By Nina Bruder and Fayge Safran Novogroder
Over the past several months, an important conversation has begun about the growing Jewish day school teacher shortage crisis. The conversation was kicked off last summer by CASJE’s seminal report on what it takes to launch and maintain a career in Jewish education, followed by opinion pieces in eJewish Philanthropy (e.g., here and here), The Lookstein Center’s blog and much discussion at the recent Jewish Education Innovation Challenge’s Innovator Retreat ‘22 and the Prizmah Investors Summit.
A plethora of important and relevant information emerged in response to the overarching question: “What does it take to attract, train and keep Jewish educators?” The CASJE study found a number of factors that deter both the entry and staying power of Jewish educators. These include low pay, inadequate benefits and a lack of professional development. Another factor is the lack of communal respect for the profession.
After almost 20 years of partnering with over 220 Jewish day schools and more than 2,200 new teachers, veteran teachers and new administrators of all denominations and types across the country, we wholeheartedly agree with the absolute necessity of raising the level of professionalism – and the perception of professionalism and status – in Jewish day school education.
This begins with standards of best practice. It includes substantive professional training and induction. It means creating professional networks for peer learning and support. And it means continued investment in professional development and growth, at all levels of the field. It also requires community leaders to publicly praise and show respect to the teachers in the community. And it is essential that parents speak respectfully to and about their children’s’ teachers, especially in front of their children.
Jewish New Teacher Project of New Teacher Center supports incoming new teachers and administrators during their first critical years in their roles. In all subjects, all grades and across all denominations, JNTP provides these educators with the resources and benchmarks of good practice, and with access to a coach who will guide them, observe their work, and offer honest feedback. As our new teachers become mentors, our mentors become administrators and our administrators become Heads of Schools, they carry with them the professional training and essential internalized message that Jewish education is, indeed, a respected and professional profession.
Importantly, the impact of such support on the retention of educators is significant. Of new teachers mentored through JNTP between 2014-2019, 86% were still in the field of Jewish education at the end of that time period, 83% were still working in Jewish day schools and 72% were still in the same school they were in when they began our program. This is in comparison to the sobering public school statistic that, pre-pandemic, up to 45% of new teachers left the profession within the first five years. We know that educators have been amongst the most negatively impacted professions during the pandemic, which only contributes further to the day school teacher shortage.
Many factors go into attracting and retaining vibrant, creative, enthusiastic, empathic and knowledgeable people who love children and have a passion for teaching. Imagine if all Jewish day schools altered their hiring and retention criteria and expectations to include professional training, standards of practice and ongoing support, especially for those entering the field or taking on new roles. Our schools would be models for professional respect, learning and growth. Our teachers would thrive, and perhaps our children would be inspired to grow up and join the next generation of professional Jewish educators.