The Teacher Itch: Five Things I Miss About Being a Teacher


Am I still a teacher?

It’s been over three years since I left education. It wasn’t even a mildly complicated decision at the time. Almost as if the field itself had chewed me up and spit me out. It was time to go. I was done.

But for my first year after I was done, I still had bits and pieces of teaching opportunities here and there. I was always able to find students who wanted tutoring. I taught a weekly class at my synagogue. And I even had the occasional moment to hone my public speaking skills.

All the Teaching is Gone

And upon moving to Israel, I was basically deprived of any and all opportunity to teach. And every once in a while it hurts, and makes me even a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss being a teacher. I really don’t.

The days are long and the profession follows you home. Expectations are extraordinarily high, with a hardly comparable compensation. And it very well might be the lowest wage job in America that still requires you to wear a tie.

A tie! Every single day.

Nevertheless, there’s something about the role that becomes a part of your soul. And without it, it’s like I have an itch somewhere in the middle of my back. I can grab at it all day long, and I can shimmy myself all over the wall, but the itch never properly gets scratched.

What do I miss about my former profession? Let’s explore five elements of being an educator I would love to have back in my life.

1) When Being a Teacher Actually Works

Every once in a while, there’s a click. A student looks up at you with understanding eyes. Or they master a concept that seemed out of their reach. Or you try something with an individual that you wouldn’t try with the other students, and the success is obvious and immediate.

If these moments happened all the time, you’d be a master teacher. But occasional occurrence is the norm. And when they happen, they are brilliant and, in many ways, life changing.

I miss the glorious moments of when teaching works. I miss seeing sparks of understanding, and knowing that I was a part of the process of getting there.

2) The Ultra-Creative Teacher Spirit

I love my job. But it’s an understatement to say that it affords me few opportunities for creativity.

During my decade as a teacher, I thrived under all circumstances where I was given room to be as creative as I wanted. When that happened I found myself creating Parsha PowerPoints, writing and producing student movies about Tanach, and covering rooms with beautiful and meaningful murals.

For certain there were those along the way who smothered my creativity. But at least I knew I was in an environment where I realized my creativity mattered. Every ounce of creative energy I expended made someone’s day better, and fostered a greater learning experience.

Life without that creative outlet is different. And lacking.

3) Delving into the Unexplored

Teaching for me was a wild adventure of trial and error. In my most glorious moments along the way, error was actually fairly common. But I was among supportive people who made my mistakes feel like they were just part of the natural process.

I had classes along the way that flopped, sometimes dramatically and embarrassingly. And every last one of them was part of the process of getting to a class that would be wildly successful. Perhaps even unforgettable.

And it was all worth it. The exploration was a reward in and of itself. Knowing that with a little work and perseverance, a gem is likely hidden waiting to be found. I miss that beautiful search for the known.

4) The Smiles and the Laughter

I was a bit of a silly teacher. Yes, of course among my goals was always to foster knowledge and skills acquisition. But if the kids weren’t laughing and smiling along the way, then what was the point?

Fact is, being a Jewish studies teacher can be quite thankless. And there can be a lot of forgotten information along the way. But the feelings you help create within your students, be they boredom or bliss, might stay with them for a lifetime. That’s a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.

I loved the smiles.

And I do miss brightening the day of a few good kids.

5) The Forever Teacher

I am proud to say that I have a connection that has stood the test of time with multiple students. I love watching as my students of all sorts have developed into young adults. Former students of mine are married. Many have children. They are professionals, philanthropists, and adventurers.

And I love every minute of it!

One of the best educators I met along the way once told me it takes a full decade before you can appreciate and really feel proud of having been a teacher. Basically, after all the hardships, over ten years later you can finally feel like it was all worth it.

Is it fair to have to wait that long to reap the rewards of all your hard work? Absolutely not. However, when the day comes and you are told by a student that you were their favorite teacher, or she rattles off things you taught her years earlier, you can sigh a breath of relief. It may have been grueling, but it truly was worth it.

I have many strong connections with former students. And I hope those connections stay with me for the rest of my life.


No, I don’t want to go back. My days of teaching are behind me forever. I am more than aware of the pain this peculiar profession caused me.

But sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I remember the days I woke up thrilled to go to work.

And sometimes I just need to scratch an itch.


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Posted by jaffeworld in education, 0 comments

Teach Like a Ninja

Teach Like a Ninja

I love to write. I think I’m even pretty good at it.

And I love maintaining this blog. I hope you enjoy reading it.

The Origin of Teach Like a Ninja

Inspired by a good friend, I recently decided I wanted to take my writing to the next level. I thought the best way to do that would be to start a new adventure writing an eBook.

And so I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about, and decided after lots of deliberation it was time to write down some of what I learned in almost a decade in the classroom.

And that was the origin of Teach Like a Ninja.

I’m no longer a teacher, but those years were jam packed with life lessons, and they were extremely important and special to me. I learned so much and I want to make every minute mean something.

So I started thinking and typing and editing, and after several months of hard work, I am proud to announce the final product: Teach Like a Ninja.

I’d love it if you bought a copy. If you know someone who is new to education or considering it as a career, or if you think I might just have something to say that might enhance their career, consider ordering a copy. It’s extremely affordable ($0.99) and, in my humble opinion, a pretty decent read with a few good laughs along the way.

Memorable Quotes

Here are a few memorable quotes from Teach Like a Ninja:


From Chapter I (“Learn to let things go… for things will inevitably get messed up”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

…more than anything, [teachers] need to be willing to do things that have never been done before. Or to do incredible things that have been done before, but with limited or no success.

But a risk is a risk. The rewards of success are unfathomably great. And the risks of failure could have many repercussions, ranging from embarrassment to on-the-spot scrapped lesson plans to even getting fired.


From Chapter II (“The Secret to Being a Great Teacher: Marry Rich”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

… a teacher needs to teach. He needs to look out into the room of the children he wishes to influence, and search his soul for the absolute best way to get information into the previously unoccupied spot in the students’ heads.

No matter what the consequences.


From Chapter III (“Be Yourself, and the Best Version of Yourself”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

Your students are just little people yearning for knowledge and inspiration. It comes more naturally from someone they like or admire. And you will inherently be more likeable and admirable if you open yourself up to your students.

They want to be taught by a person, a whole person, with interests, dreams, opinions, and stories.


From Chapter IV (“Your Students are Friggin’ Amazing”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

When you look at a person, you need to see just that: A real being. A special being. Someone with strengths and weaknesses, with true and powerful feelings, someone who one day might be wealthy, important, or influential regardless of anything they do in your classroom. Or that won’t be, and that’s fine too! When you realize all of this, you’re already a huge leap closer to succeeding.


Chapter VI (“How easy it is to destroy someone”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

Teaching is hard. On one hand, you need to feel freedom… On the other hand, every word is precious and should not be abused. Be careful! You want every student you ever teach to walk away a better, stronger person, and you would never want to be responsible for damaging them in any way, shape, or form.


Chapter VIII (“Goals, Goals, and More Goals”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

[Goals] exist to pull you forward and to heighten your motivation. If they aggravate or upset you, do not abandon the practice. Reevaluate yourself, your relationship with your goals, and the goals themselves. It’s a crying shame if you lack this mighty tool in your life.


Chapter XI (“Futility of Grades, and the Folly of Long-Term Success Projections”) of Teach Like a Ninja:

You are not teaching mini robot test takers. You are teaching a room full of lovely souls, each of whom can go farther than your imagination can conceive.

Theme Throughout Teach Like a Ninja

One of the primary themes throughout Teach Like a Ninja is that students are whole, complex beings. They don’t live for your classroom, they have a lot going on in their lives, and they are loaded with opinions, interests, thoughts, and feelings. The only way to truly reach and impact them is when you recognize this and you make sure that each and every moment you’re in front of the classroom, you are hyper aware of the amount of beautiful complexity that sits before you.

If any of these quotes or this concept stands out to you, if you are a teacher in the early stages of your career, if you’re contemplating becoming a teacher, or if you know anyone like this, consider ordering a copy.

And of course, please feel free to leave comments on this post and to review the book on Amazon. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to hearing from you!



Posted by jaffeworld in book review, education, 0 comments

My Five Favorite Educational Websites

Educational Websites

Educational Websites

As a former educator but a lifelong learner, I wanted to take some time to explore a few educational websites that fascinate me, most of which I use every day of my life. I recommend and enjoy all of them. Hopefully you’ll find something in here you can enjoy as well.

* Duolingo

First and foremost, I love Duolingo. And I’m using it (no joke) to learn nine different languages right now. It’s hardly an obscure website, and comes up first in any language learning search. And it’s literally used by hundreds of millions of people.

Opponents of the site point out (accurately) that Duolingo could basically never lead to fluency. It’s an unfortunate fact, although arguably true of any language learning website or program. Fact of the matter is: Fluency is very unlikely to ever be achieved outside of immersion. That being said, the site is fun and engaging, has an extensive array of languages to choose from (including two fictional ones: Klingon and High Valyrian), and with it’s new format, there is so much repetition, you can really walk away from each section knowing your stuff. Fluency is unlikely; proficiency with some time and effort, is highly likely.

Also checkout their newest site, Tinycards. It’s a supplemental flashcard program, and it’s excellent. It also has tons of non-language classes. So if you have been itching to finally master the state capitals, the periodic table, and the names of all the Game of Thrones characters, you came to the right place.

A fun aside: In years upon years of using this site, I’ve never paid a dime, nor have I seen an advertisement. Yet the creator is filthy, stinking rich. Read up on this guy. He’s an evil genius, and millions of us users are so happy that he is!

* CodeCademy

I haven’t used CodeCademy in some time, but I love the format as a way of studying computer programming, and I wish more sites would take a similar approach. I used it to learn HTML and CSS a while back, and found it very effective.

What makes the site great is the split screen effect, where you can study everything on one side of the screen along with instructions for what to try and accomplish. And you see the effectiveness of your coding right there on the other side of the screen.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and I’m still shocked this is isn’t the norm.

I do find the site has three faults, which is probably why I haven’t touched it in a while:

  1. They don’t seem to update the site often, which is very problematic in the tech world. There’s no excuse for teaching outdated codes. Nor is there any reason why an activity will have the same issues for a long time, without anyone coming around to fix everything up.
  2. When you finish a course, it gives the mistaken impression that you’ve completed studying the subject matter, when there are in fact worlds more to study.
  3. There’s no good direction to go once you’ve completed a topic. You’re kind of left to just figure out the rest of the subject matter on your own.

So, in summary, the site would be perfect if it were always kept up to date and gave a clear path for advancing the studies post completion of a subject. As far as I can tell, for the price tag, it’s the best we’ve got right now.

* Nitrotype

I used to teach typing, and I had a student who was way too advanced for the other students in my class. I didn’t know what to do with him exactly, and I wasn’t about to just let him sit around doing nothing.

Then I had a vision of what I thought would be the perfect way to engage him. Imagine if there were some online program where he could race against other people with similar skill levels.

On a hunch, I hopped onto Google to see if something like that already existed, and I was so happy that I did. Nitrotype is a program where five people compete at the same time to type the same paragraph the fastest. The competitors could be anywhere in the world. And as they type, the speed propels images of cars across the screen. For each race, you get virtual money that you can use to buy other cars to race with.

It’s fun. It’s engaging and competitive. And it’s the absolute best way to learn to improve typing skills.

* YouTube

I know the standard thing to say nowadays in the pursuit of knowledge is “Google it”. Well, I’m not so sure it’s always the right choice. When it comes to learning how to do something, I am still in awe at what’s out there on YouTube.

Unlike the previous three sites mentioned, YouTube hardly comes under the category of “educational websites”. It’s more like a treasure trove of cat videos with a fair amount of useful stuff accidentally tossed in.

And my YouTube rule of thumb is and always will be:

If you want to remain happy, and you don’t want to lose any and all faith in humanity, never ever scroll down. YouTube comments are a cesspool of the worst human behavior you will ever witness.

Nevertheless, the amount I’ve learned from quick YouTube searches is off the charts. I’ll never forget when I needed to move a freezer to my basement, but couldn’t fit it through the hallway because of the freezer door. And removing the door was problematic, since it was connected with all sorts of intricate electric wiring that the movers refused to touch. A simple YouTube search, and the next thing I knew I was dismantling a freezer and putting it all back together. Like a boss!

Search and ye shall find.

Just don’t look down!

* WPbeginner

Here I am, a beginner blogger. Navigating everything from SEO to plug-ins to how to monetize a blog. And it’s beyond refreshing to know that a resource like WPbeginner exists. The name is misleading, however. The amount of information available is so very vast, I would hate to think of myself as still a beginner if I master even small chunk of it.

One thing is for certain: If you start a WordPress blog with little knowledge and you are NOT reading articles on WPbeginner, you are missing out on the single best resource currently available for the task. And you might be a little bit crazy.


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Posted by jaffeworld in education, 0 comments

Why Don’t My Employers Like Me!?


Maybe It’s Me

After last week’s post, I started seriously contemplating some of my employment (and personal) history over the last 40 years. I’ve always been quite introspective. And I try very hard not to make excuses. So after quite a few years of having employers dislike me, it really got me thinking.

Maybe it’s me.

A couple of weeks ago, a former boss of mine visited and stayed at my home for a few days. We had an amazing time. So obviously I am fully capable of having positive relationships with my employers. After he left, my son and I chatted about my other jobs and bosses. I think overall I may have had a really positive relationship with somewhere around 20%!

Let’s get a few things clear. This is not about doing my job well, nor is it about great relationships with the other elements within my jobs. I believe–I really do–that I was successful, albeit at varying levels, wherever I have worked. And I have always enjoyed a lovely relationship with my co-workers, and I have years upon years of great connections I still maintain. I also had a fantastic relationship with countless students, as well as their parents. (And an important side note: This seems to no longer be an issue since I’ve left all forms of education.)

Hovering Around the Top

No, my issues usually hover right around the top. Unfortunately, it’s he who signs the paycheck and makes decisions about my status as an employee where my problems consistently lurked. And that’s the relationship I’m hoping to explore in this post.

My first instinct is to look at my past. My earliest significant memories were of my days in summer camp while in high school. Countless positive experiences… and again, a director who couldn’t stand me. Of course the only way to understand why that’s the case would be to ask her. However, I think it’s because of my perennial lack of ability to follow rules I don’t understand or don’t agree with.

I was never the stereotypical “bad” kid. I wasn’t off in the woods smoking pot. Nor was I violent. But the bad kid also knows how society perceives him, and thus does all in his power to not get caught. They knows their actions will get them immediately kicked out, so they perfect the art of sneakiness, and they’re off doing whatever they do when and where no one will find out.

Whereas my transgressions would usually be things like curfew violations. As a child, I never understood why someone deserving of trust or who wasn’t actually doing anything wrong needed a curfew. Furthermore, by that point in my life I basically had no curfew at home. Why should I have one artificially placed upon me elsewhere?

Now, I’m not saying camps shouldn’t have curfews, parents shouldn’t give curfews, either should differentiate between campers or children respectively, or that I was even behaving properly. I’m just explaining my attitude. An attitude that appears to have spilled a hefty amount into adulthood.

Do What The Boss Says

Do what the boss says. Why? They’re the boss. It’s the generally accepted  viewpoint of how to behave properly in the workplace, and certainly a safer path for one who wishes to advance, or minimally maintain their job.

But what happens when you know in your heart or logically that your boss is leading you down the wrong path? Or what happens when your boss makes a suggestion that you choose not to follow, only to find out later that their “suggestion” was just a silly passive-aggressive way of telling you what to do?

And then there’s the issue of education. Teachers thrive best when their classroom is their classroom. This means that unless something really bad is happening, principals and administrators should do their best to stay out of their teachers’ ways and let them teach how they feel comfortable. They need the ability to asses  the students in ways they feel comfortable and the space and piece of mind to be able to do what they do to the best of their abilities.

This may be the case in other jobs as well, but I don’t believe it’s to the same extent. Obviously a teacher cannot choose their students or hurt anyone in any fashion, and they can’t choose to abandon a curriculum. However, their method of getting their students from point A to point B should be left entirely in their hands.

Or should it?

Yes, this is how administrators are supposed to behave. But what happens when they don’t? Do we just default to “listen to the boss” even when the boss is wrong?

Sadly, the answer is yes. At least if you want to keep your job. But even if you do what you’re told, and do so quickly, your reluctance or questioning is always noted, and will not go well for you.

And I think that’s the first step in understanding what’s going on with me, and also understanding why I haven’t really had a problem since leaving education.

I have trouble doing what I am “supposed” to do when I know in my heart that it is wrong, and in a sense it’s a more “adult” version of how I ignored rules I didn’t care about as a teenager.

I do not believe that I have solved the riddle of the uncomfortable recurring patterns in my life, but I do think I have at least begun to scratch the surface.

I’m also not necessarily proud of the behavior. And certainly not the outcome.

Just observing.

I will continue to plunge deeper into who I am and what has happened in my life, in order to better understand the results. And I will seek synergy in a way whereby my obsession with personal integrity and passion for autonomy do not interfere with my professional success.

If you have any insights that I am overlooking, trust me: I’m all ears.


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Posted by jaffeworld in education, personal story, 0 comments

Is College Useful Anymore?


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

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.


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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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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