| Counter Point |

I Miss Sarah Schenirer: The conversation continues

The Open Mic piece on the dearth of qualified teachers for our girls continues to draw feedback. Below is a sampling

Passion Doesn’t Pay — E.B.

I was so excited to read Shaina King’s excellent article about a lack of female teachers — something I’ve been wanting to bring up for years.

In her letter to the editor, Leah S. writes that the reason we lack young female teachers is because of a lack of passion and an increase in materialism.

I was a classroom teacher for the first three years of my marriage, while my husband was in kollel. Between my $22,000 salary and the $10K he brought in on the side, along with being on various programs, we scraped by. But the goal was always to move on to something more lucrative (for example, a therapy) and not spend the rest of our lives relying on handouts. Plus our growing family comes with growing expenses.

Nowadays it’s pretty much impossible to live as we did. Rent in our neighborhood is at least $1,500 a month for a small one-bedroom apartment. Once you add in car insurance, clothing, toilet paper, phones, electric, gas, etc. (not to mention health insurance and groceries if you’re not on government programs), plus all things related to children — diapers, wipes, babysitting, tuition — you’ve pretty quickly passed a half-day teaching salary. And those are all basics; it’s not about choosing macaroni over chicken or the cheap Maclaren stroller over the UPPAbaby.

And secondly, even if these girls found a way to make it work, the reality is, many of them wouldn’t get dates from boys who want to learn. My husband and I dabble in shidduchim, and we’ve had many mothers who won’t even look at a girl’s r?sum? if she’s planning to teach. Even my own mother-in-law would have passed me over had my r?sum? not explicitly said I was going to be leaving the classroom and specializing in a better-paying field.

My husband now works as a rebbi and his school treats him wonderfully, with a nice salary plus Yom Tov bonuses and Pesach subsidies. If only our female teachers had the same level of salary and support.

It Starts with the Parents — D. Tessler

While we’re discussing the dearth of young people joining the teaching profession, I’d like to add my two cents, having taught in the Bais Yaakov system for a couple of decades.

First, regarding passion — the lack of it is not the problem. It’s the maintenance of said passion. Spend a couple of years in a classroom, and you’ll understand how hard it is to keep that fire burning.

The kids today are not the way kids were years ago. I know every generation says that, but the kids today come with parents who are demanding, and sometimes unreasonable. Children aren’t stupid, and they know how their parents feel. That gives them the courage to behave in ways that were unheard in the classrooms of years ago. It’s likely that any graduate today, having come from that kind of classroom, knows exactly what they’re up against and thinks, why bother? If parents are worried about their children’s teachers, they should start being more supportive, and less combative.

Then there’s the kollel issue. Let’s just say the ability to be a passionate, fantastic teacher does not depend on a husband learning in kollel. And neither should a teacher’s salary. That should reflect her valuable work, whether her husband is a doctor or rebbi, or if she’s single.

A Huge Disservice — G. Grossman

A letter to the editor titled “Where Are the Teachers?” featured a quote from an administrator characterizing new teachers as either farfrumt or lo yutzlach. Publishing that quote — with little nuance or exploration — does a huge disservice all around.

Picture a young teacher reading that. How does that make her feel about herself and her choice of career? Picture parents reading that. How can they have faith in or respect for a school system featuring teachers who are either farfrumt or lo yutzlach? And how can they effectively partner with teachers who they see as either farfrumt or lo yutzlach?

The teacher shortage is real, and absolutely should be discussed in your pages. Please do it responsibly.

The Real Reasons — Malka L., Lakewood, NJ

As a young, passionate teacher, the letter signed “Leah S.” really hit home with me. You write, “If it’s truly someone’s passion, they’ll make it work!” I’ll tell you why all the passionate, young teachers like myself leave after a few years: If you’re a passionate teacher, then it’s not what you get paid that bothers you, but how much time and money you’re spending that drives you out.

When I walk out of the classroom, my job is not done. I spend hours on the phone with parents, preparing exciting lessons, conferring with my students’ therapists and social workers, grading tests and report cards.

Any passionate teacher who’s doing her job well will tell you that they spend more time preparing than actually teaching. I also spend my own money on supplies and incentives, since the school budget does not allow for much. Does any secretary use her own money to buy a laptop to do her work with? Any accountant voluntarily do extra work into the wee hours of the night and not get paid for it?

So yes, the hours of actual teaching are great, but the amount of time spent after takes away from the laundry and supper making, leaving me wondering if I should leave the classroom and get a full-day but no work-after-work job. However, my husband and I feel very strongly that it’s the mother’s place to raise a family, like you said, and our rav agreed. So I’ll b’ezras Hashem be staying in the classroom, my fifth year of teaching, where I love what I do and look forward to greeting my students every day. My husband will be leaving kollel to get a job, so that I can keep teaching and be home part of the day with our kids.

I strongly agree with your question of “Is this what Hashem wants?” But teaching is not the perfect answer for family life. Passionate teachers get burnt out from all the extra unpaid hours, even if they feel that they’re doing what Hashem wants by raising their family!

Thanks again for bringing up such an important point, where we have to reevaluate the motto of “Husband must stay in kollel even if your kids spend all their waking hours with a babysitter.”

Stick to Teaching — C.D.

In your inbox last week, a letter writer explained that “Morahs today are expected to be mothers, fathers, therapists, coaches, and so much more.”

Is that reasonable?

If a woman can earn five times her teaching salary as therapist or coach, why on earth would she waste her time coaching in the classroom? If she is blessed with many children of her own to parent, why should she dedicate so much of herself to other children, rather than dedicate her life to her precious responsibilities?

Why should any young lady invest her entire life playing mother, father, therapist, and coach when she needs to focus her energies on building a home of her own? Is it reasonable to expect our best and most talented to sacrifice everything to assume impossible responsibilities?

Let’s be honest: No teacher can ever be all of the above descriptions to every student, maybe not even to one. Children need mothers and fathers to do the job of a mother and a father, and a licensed therapist will do less damage at therapy than any well-meaning, sweet but untrained teacher.

Maybe it’s time to stop placing impossible expectations on our teachers and take responsibility for that which only we can do for our children. Teachers should be trained in education. They need to be intelligent and kind menschen and role models. To demand more than that is ludicrous. Good therapists should be therapists. We need them out there. And teachers should revert to the age-old model of teaching for the sake of education.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 772)

Tagged: Counterpoint