Restoring Honor and Prestige to Educators

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted that more than 300,000 educators left their jobs between February 2020 and May 2022, with 55% of teachers reporting plans to leave the field earlier than anticipated. What would cause teachers who invested in their own education to educate our youth to throw in the towel so soon? 


Career Motivation

To answer this, we need to start at the beginning. What drives teachers to enter the field in the first place?

Passion. A pay-it-forward mentality. Community. 

When interviewing a candidate for a teaching position, I know that I have found my ideal choice when I identify that the teacher in front of me is the one I would want my children to have. Passion is not something that one is born with; it is nurtured and cared for over time. Teachers who are passionate about learning, expanding one’s breadth of knowledge, individual growth and student development are the educators that arrive early each day, stay late after dismissal, who attend all of the sporting events and work on lesson plans after their own children are in bed. 

Passionate teachers devour books on classroom management, design thinking and how to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms. Passion, when felt by students, is contagious, lighting the minds of students on fire. Passion from a teacher is what nurtures happy and inspired students. 

Teachers usually have a story about someone in their youth who made a lasting and enduring impact that changed the course of their lives. As a result, they feel called upon to pay that moment forward, inspired to give another budding student the same experience that they felt. They were destined to be an educator. 

Our schools act as miniature communities for our teachers, students and their families. Whether you live in a large Jewish population on the East or West coasts or you live in an “out of town” community, the sense of belonging that comes as a result of being part of a school brings joy, warmth and comfort. There is nothing quite like it. These feelings provide a place for teachers to give back to the community, to take part in nurturing its growth and providing a space for students to bask in the community’s light as they find their place within. 



Whether your drive is passion, a calling to pay it forward or building community, what would cause someone to choose to leave these meaning-making ideals? 

In the past few years, I have begun to explore this question with my colleagues in the field. How is it that someone with passion and a true calling can feel as if they have no other choice but to leave the field? According to the July 2021 Southern Education Foundation Policy Brief, 30% of teachers are chronically absent. As Simon Sinek explains, when we love our jobs we cannot wait to jump out of bed and get started. The only explanation for this report’s results is the loss of passion and a depreciation of the calling to educate. 

While a 2023 article from McKinsey and Company entitled K-12 Teachers are quitting. What would make they stay? lists inadequate compensation as the top reason why teachers are leaving, it is the second item on that list that concerns me more, unsustainable work expectations. I am not minimizing the workload increases that educators have experienced especially in the past 5+ years. That is real and an area that requires our attention. However, I would like to expand this idea even further. 

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on a Shabbat table with friends and family. You are currently in your second year of university and are on the precipice of deciding your major. You have loved teaching ever since you were in high school. You have some questions about the profession and financial stability, yet you are really leaning toward becoming a teacher. Then it happens.

Have you ever interacted with Mr. Smith? I cannot stand him. Not only is my child not getting an education in his class, I can’t get any communication from him at all. He is completely incompetent.

As you sit and watch the conversation evolve, the discussion moves from one school topic to another, often increasing the levels of criticism on teachers, administrators and educational leaders. As you watch this unfold, you begin to ask yourself how you could invest years of your education and professional life to be the topic of vitriol on someone’s Shabbat table. We have all found ourselves in these moments. What I have yet to hear from anyone is when another member on the table or in the discussion stood up and called out the manner in which educators are spoken about among their community. 

These conversations that take place on Shabbat tables, in the supermarkets, over social media and on WhatsApp chats have an impact far beyond the space they occupy. They embolden our children to speak to teachers in the same manner that they see modeled for them in these encounters. Teachers become inhuman, a tool that we use for our own personal gain and usage, expecting them to become flexible to cater to everyone’s outrageous needs and often forgetting that the person they are interacting with is a human being themselves. 


The Role of Leadership

The third item listed in the McKinsey article for why teachers are leaving is due to uninspiring leadership. Teachers are expressing increased concerns with how leadership is showing up for them, standing for the values and mission that the school is built on when interacting with students and parents who do not live those values when engaging with their teachers and administrators. As such, a small issue has burgeoned to become one of the most cancerous impacts on teacher longevity and developing the field with new educators. 

Yes, teachers deserve to be paid livable wages. They deserve to be invested in, mentored, nurtured and developed. They have a challenging job that does require unique hours and investment. And addressing all of those points may not address their desire to leave the field. We must place significant focus on how some school stakeholders are interacting with each other and impacting their children in ways that harm the respect and decency that teachers require and deserve. 

This challenge permeates all educational levels, geographic locations and religious affiliations. As educational leaders, we must dedicate significant time to ponder how we are modeling the manner in which we hope to inspire our communities, our students and future generations of teachers in how they should be engaging with those whose passion, calling and dedication to our communities brought them to a field whose goal is to inspire the future. 

This work begins with us engaging with two critical constituencies, our teachers and our parents. By addressing with teachers the manner in which our communities engage with them, school leaders communicate to them the importance that the school places in this arena. Whether it be through small focus groups, quarterly meetings or a simple one on one in the teacher’s lounge, the more we speak about it, the more it becomes part of our lexicon. 

Engaging our parents is a trickier task. How do we bring them into the conversation? Questions requiring reflection include, Who are our partners in this work, and what tangible goals can we set for measurable outcomes to be realized? Utilizing a school board, Head of School Support and Evaluation Committee or a learning community of peers as thought partners will provide us the head space and resources to find the right ingredients for our unique community. 

In conjunction with supporting our teachers financially, with great professional development and a sense of belonging, this issue might be the final piece that will allow us to introduce an antidote to this ongoing and expansive dilemma.


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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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