In recent years, the media have been alive with stories about the coming teacher shortage. As the current generation of master teachers retires and fewer young people go into the profession, we are told, it will become harder and harder for schools to populate their classrooms with excellent teachers. The numbers show that there is some truth behind the alarmist tales, and teaching continues to be seen in many quarters as a “soft,” low-paying, and low-prestige profession that attracts relatively few high-achieving students.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Teacher Retention & Development
Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community. Here, find guidance for finding, preparing and evaluating teachers, and keeping them happy and productive stakeholders.
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As educators (and parents), we all know instinctively from our own experience what research confirms more scientifically: students learn better from good teachers than from poor ones. But what is it that makes for a good teacher? Common sense might tell us that good teachers know their subject and have a passion for what they teach. And it might tell us that good teachers are able to manage their classroom. But “common” sense is not always common or dependable. Some principals, for example, may praise a teacher because his or her classroom is orderly, while other principals may see the same classroom as overly regimented. And how do we know what teachers really know, and whether they know enough to teach to the highest level and inspire the most able students?
There is abundant empirical and documented evidence that we need more highly competent Jewish educators in both Judaics and Judaic-specific pedagogy for our day and supplemental schools. To this point in time, the Jewish community has not created a comprehensive, longitudinal and institutionalized structure for recruiting, developing and retaining Jewish educators. However, there is an obvious and elegant solution to this challenge: the implementation of an eight stage career development ladder for students and teachers in our Jewish day schools. This developmental ladder would begin in kindergarten, continue through middle and high school, extend through college and graduate school, and be fully implemented in our Jewish day schools.
The Y Generation, born from 1977 to 1986, are products of an increasingly global economy, where knowledge is power and laptop computers often provide the quickest means to attaining both. Many of today’s young teachers not only have access to millions of digital resources, they also have at their fingertips thousands of professional and social networks. They are receptive to working in teams, and they are good at it. They do not blink at the mention of blogging, Googling, and Wikipedia, or the use of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. Indeed, learning communities are their forte.
By necessity, Jewish day schools pay a lot of attention to teacher recruitment, but the other side of the coin, retention, gets short shrift. In fact, when it comes to teacher retention, Jewish day schools are like leaky swimming pools: we keep pouring more in at the top, while neglecting to fix the hole in the bottom. Years of research have shown that, in public schools, 30% to 50% of teachers leave the classroom after their first three years. The 2008 JESNA Educators in Jewish Schools Study confirms that Jewish schools aren’t doing much better in keeping our most valued teachers. What are we doing wrong? Or, perhaps more appropriately, what are we not doing at all?
Many college students hold teaching positions in Jewish supplementary schools. These eager young people are enthusiastic, have fresh ideas about Jewish education, and are instant role models for younger students. They build their resumes with real work experience in a field they may enter in the future and earn salaries well above what their friends are earning for what seems to be far fewer hours. A more perfect match could not be possible. So, what is the problem?
Being a first-year teacher is challenging; being a Judaic studies teacher often brings added challenges, such as lack of curriculum, unclear standards, and less buy-in from students and parents. Training institutions, the Jewish community, school administrators, school boards and parents all claim they want the very best Jewish studies teachers. Yet are we doing what it takes to achieve this?
Accreditation is the primary vehicle for quality control in all professions. Every profession requires practitioners to be certified either by the state, by voluntary accrediting agencies (AMA, Bar Association, etc.) or by both. Beauticians, embalmers, mechanics, plumbers, and barbers must demonstrate their knowledge and expertise before they can work in their fields. Jewish education is perhaps the only profession in which untrained, uncertified, and often unskilled individuals can have a career as teachers. Many of today’s Jewish educators are exceptionally motivated, passionate, and creative. Yet the Jewish community does not value their services in the same way it values other professionals. General studies teachers must be licensed. Why aren’t the same demands made for those who teach Jewish studies, who nurture and mold young minds to become literate, committed, and proud Jews?
Earlier this year, JESNA published findings from its Educators in Jewish Schools Study (EJSS). The goal of this study was to develop a better understanding of educators working in Jewish day and complementary schools and the factors that contribute to their job satisfaction and decisions to remain in the field. Dr. Michael Ben-Avie and I collected the EJSS data and, together with the staff of JESNA’s Berman Center, analyzed the results. The findings discussed here relate to the 819 respondents working in Jewish day schools.
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