Building the Jewish Educators of Tomorrow

There is no problem more taxing than staffing. Schools expend great resources to try to retain talented teachers. With a growth-oriented approach, many schools turn to their recent graduates who exhibit the potential to be educators, tapping them on the shoulder to offer monetary support in tertiary studies, refunded to the school in x years of service upon completion. 

It is the kind of succession planning in which communal professionals often find success. Why doesn’t it work for education? 

Sadly, communal attitudes dissuade students from becoming Jewish educators. Though schools need quality educators and parents appreciate quality educators, those same parents don’t want their children to become teachers. Every stale joke told about lack of parental pride in presidents and rabbis is even truer of teachers in the Jewish public consciousness: “What sort of career is that for a nice Jewish boy or girl?” 

Though our texts are full of praise for teachers, our communities are awash with complaints: It is not well paid; it does not advance; it takes up time and is a good fallback option. Unfortunately, we teachers do this to ourselves—every time we complain publicly about the workload, pay and disruptive children/parents without also describing the joy and meaning of educating the next generation. Finally, even as teacher retention rates fall, many graduates feel a lack of care from the community. Even if they brave the profession, what support can they expect upon stumbling?


Creating JET-Setters

It is in these challenging conditions that we sought a solution, guided by the words of Rav Kook: “Great are we and great are our sins—therefore great are our troubles, and great are our consolations.” If we wish to solve profound issues, we must unlock profound solutions.

We must engage students earlier, and better.


In 2022, Hannah (all names are changed) came to my desk at lunchtime and said she wanted to be a teacher. Jessica came with her; she was also interested but unsure. Both were at the beginning of their final year of school, excellent students with a passion for Yiddishkeit. I chatted through some options with the students, before deciding on a two-stage program: some reflective classroom observations, and a bespoke Open Day at the University of Sydney (which offers the only local Jewish teaching program). 

Of course, it wouldn’t just be for them; I also gauged interest among the rest of the Year 12 cohort. In the meantime, I contacted teachers at other Jewish day schools to see if they had any students interested in teaching. We thought we might get a cohort of three students together, if we were lucky.

Fourteen students registered. We hadn’t realized that by asking who was interested, instead of tapping shoulders, engagement could be far higher. 

Each of us at our respective schools met with our cohort of potential teachers and assessed their suitability by inquiring things like “What excites you about education?” and “What subjects are you interested in teaching?” For all these students, we ran our program as planned, with each student completing three observations across the school and reflecting on them with provided prompts. We called it Jewish Educators of Tomorrow (JET).

Two months later, we held the Open Day. Planned meticulously in collaboration with Michael Abrahams-Sprod from the Jewish Education Program in the discipline of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney, we were joined by staff and students from two Jewish day schools for a tour of campus, presentation by education academics, demonstration tutorial and kosher lunch with Jewish university students. It wasn’t just the participants who found it exciting; the academics were happy to see the next generation on campus, and Jewish campus organizations were thrilled to engage potential members.

Afterwards, we thought carefully about what had made the first iteration a success and arrived at the following principles. These continue to be guiding principles for ongoing iterations, including this year.

We did it together. No truly successful effort to solve a community-wide issue can be met alone; the success of the program lay in the collaboration between stakeholders. Furthermore, it wasn’t the effort of a single school. From the beginning, every Jewish day school was offered the opportunity and lent their support.  

We changed the narrative around education. Instead of teaching being “drudgery” or a “fallback option,” it was spotlighted in an exciting and prestigious program. That is not to say we were wholly successful—I fielded two calls from concerned parents (“Why are you trying to get my child to be a teacher?”)—but slowly, we opened students up to the possibility of becoming educators. We spoke openly about the human impact of our work and the joy of seeing students thrive, and the students responded.

We did it efficiently and cheaply. For all the experiences offered, the cost to participants was nil. My school paid for a bus to transport the students. The lunch was sponsored by Mandelbaum House, a Jewish residential college on campus.


We listened to the students. We consistently communicated with the students to understand and cater to their interests and concerns. They were always free to opt out; the aim was simply to empower them in their interest. Too often, prior approaches envisioned who students might be in five or ten years without considering who they were in the present: passionate, open and full of questions.


Following Through

From the beginning, JET was about creating a supportive framework for students entering education. As we concluded each Open Day, we told students that the community was there to support them, but we didn’t have much to offer by way of an ongoing program (beyond what individual schools might make). We worked hard to create a program that could support those inspired by JET to pursue education financially and offer them support and mentorship to ensure their success in a long career. 

At the end of 2023, the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, which coordinates the program’s strategic direction and oversight, applied for funding to Sydney’s Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA), a funder and fundraiser in the Jewish communities of NSW and ACT (Australian Capital Territory). Trustees of one of JCA’s endowment funds agreed to support a JET fellowship program, and the JCA Joy Balkind Teaching Fellowships were born. 

This program offers up to seven full scholarships to the next generation of Jewish educators across the community. Fellows are paired with Jewish expert practitioners as mentors, have four seminars of professional development annually and work closely with a partnered Jewish day school as they complete their qualifications: team teaching, observing classes and contributing to communal life.



Did It Work?

There have been several lessons along the way. As much as early engagement is key, offering opportunities like JET prior to students’ final year of schooling does not yield consistent results. Before Hannah and Jessica came to my desk, I had tried to engage Year 10 work experience students in similar opportunities with very limited success. It is when students are nearing the end of their schooling, and considering their next steps, that education should be offered as a path. 

While it is too early to gauge the long-term impact, the numbers so far speak for themselves. Sydney has 45,000 Jews and four Jewish day schools, with half of Jewish students currently attending them. In 2024, eighteen Year 12 students signed up (with their lesson observations already complete), diverse in their interest areas and religious streams. In total, 23 students have completed JET since 2021, with eight having since commenced education degrees. One-third of applicants to the Fellowship are former JET students, while two of these have secured other scholarships in the meantime. Although most participants do not pursue education, four motivated and inspired educators per year is enough to satisfy communal demand, while those opting for another path exit with a positive view of education, contributing further to a shift in the communal conversation. 

Our greatest lesson learned has been mirrored in the aspirations of the Fellowship: not to be individuals, but a cohort. The only major change from the original Year 12 JET experience has been the addition of an online seminar, bringing Jewish students from across the community together to share what makes them interested in Jewish education before the Open Day. Likewise, we hope the fellows will support each other, as the community should, through the difficult moments in teaching they will inevitably encounter—and overcome. 

In the GEN17 Australian Jewish Community Survey, the largest Jewish community survey ever completed in Australia, Sydney respondents named the key advantage of Jewish schooling to be “provid[ing] a sense of belonging to the Jewish community.” As much as JET is the story of Hannah and Jessica asking for help deciding their path, it is also the story of many hands working together to build a better future—one with more resilient and collaborative educators, empowered by a supportive and caring community.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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