From the Editor: Jewish Educator Pipeline

Make for yourself a teacher. Pirkei Avot 1:7 and 1:17

Perhaps unique in human history, the Jewish people regard their founder primarily as a teacher. Other nations were founded by generals, legislators, emperors, quasi-divinities; we Jews herald our founder as Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher for all time. Moses combined the qualities of wisdom and humility that our greatest teachers exemplify. Unlike many other founders, he is not merely a historical personage; his teachings and his personal example live within us to this day as objects of study and emulation.

The Jewish tradition values the teacher above all other professions. The word rav means spiritual leader and teacher interchangeably; “rabbi” is a formalized acknowledgment that someone has the qualifications to serve as both. Jewish teachers convey knowledge and embody Jewish values simultaneously; in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s memorable expression, they are “textpeople,” who not only can understand and explain our sacred texts but who show people how to live them. No matter how wise we may be, it is incumbent upon us to find someone wiser to be our teacher, an injunction repeated twice in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot.

Judaism acknowledges that some people excel in wisdom and hence make superior teachers. But it also regards all people as both students and teachers. In the rabbinic worldview, study is a lifetime pursuit, and the purpose of study is to do—and to teach. Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us are teachers, influencing others and sharing our thoughts and knowledge with them constantly. Teaching is part of the essence of our humanity. The more we are aware of that quality and reflect upon it, the better teachers we all will be, and the more we will prize those people who choose teaching our children as their profession.

This issue of HaYidion addresses the complex, interwoven challenges that our field faces in finding qualified teachers that our schools and our students need. We started to explore this challenge in our Fall 2022 issue on Affordability, where some of the articles spoke of the challenges of living on a teacher’s salary and ways that schools and funders are trying to make improvements. This issue takes a more holistic tack, spanning the entire career of an educator, with writers presenting suggestions and initiatives aimed to elevate the appeal, value and prestige of the profession, from the time students are starting to wonder about possible careers through keeping the work fresh and creative for senior educators.

Articles are grouped into four periods or aspects of a teaching career. “Inspiring” opens up ideas for bringing more talented people into the profession. Novick proposes that schools more forcefully advance teaching as a desirable path for students. Bader and Ezzes describe high school programs on opposite sides of the globe that have exposed many students to the excitement of teaching. Benmoise & Hauser suggest tapping the interest of camp counselors. Chanales shows how working with students from high school through their first job can reap substantial rewards. Gold suggests a method for expanding the pool of applicants far beyond the “usual suspects.” Ergas argues for ramping up the professionalism of day school Hebrew teachers.

The next section, “Attracting,” offers ways to bring more candidates into our schools. Knight reveals the powers latent in the job posting. Shpall & Shpall present a range of methods, including a form of pay transparency, that has succeeded in drawing and retaining more teachers. Katz & Fain offer a comprehensive process for welcoming, onboarding and maximizing morim shlichim. Berkowitz sees in a form of “teacher residency” a model that can speed up the system of teacher development. Friedrichs lays out a program for empowering general studies teachers to become Judaics faculty. Shadmi-Wortman portrays a comprehensive method for making small schools desirable and welcoming. Magagnosc & Pomson reveal data suggesting that retaining teachers is much more effective than recruiting new ones.

“Growing” looks at ways that schools can enable teachers to develop and refine their pedagogic skills. Bruder clearly spells out the profound impact that accrues to a school that takes teacher professional development as a top priority, while Farbman, Welsher & Abusch-Magder recount how one school achieves that aim. Baigel presents a program in London aspiring to spark fresh approaches among mid-career Judaics educators. Friedberg & Mentzer show how developing faculty skills in differentiation can avoid frustration and burnout. Goldstein, Kaslowe & Wiener portray the benefits of coaching, and Peters showcases a new mentorship program designed to improve teacher retention.

The fourth section, “Living,” displays approaches in other areas that can fruitfully improve teachers’ standing and wellbeing. Ritter lays out a data-driven approach to improving school culture for teacher retention. Silvestri addresses the culture beyond school walls, among families, that can harm teacher respect and prestige. Ahuja, Broms & Ploff relate a teacher-led process that transformed and clarified the pay scale. Halon introduces her school’s support group enabling teachers to open up with each other about challenges in their work and professional lives. Silberstein shares the role of a curriculum leader as a vehicle for teacher professional growth, and Ablin captures the qualities required of a head of school to manage effective teacher support.

In the school feature, we invited senior educators to reflect upon the conditions that have motivated them to remain in the classroom. In their stories of their own development, earned career lessons, moments of inspiration and opportunities for creative practice, these teachers model the same qualities of wisdom and humility conveyed by Moshe Rabbeinu at the founding of the Jewish People.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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