Why Teachers Are Leaving the Classrooms

I just heard from several melamdim strongly considering leaving their positions because of two issues: One is lack of respect and appreciation—from their own administration as well as parents. The second is the financial strain; they’re simply not being paid enough.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier – The Beis Medrash

Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Chief Rabbi of the Eidah Hacharedis in Eretz Yisroel under the British mandate, was once sitting at a Yid’s Shabbos table when he saw the host’s young child transgress a Shabbos prohibition. Instinctively, the rov shouted, “It’s Shabbos!” The child’s father considered the rov’s reaction excessive and protested that the child was too young to appreciate Shabbos and its laws.

A short while later, the same child made his way to the china closet and found a nice crystal vase, a family heirloom, to play with. The father caught sight of this and screamed, “No! That’s Elter Zaide’s!”

The rov turned to the father, “Why are you reacting so strongly? He’s young and doesn’t yet grasp the value of a family heirloom.”


Parshas Ki Seitzei concludes with the lo sa’seh against using dishonest weights and measures, followed by the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us on our way out of Mitzrayim, and the commandment to destroy them.

Chazal explain that this is actually a sequence; the punishment for not having honest weights is what caused the attack of Amalek. But what’s the connection between this specific sin and being attacked by Amalek?

During the farbrengen of Purim 5722 (1962), the Rebbe explained this in terms of our personal avodah. Every day, we use “weights and measures” to determine our priorities. For instance, asked the Rebbe, do we spend more money on building nice yeshivos, or nice colleges? What do we celebrate more, a child’s recital of Shakespeare, or of, l’havdil, a blatt Gemara?

Faulty “weights” automatically make way for Amalek to enter. Amalek cooled down the awe everyone had for the Yidden, and Amalek in our personal life is the attitude of callousness towards Yiddishkeit.

Two months after this farbrengen, the Rebbe wrote a letter[1] addressing the National Conference of Yeshiva Education held in Ferndale, N.Y. The Rebbe acknowledged the fact that, for whatever reason, most American yeshivos teach secular studies but challenged the fact that more emphasis is placed on secular studies than on, l’havdil, Torah.

Children are very impressionable, the Rebbe added, and when they see that the grades on secular studies are taken more seriously than Judaic studies, and that the secular textbooks are newer than the Judaic ones, and that their secular teachers get more respect and pay than do their Judaic counterparts, these children hear an indirect—or, perhaps direct—message of what their parents and their school find important.

In most cases, we don’t drop areas of Yiddishkeit cold turkey, it’s usually a gradual cooling process. A process that begins with our choice of priorities.

How much time, effort, money, and consideration do we spend on the spiritual and meaningful aspects when planning a simchah, in comparison to all the material aspects?

When shopping for clothing, are we prepared to splurge so that we or our children can dress modestly, or are we only ready to spend more if it will look more fashionable?

Do we take time off from our children’s yeshiva for family vacations, or do we take time off from family vacations for learning Torah and davening with a minyan?

Do summer camps give greater attention and allure to sports, or to Torah study?

Examining our priorities can affect the decisions we make and the messages we send (perhaps unwittingly) to our children.

One of the examples the Rebbe gave was that we give more respect and higher pay to secular teachers than to our melamdim.

This particular example came home to me this week because I just recently heard from several melamdim who are strongly considering leaving their positions because of two issues: One is lack of respect and appreciation—from their own administration as well as from parents and even from some of their own family members. The second is the financial strain; they’re simply not being paid enough.

Our communities B”H come together to fund large siyumim, concerts, and carnivals. We can surely come together to raise the salaries of our respected teachers.

Even when we don’t have money to make a difference we can find other ways to demonstrate our priorities. We can talk highly about our children’s teachers and principals, send letters of thanks and appreciation, and send a small monetary token of appreciation when possible.

Our choices carry a lot of weight; the Rebbe trusted us, nay, relied on us to make good ones.

[1] Igros Kodesh vol. 22 pg. 221. 

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  1. I would just add that together with respect what is needed and can be lacking is support for the mechanchim on many different lenders, and can sometimes mean supporting them as people and in their capacity even if you may disagree with a specific decision they may make.
    Discuss the decision, be careful not to (hopefully unintentionally) shut down the person.

    As parents we make decisions with our kids at home every day and then second guess ourselves and many times may realize we overshot.
    It is all the more challenging for a teacher that makes so many more decisions for so many more talmidim every hour of his day and then may be second guessed by a whole class of parents.
    Parents make mistakes and need to work on it and mechanchim do too. We are all human and if needed should gently discuss the issues.

  2. Imagine your child’s school would hold a fundraiser (it happens… 🙂 ), and they would have an option where you could give your donation specifically towards a bonus to a teacher/s of your choice.
    Now, this would probably not be done by the school. But if you would give a certain amount if that were to happen – why don’t you give that amount directly to the teacher? Especially now before Yomim Tovim, teachers (everyone really) could use a small financial boost.
    Also now as the school year starts, many teachers have to pay for certain school supplies/prizes etc. out of pocket…

    Did you really appreciate your child’s teacher last year? Are you excited about your child’s teacher this new year? Maybe Cashapp them a small financial gift…
    Many people already did that at the end of last year and are not looking to tip now at the beginning of the year, very understandable – this is an idea to keep in mind throughout the year. I personally do this a few times throughout the year

    Good luck to all the teachers out there, we appreciate you and your hard work!

  3. Twenty years ago an ehrliche yungerman who wouldn’t go to college ח”ו didn’t have many options for a parnossah, and melamdus was one of the only options available to him. Today with the advent of Amazon business, real estate, fast track degrees from COPE, TTI, computer boot camps etc., all done in a chareidi setting, it has opened other opportunities for earning a respectable parnossah for many yungelait that would have twenty years ago gone in to chinuch.

  4. The sad truth is, the many teachers are leaving because of rough principles. Principles have it hard because they have to please the parents, the boards of the school and maybe even the donors. It’s therefore that often teachers get unwanted pressure and unnecessary bossing around by principles, which make it hard and extremely uncomfortable place to work.
    How often do principles sits with the teachers and ask the teachers for advice and for their opinion how things should be run? This doesn’t happen too often, sadly. In many schools teachers have become like Amazon employers. “Just do what you’re told and be quiet”.
    However teachers are not Amazon employers. Teachers have a heart, are devoted to their job and love their students. Amazon employers don’t love their boxes.
    How many teachers have left cuz it was too hard for them to work on their principle? It’s a sad reality but no one wants to talk about it.

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