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In a Class of Their Own

Yisroel Besser

Menahalim across the board agree that this is the next frontier in chinuch: a functional and vibrant network of private educators

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

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TEAM EFFORT Rabbi Mashinsky: “You have students who are lacking basic skills due to mental or physical or learning challenges, students who possess basic skills but lack motivation, and then you have gifted children who are under-stimulated in the classroom

R abbi Binyamin Barnett was sitting in a far corner of the auditorium, nearly invisible as he watched the graduation proceedings. There was Meir Bernstein, accepting his diploma from the menahel. Meir paused near the edge of the stage, looking out to where his proud parents and grandparents were seated, and he smiled, clutching the diploma like a trophy. Then his gaze went to the back rows, to the slight young man in the dark suit.

Their eyes locked. Meir nodded slowly and offered a little salute toward Rabbi Barnett. Then he squared his shoulders and walked down the stairs to join his fellow graduates.

There were no witnesses to the heroic work they’d done, no classmates or rebbeim to see the patience, determination, and creativity that defined their encounters. Meir’s parents barely knew the man’s name — they just called him the private rebbi, or the tutor, and grumbled that he took more money per hour than an electrician.

But Meir knew. And Rabbi Barnett knew. And in that moment, hundreds of long, lonely, exhausting hours were rewarded.

Tutors Rebranded

As chinuch goals and techniques have evolved along with society’s demands and complexities, and parents understand that a child with reading or comprehension issues is at-risk of struggling later on, private rebbeim have become an industry of their own. Yet it’s an industry that needs rebranding.

One respected rav and maggid shiur concedes that the private rebbeim of generations past leave some people with the wrong idea. “I had a ‘chavrusa’ when I was about 12 years old, a European survivor, a sofer by profession and terrorist as a side job. He would yell at me like nobody’s business as we learned the first perek of Bava Metziah. Until today, when I hear the word ‘heilach’ I break out in a cold sweat and I have trouble teaching it. What a dent a negative girsa d’yankusa can have.”

It’s time to update people’s thinking, says Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway. “You can’t blame parents for hesitating when it comes to arranging a tutor. A generation ago, many tutors were people who couldn’t get chinuch jobs — tired, unmotivated, without the confidence or dynamism to inspire a child. Of course it was a broken process — you take kids who need a bit more and then lock them up in a room with a lackluster rebbi in a wrinkled shirt — so it often made the situation worse.”

Welcome to chinuch, 2017.

Even the word “tutor” is out of style, with many schools calling them “private rebbeim/moros,” “freelance rebbeim,” or “supplementary educators.”

“Rabbi Menachem M. Karmel: Menahelim will be attracted to someone who dreams of making a difference in the life of a child, who sees himself or herself as capable of providing something that often can’t be given in the classroom” (Photo: Shalom Serraf)

Many dynamic young men and women with ambitions of classroom jobs will start their careers doing private education, a way to break into the industry on the front lines.

And some will never leave.

Yet why would someone opt for a career in tutoring over a formal classroom position?

For starters, because the job is available. “If you’re good, there’s always a need. In most cases, it’s the school that recommends it and the menahelim have the private rebbeim they prefer to work with,” says Brooklyn private rebbi Rabbi Binyamin Barnett.

But if there’s no formal training, how is a menahel to know who’s qualified?

Rabbi Menachem M. Karmel, menahel of Montreal’s Yeshiva Gedola elementary school, says it’s a lot about the attitude of the individual tutor. “If someone walks in dressed like a mensch, speaks with confidence, and makes a convincing pitch, then you take him seriously. I can tell you that most menahelim won’t feel confident recommending or working with a guy who simply wants the job because he likes the idea of being able to make some extra money and still stay in a kollel or chinuch environment, which is very attractive to some applicants. Menahelim will be attracted to someone who dreams of making a difference in the life of a child, who sees himself or herself as capable of providing something that often can’t be given in the classroom.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 684)

 

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