?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, education, opinion, 0 comments

When To Leave A Job

job
Unfortunately, I have had to make the decision to leave a job more times than I would have cared to. I’ve even had to switch career paths.

Thankfully, through adversity grows wisdom. I’ve developed an easy three-part system (currently in desperate need of a catchy title) to decide whether or not the time has come to hang up your gloves and move on.
You need to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does my job comfortably pay the bills?
  2. Am I happy and enthusiastic to go to work in the morning?
  3. Am I making a positive difference in the world?

Let’s talk about each question and really get to the heart of things here:

1) Does my job comfortably pay the bills?

There’s a difference between making a base salary that needs to be supplemented by three other time-consuming, mentally draining jobs. What I mean by “comfortably” is your job is taking care of the basic necessities and generally removing financial concerns from the problems that may fill your life.

If you are making 3 million dollars a year from one job, even if it’s eroding away at your life and it’s consuming a huge portion of your day, you can most certainly answer an enthusiastic “yes” to this first question (unless you are insanely bad at handling your finances).

However, life is complicated. And for many people, this question cannot be the only one that matters. Most of us don’t want to dread our days, we don’t want to live for retirement, and we don’t want to go to our graves knowing our sole contribution to the world was having amassed a well-stuffed bank account.

(For the record, I can honestly say that I’ve never really felt the sweet taste of saying “yes” to this first question.)

2) Am I happy and enthusiastic to go to work in the morning?

I gather most of the world doesn’t love getting up in the morning, throwing on their suffocating suits and ties, and driving through sluggish traffic, in order to stare at cubicle walls in between bursts of getting chewed out by overbearing bosses.

If only one’s morning coffee could go on forever!

I enjoy my current job. I’m not saying that I’m pushing over people to make sure I get to my desk on time each and every morning (partially because I work from home), but I do enjoy getting started. And I remember a good, solid 3-4 year period in which I was absolutely ecstatic to get to work every day. However, that leaves a whole lot of time in which getting to work was an abysmal chore.

If you are itching to get to work in the morning, and you’re doing so not because you’re escaping loud children and a nagging wife, but because you legitimately enjoy what you do, you can answer “yes” to this question.

3) Am I making a positive difference in the world?

This one could be complicated. And we could of course fool ourselves into coming up with a positive answer. For example, if you’re selling shoes, and someone walked out of your store with a pair they really liked thanks to your skillful salesmanship, are you making a difference in the world? Maybe.

But maybe not.

Some things are a little more clear cut.

A surgeon who routinely saves the lives of patients. A fundraiser for an organization that helps starving people. A company that manufactures products to assist the blind. You know you’re making the world a better place, and you should sleep soundly at night for doing so. And that’s even if you hate your job!

Selling fake online degrees. Selling overpriced, low-quality t-shirts produced in an overseas sweatshop. Cameraman for low-budget pornography. They might pay the bills, but I think those with these jobs can safely answer a hefty “no” to this question.

Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between these examples, and need to do some serious contemplation to give an honest assessment. But there is an answer to the question

Putting Everything Together

First, let’s look at the easy cases. If you answered a solid “no” to all three questions, get out. Get out now. Run. You’re in a dead-end situation and even in a lousy economy, there’s little to no reason to stick around.

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, your life is a miraculous dream, and barring serious complications, you should probably hold on to that job until the day you die.

However, for most people it’s not that simple. If you answered a completely honest “yes” to even one of these questions, I wouldn’t start overturning desks and telling your boss to “shove it” just yet. In a lot of ways, you’re still ahead of the curve. It’s worthwhile to keep your eyes open for something better, but in this economy, just to have a steady job is already a blessing.

What about a positive answer to two questions?

In one of my earlier teaching jobs, I recall multiple former attorneys who left their field to become teachers. They abandoned a life of financial security for a life where they enjoyed what they did on a daily basis and truly felt like they brought meaning and inspiration to others.

It might not feel like all three questions are of equal value, but I assure you, they most certainly are. Just to have cash in your pocket is worth very little if you don’t make a positive impact and dread your every working minute.

In summary:

If you answer “no” to all  of these questions, run. Run far and fast. You really can do better.

If you answered “yes” to one question, start asking around. Spruce up your resume. Update your LinkedIn profile. Do it all subtly, because you might just need to stay where you are.

If you answered “yes” to two of these questions, life is really good. You’re way ahead of most people. You should cling to your job with all of your might, and you shouldn’t even consider leaving unless some ridiculously amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes around. Even then, be careful and methodical about the decision.

And if you answered “yes” to all three questions, do not go anywhere! You’re among the extraordinarily lucky few of this world. Wrap your arms around the job with all of your strength, and never let go.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, 2 comments

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

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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Posted by jaffeworld in career, education, jewish education, 0 comments

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