Staffing is the bane of every principal’s existence. In the larger Jewish metropolis areas, there may be a plethora of qualified experienced candidates for certain high school and more advanced education positions but not necessarily for the younger and intermediate grades, and out of town one literally begs, borrows, and steals for any viable candidate. And while students are critical for enrollment and parents must be appropriately stewarded throughout the chinuch experience, teachers are undoubtedly the school’s most valuable resource. How to recruit and retain qualified experienced professionally growing teachers is our generation’s unique challenge.
To begin with, why are so few of our talented young professionals pursuing a career in education? My father Rabbi Wein shlit”a quips on the pasuk from Shir Hashirim: שמני נטרה את הכרמים כרמי שלי לא נטרתי – we have produced the world’s most famous doctors and lawyers, our girls seek careers as occupational, physical, ABA, and speech therapists and social workers, yet who will teach our children and grandchildren? Why has the idealism and sense of mission to teach Torah to our young dissipated so dramatically?
While a bit whimsical, I thought it an inherently valuable exercise to seek perspective on this topic and examine some of the issues from both the school’s and the teacher or potential teacher’s position, and where possible, offer some pragmatic suggestions to counter each of the hurdles.
TEACHER: I would love to consider the dinei nefashot, inspiring sales pitch and all, but ultimately it comes down to dinei mamanot in supporting my family. Remember as a kid playing the board game Life and the first stop after marriage was the career track. Secretly we all hoped to land on the doctor slot as the salary was $100,000 (fifty years ago!) and cringed if we landed on the teacher spot paying only $25,000! Not much has changed over the course of time and clearly the status accorded educators in society generally and in our financially strapped mosdot especially, is relatively low. It would require me to get a second job as well as a summer job to simply make ends meet. You have surely heard the adage: “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!” How can anyone seriously consider a field of endeavor with meager remuneration for the enormous effort and outside the job hours we will be expected to put in with most schools offering few or any benefits including insurances. The demands to respond to parents outside of the school day encroach on valuable family time or learning/chavrusa time, and the sheer number of hours I need to put into planning tomorrow’s lesson…! Time is also money…. והכסף יענה את הכל.
What more can we do to solve this challenge and bring the two “sides” – of course we’re all on the same side – together? Here are some suggestions.
Schools may not offer the best financial benefits, but we can offer some intangible ‘nonfinancials’ by way of additional prep periods, flexible schedules, or coaching opportunities for novice practitioners to facilitate less job-related stress and the necessity to take home hours of grading or preparing lessons after leaving work depleted and overwhelmed. We can make ourselves available daily for staff to bounce ideas off of, listen to their frustrations and concerns from the classroom, and offer pragmatic resources and direction for their successes. CoJDS has a highly acclaimed principal mentoring program – such a program can be expanded to teachers, affording them the opportunity to communicate and clarify classroom and curriculum issues with an objective senior principal or teacher, gifting them the time and experiential perspective they often crave. Often, a small school out of town will have a knowledgeable veteran principal, and perhaps the best tool such a small school can use for marketing to and recruiting great teachers and rebbeim is professional training from such a mechanech or a collegial mentor and a relatively safe environment for breaking into the classroom dynamic.
Perhaps we need to garner communal support for the novel concept of a Shevet Levi approach to our staffing quandary. Significantly, the kohanim’s main role was that of horaha/education, serving in the Bais Hamikdash but a few weeks a year while devoted as an inspirational role model to teach Torah to the Jewish people the majority of their time, for which they received the 24 priestly gifts enabling to fully focus on their primary responsibilities untethered by the financial concerns of their fellow tribesmen. By way of example, what if all Jewish professionals, from financial planners to realtors to a myriad of business owners, would voluntarily – and proudly – offer a 10-20% discount on their goods or services to those dedicating their lives to teach Torah to our next generation, similar to the Biblical tithing system? And if time equates to money, we can offer streamlined duties and responsibilities outside of the instructional hours so that the teacher can devote themselves to their own Torah learning and preparation as accorded their dignified status in ‘klei kodesh’ in the true spirit ofזכה, מלאכתו נעשית בידי אחרים. Pragmatically, that might even include limiting the time frame in which teachers must respond to parental emails and phone calls to three times a week rather than nightly. Maybe some administrative assistance such as a high school volunteer to develop and or refresh their blog for them, design a digital Kahoot review game, etc. would be helpful in treating teachers as the Shevet Levi the are.
Finally, let’s follow the rule in life that “those problems which money can solve, we must let money solve, since these are actually rare.” Chinuch organizations such as CoJDS can and do offer financial assistance for curriculum materials, assessments, mentoring, and trainings, freeing up resources for staffing while simultaneously setting up the teachers for success in differentiated, skill-based instruction in their classrooms across North America and beyond. Others, such as the Kohelet Foundation, Legacy Heritage, and Grinspoon Foundations sponsor annual competitive grants and contests rewarding teachers for innovative Jewish education as well as design thinking, technology, and visual arts integration into Judaic Studies. Beyond the prize monies, these grants and programs spur the free flow and energetic exchange of ideas and invaluable professional dialogue and connection between teachers.
While there are commonalities in staffing dilemmas across grade levels, geographic regions, and diverse school cultures, there clearly are wide chasms in the scope and approach each of the approximately 750 day schools and yeshivas in the country, and each school division mandates its own analysis with its unique challenges and opportunities. Schools with Israeli shlichim face a new challenge with the recent direction of the WZO toward three-year contracts with no extensions. This means that in their first year shlichim are adjusting and learning the lay of the land, and the final year they are busy planning their return, which effectively leaves only year two for productive teaching. Chabad-run institutions may have teachers with a pioneering spirit and have successfully incorporated distance learning and shared teacher scenarios but may need professional teacher training models. Small schools are their own enigma presenting with the significant challenge of hiring not only a teacher, but their spouse and family as well, for genuine community bridge building. Ubiquitously, all schools regardless of their size or location need staff depth for subbing and forward vision. And so, it seems that “a teacher may work from sun to sun but a principal’s staffing job is never done!”
Mrs. Miriam Gettinger has been a principal for the past 30 years, currently at the Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis and previously at the South Bend Hebrew Day School as well as at the helm of Bais Yaakov High School of Indiana. A graduate of Beth Jacob Teachers Institute of Jerusalem as well as Touro College, she has taught Limudei Kodesh to all ages from elementary to adult for over 40 years. Contact Mrs. Gettinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.