“Those boards that are willing to raise millions for new buildings but not for attractive salaries are putting the cart before the horse”
Invest in Training [Inbox / Issue 927]
As a 15-year veteran of teaching most subjects from elementary through high school, plus a decade of training and mentoring teachers, and as a parent of children who have gone through the system, I would like to applaud the two main points that Mrs. Schwartz made in last week’s Inbox letter.
First, she said that money talks. Some teachers are so idealistic that they would accept a lower standard of living in order to be able to teach. Most potential teachers would not. The bottom line is the bottom line. Those boards that are willing to raise millions for new buildings but not for attractive salaries are putting the cart before the horse.
Second, she said that appreciation matters too, and encouraged readers to take a minute to email your children’s teachers a word of appreciation. If any parents are reading this: Speaking for myself, but perhaps for many teachers, we don’t need gifts, but a “Thank you” at the end of the year would mean a lot. Some of us put our hearts and souls into our students, yet I can literally count on one hand the number of thank-you letters I have received in 15 years of teaching (that includes emails). People are busy, but parents — if you care about the future of your child’s school, do your part to make the teachers feel appreciated.
But higher wages and more appreciation aren’t enough. In addition to receiving a good wage and feeling appreciated, every self-respecting teacher wants to be successful. Teaching isn’t easy, and better teacher-training would make a difference. Unfortunately, out of desperation, most Jewish schools routinely hire new teachers who have no formal training. What else can you do when you have a slot to fill and it’s already the end of August?
Except that when new teachers don’t work out — either because they quit or they’re fired — it can destroy the learning in a class for the rest of the school year, regardless of who takes over that class. The children are the victims, and in my opinion, they would sometimes have been better off had that teacher never been hired in the first place.
Yet there is a model out there: In the past 20 years, many public school systems have invested in creating a culture of “new teacher onboarding,” which they look at as a two-year process. It involves intensive training up front followed by intensive expert mentoring (i.e., with a trained and paid mentor, with regular meetings during paid duty hours). Some Jewish schools do this well, while others don’t seem to do it at all.
Let’s challenge (and fund) our schools to raise the bar and implement a high-quality new teacher onboarding program that is at least as good as what the public schools are doing. Don’t passively hope for things to change; if your child’s (or grandchild’s) school does not have a high-quality new teacher onboarding program, then speak up. This kind of institutional change will only occur if parents request it. Even if you don’t have children in school, please speak up; we all have a stake in chinuch. Every child deserves to have a trained teacher in every classroom.
Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld PhD
Jewish Teachers Institute
Let Them Just Teach [Inbox / Issue 927]
In an Inbox letter entitled “Filling the Chinuch Holes,” the writer bemoans a recurring theme in these pages, the seemingly insolvable teacher shortage. If you ask many of these teachers why they are leaving teaching, their seemingly paradoxical answer is because they want to teach.
“Wanting to teach” means a few very concrete things: It means being respected for their knowledge, skills, and experience in the field; it means being given the time, space, and resources to develop themselves professionally in a manner that they deem optimal for themselves and their students; it means having schools make the tough decision to shift funds toward teacher salaries at the expense of other equally necessary expenditures.
In our current system, classroom teaching paradoxically means that the more successful a teacher becomes over time, the higher the chances are that the person will move to a more senior position in the school. If salaries were structured in such a way that it made financial sense for teachers to stay in the classroom instead of getting more and more roles outside, thereby enabling schools to avoid continually hiring new, young, inexperienced teachers every year in a revolving-door fashion, schools could build a cadre of experienced teachers who stay in the classroom.
Another very practical issue faced by many teachers today is a deep frustration with something that began with very good intent, but that has mushroomed into a problem of enormous proportions. In many schools, teachers are required to participate in hours, if not days, of so-called “professional development” at various points during the school year.
Having professional development days designed by outsiders, and not teachers themselves, in a way that is by and large not relevant to a lot of teachers, creates a demoralizing and time-wasting atmosphere.
Another concern many parents have is the amount being spent on out-of-classroom programs and activities. These programs are necessary for the children, but the cost means that funding is often being shifted away from teachers’ salaries.
Many successful, skilled, experienced teachers who are on the way out say that they just “want to teach.” They don’t want to be asked to run activities outside their purview, or to supervise school events that are completely not their responsibility, or to sit through irrelevant professional development sessions. They really want to teach and reach our children in a meaningful, warm, happy, and productive way in their classrooms, and to build up their classrooms so that the place where students spend the majority of their days remains the priority in schools.
The least we can do is just let them teach.
A Parent Who Cares About the Teacher Drainage
Screaming for Help [Different Schools of Thought / Double Take — Issue 927]
As a parent and teacher for many years, I would like to offer the following awareness. Sometimes a child might present with behavioral issues at school or home, and it’s easy to assume that it’s either ADHD or nothing. In many cases, the child may actually be suffering from severe anxiety or depression, which may present itself through anger or misbehavior.
A child always wants to be good. A chart for a ten-year-old fourth-grader to behave at school is sad at that stage. Please have your child appropriately evaluated and treated. Blaming the school, teachers or classmates will not take care of the problem.
A teacher who knows
It’s Mom’s Fault [Different Schools of Thought / Double Take — Issue 927]
Since I am a teacher, I decided to read this past week’s Double Take story. I was saddened to read the story about a mother who is suffering, a family who is suffering, and a boy who is not getting the help he needs. Avi needs help; most likely he needs medication. In fact, he has needed it since the second grade. No mention is made of any visits to the pediatrician’s offices to get help and advice. The mother decided to take matters into her own hands and essentially bribe her child to behave.
This short-term solution isn’t helping anyone, especially her son. Her son needs help. He’s not managing in a classroom, and he hasn’t been managing for a long time. Tamara, wake up. You are the one who is at fault.
Tzipporah Moskovitz, M.Ed
Behind the Rebbi’s Back [Different Schools of Thought / Double Take — Issue 927]
I’m writing in response to the Double Take in which a woman felt compelled to speak to the principal about an extremely disruptive boy in her son’s class, despite her misgivings due to knowing how hard the boy’s mother was trying to help him, and how much his behavior was affecting his family.
Unlike the classic Double Take letter, I’m not here to advocate for either one of the protagonists, or even to make the creative suggestion that the two sides try speaking to each other. Instead, I’d like to speak up on behalf of one of the more minor characters in the story: the boys’ rebbi.
Shani felt uncomfortable calling the class rebbi with her concerns, since she hadn’t called him yet that year. (Incidentally, this is just another proof that it’s good to introduce yourself to your kids’ teachers before trouble strikes. It’s September — go, pick up the phone, say hi and thank you!). Instead, she felt stuck, until she ended up filling in the principal about Avi’s out-of-control behavior. The principal steps in, supervising the class, and ultimately making the decision to suspend Avi, and all is good, no?
Parents, if you ever have any concerns about your child’s classroom, please, please address them directly to the teacher before going to the administration. Allow teachers to share the view from their side of the desk, to let you know their perspective and how they’re working to tackle the issue. It’s an incredible feeling of betrayal for a teacher to only find out about a parent’s concerns from the principal; how would you feel if your every misstep were reported straight to your boss? At the very least, have the decency to give teachers a chance to explain themselves before a problem escalates.
In this case, had Shani spoken to the rebbi, he likely would have explained all of the work he was doing with Avi. He probably would have delineated the progress he was seeing, reassuring Shani that her son’s suffering was not being overlooked. Maybe then Shani and her husband would have waited another week or two before calling the principal — and maybe by that point they wouldn’t have had to, sparing Avi the pain and suffering of suspension — and the setback he no doubt suffered.
At the very least, it would have been worth a shot.
Pictures Show Our Values [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 926]
I appreciated Yisroel Besser’s perspective on “regular” Yidden sharing the pictures they had taken with Rav Chaim and other gedolim. However, I don’t know if I agree with his point that it’s not a flex. I think it is a flex. It’s people’s way of saying, “I managed to make that picture happen, get that appointment, secure a slot with the gadol.”
A number of years ago, my husband and I went through a personal tragedy, and we managed to get a meeting with Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l. He sat with us for over an hour, giving us a personal shiur focused on our tzaar. Subsequently, whenever Rav Moshe’s name came up, I immediately felt proud, as if I had a personal connection to this gadol just because of that special meeting.
A picture can be completely tokenistic, or it can carry a message of a core value. Maybe people poke fun at these pictures because they seem incongruous with the sharer’s day-to-day life, but I see it as their way of sharing what they sincerely hold dear to them. It’s how they chose to spend their time, effort, and money, and that says a lot about their values. Chasing gadlus is a beautiful thing.
No Replacements [Works for Me / Issue 925]
Dear Aspiring MD,
As someone who struggles with the same aspiration of becoming a doctor, I understand wholeheartedly what you are grappling with. I am not a rav or a therapist, but I have actual experience with this. All jobs that you take will have you feeling like something is missing.
I do not agree with the columnist’s suggestion to pinpoint what it is about becoming a MD that is driving you. Whatever the reason is exactly, other jobs will never replace that. I think you need to have a hard conversation with your parents and dig deep within yourself to move forward with your dream.
You are young and don’t have other financial responsibilities at this point in your life. Your parents will be more than happy when you are finished with schooland the residency and practicing as a physician. The Mishpacha oilam should correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a Jewish mother lamenting that her child is a doctor.
Strong Hashkafic Concerns [Works for Me / Issue 925]
I generally find Shaina Keren’s career advice to be astute and on-target, and I appreciate the amount of consideration that goes into every one of her responses. For that reason, I was disappointed at the question recently addressed in her column, from the girl who was dreaming of becoming a doctor.
While Shaina’s response was characteristically well-rounded from the perspective of career choice with hashkafic implications, I think that the underlying topic goes well beyond the parameters of this column and should not have been oversimplified to fit the format and angle of the business/parnassah section of the magazine.
The girl asked a legitimate question, and likely one that is less uncommon than most would perceive. At the same time, when parents have strong hashkafic concerns about their child’s preferred career trajectory, there is so much more at play than the actual question as presented, and far more than any career coach — even the best — is qualified to address. We have no idea what the dynamics and history of this “excellent” parent-child relationship are, what ramifications the parents are concerned about that the girl might be completely unaware of, and what other circumstances are at play that can make a huge difference in navigating this discussion.
Yes, Shaina is correct that arriving at this decision will be this girl’s first foray into adulthood, and it’s very possible that the right thing for her will ultimately be to pursue the medical career. But the daas Torah piece, and subsequent parent-child discussions, are so complex and situation-specific. It was disturbing to see that minimized to a few sentences that pay lip-service to this multifaceted process.
I understand that the purpose of the column is the actual career advice, which took up the bulk of the response, but because this is such a delicate scenario way beyond the scope of this column, I question whether it was wise to feature this question here altogether.
Perhaps Mishpacha can follow up with a trademark issue-oriented feature about children considering a career trajectory their parents disagree with hashkafically, with adequate treatment from all perspectives, which I’m sure will be much appreciated by a significant portion of your readership.
Giver’s Remorse [Murky Waters / Double Take — Issue 924]
When I read the Double Take story about the woman who had second thoughts after committing to allow the neighbors to use her pool, I felt so deeply sorry for her, because I was in a similar situation this summer.
I feel blessed to have a large house with a lot of bedrooms, most of which are empty, since my kids are out of the house. My neighbor was telling me how desperate her family was to get together for a Shabbos and honor her parents for their 50th anniversary, but they couldn’t afford any kind of getaway, and they couldn’t fit anywhere together. I didn’t bat an eyelash; I offered my house and all my extra bedrooms to her family.
I felt like a hero for allowing this family to have a special Shabbos together and make her parents feel special and bask in the nachas. I genuinely enjoy giving, and this was such a feel-good for me.
Then Shabbos happened. The many kids were jumping off the walls in every room of the house, and the family kept asking for more amenities. I was very uncomfortable, but even greater than my discomfort was my disappointment in the situation. I felt like I was doing a beautiful chesed, and they took advantage to the point that I regretted it, and I started questioning my knee-jerk response of making the offer in general.
Looking back at the situation after some time has passed, I know they meant no harm. They are a large family struggling to make ends meet with lots of kids and few resources. They are stretched very thin, and in this case, I witnessed the repercussions firsthand.
Borrowers — I know you are not in an easy situation, but push yourself the extra mile to treat other people’s property not just the way you would want it treated were it your own, but the way they want it to be treated.
Tziporah’s Beautiful Lot [Growth Curve Serial]
I live close to those street signs that are pictured each week on the opening page of Blimi Rabinowitz’s serial, and so much of what she writes about truly reflects what goes on inside the apartments there.
I wish Blimi could tell Tziporah some of the following as she revisits her each week:
Torah learning has been the music of Jewish men for ages, and there have always been people in the beis medrash with whom someone can sort through a thorny Tosafos. What your husband is doing is turning the young men in yeshivah into individuals who will care enough to want to sort through that Tosafos, and that is something that not everyone in the beis medrash can do. So please, please focus on his unique kochos — they are not traits that were given to everyone.
You may think that Gitty is looking down at your husband in comparison to her own “serious learner.” What carries wives through the years of kollel, especially when so far away from everything familiar, are the Shabbos seudos, the singing, the feeling a part of and seeing firsthand what their husband is accomplishing. Whatever the list of topics is that her husband wants to learn on Shabbos, it won’t give her the sipuk of the emotional connection to what he is doing the way your beautiful Shabbos does, and that will be her challenge to work through.
So please, drop a note to Tziporah and wish her nachas on her beautiful lot in Yerushalayim, and encourage her to keep up her holy work supporting a husband who is making a real difference for Klal Yisrael’s future.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 928)
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