As a rebbi, I felt compelled to respond to Mrs. Miriam Zakon’s letter in last week’s Mishpacha, as she wonders why the original “Checks & Balances” theme issue did not actively encourage men to pursue careers in chinuch and kiruv. I would like to focus on the chinuch piece.
Mrs. Zakon is correct with regards to the wonderful quality of life and workplace environment enjoyed by those who are fortunate to work in chinuch. It is true that we tend to have a much easier time maintaining our identity as bnei Torah, as we are constantly modeling that which we exhort our students to strive for and to emulate.
However, I feel that we need to distinguish between a calling to a chinuch position and a “career choice.”
Once upon a time, it may have been the case that anyone with a background in learning could have chosen to “go into chinuch” when it was time to leave kollel, and he would have seen success whether or not he had “what it takes.” Today, that is no longer the case.
Back in the day, a rebbi either commanded or demanded respect. Those rebbeim who had passion and love for children did not need to demand anything. Such a rebbi’s talmidim felt his love, and largely responded in kind. When he needed to dispense necessary discipline, it was done with the same love, passion, understanding, and patience.
The rebbeim who went into chinuch because it was an easy career choice — yet lacked the necessary patience and understanding of children — ran the classroom like a tight ship, and ruled it with an iron fist. Students’ individual personalities did not matter much, because the rebbi was always right, and the children knew they had better toe the line. Rebbeim talked, and children listened quietly.
This is not to say that there weren’t any passionate rebbeim then, because there were plenty. Looking back, we can recognize those rebbeim who were there because of a life calling, versus those who took their jobs as an “easy” career choice with great hours and vacation days over Yom Tov and summer. The pay was never the attraction, and the job is uniformly demanding, but when there was a still a major stigma on going out to work, many bnei Torah “chose” to make chinuch their careers, despite the lack of the necessary prerequisites or desire of a successful educator.
Times have changed. Today’s rebbeim are mechanchim, not just melamdim. In today’s classrooms, personalities matter. A lot. A rebbi can no longer walk into a classroom, intimidate his class into being submissive, and expect his students to come out of his class happy and excited about Yiddishkeit — which is one of the main goals of chinuch. Back in the day, having happy talmidim wasn’t such a focus, as much as “getting through the day with this bunch of kids who drive me nuts.”
Those who saw teaching as a career choice often treated it like a nine-to-five job. Just get through the day. But our rebbeim need the passion. Our rebbeim need the patience. Our rebbeim need the understanding of how children learn and develop. Our rebbeim need to want to get to know their talmidim. Our rebbeim need to love children and be happy to be part of their world of constant involvement and development. Lastly, our rebbeim need to be willing and understand the need to constantly adapt to the needs of their talmidim, as they are many and changing all the time.
Baruch Hashem, we have many, many such rebbeim in our yeshivos today, and there are plenty more waiting for positions.
My response to Mrs. Zakon, and to all those who are looking for a solid career choice, is as follows: Please allow some serious introspection whether a chinuch position is really for you. Our menahalim are doing a fine job honing in on those men who really have it, but some people use their “pull” to get themselves positions in chinuch, because after all, there could be nothing more mechubadig than being in chinuch (which is definitely true, but not a reason to take a position that one isn’t suited for).
Chinuch is not a career choice, it is a life calling to imbue the next generation — with all of its unique challenges — with the beauty of the Torah, Hashem’s endless love for all of us, and an excitement for Yiddishkeit. Those who have these qualities often don’t need to be encouraged to pursue a position in chinuch. They have usually been active in chinuch in some way or another since a very young age, and seen hatzlachah. They have the internal drive to help and teach our children.
If you feel you have what it takes, please join our holy ranks. We need more like you — because our children will thrive under the tutelage of rebbeim with these qualities. For those people who don’t really “get” kids these days, do yourself — and most of all, those hundreds of future talmidim — a favor, and pursue a position that matches your techunos hanefesh, in keeping with the advice of the Chovos Halevavos in Shaar Habitachon.
Our children are too precious to entrust to just anyone who is looking to get off for Yom Tov and summers, and “work” in a solid Yiddishe environment.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 754. Rabbi Avrohom Pfeiffer is a talmid of Yeshiva Gedolah of Montreal, and later of Rav Asher Zelig Rubenstein. He currently teaches fourth grade in Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi of Chicago.
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