As schools begin to prepare for the coming year, administrators are faced with a troubling predicament: there is a shortage of quality teachers, and the problem is only getting worse.
by Anash.org reporter
It’s weighing heavily on the minds of many school administrators. It seems to be getting worse each year, and no one knows what to do about it. There is a national teacher crisis: schools are having trouble attracting, and retaining, teaching talent.
Administrators point to many factors as reasons behind the shortage. Teachers are leaving chinuch to take up more lucrative jobs. Talented mechanchim are exiting Crown Heights for cities where they can buy a larger house and their wives will have community. The classes are larger and harder to manage, and this is driving many in the field away.
While teachers recognize these factors, they say there’s more to the story. From their perspective, a lot of it has to do with how they are viewed and treated.
In a conversation with Anash.org, one teacher opened up and shared, “School administrators wonder why more yungeleit aren’t going into chinuch, and why those who do often end up leaving Crown Heights. What they don’t realize is that the current environment isn’t one in which teachers can thrive.”
Rabbi Mordy* has been in chinuch for over a decade. He’s worked in various community schools, and has noticed an alarming trend: over the last ten years, teachers are increasingly cut out of conversations on school policies that affect students and the quality of their education.
“Teachers used to be partners in a school’s policies and would be consulted on proposed changes,” Rabbi Mordy told Anash.org. “As the ones working directly with the students, we can often foresee how a certain decision will affect the reality on the ground.
“Now, in many schools, teachers aren’t asked or even informed before a policy goes into effect. And when a teacher takes the initiative to share their thoughts, they often aren’t listened to.”
When asked where this change is coming from, Rabbi Mordy said that a majority of schools’ financial boards, who were brought in to help alleviate financial burdens, are becoming involved in educational decisions. Their work is of high importance, and there are issues they must, and do, deal with. But, he explains, some of these supporters have a mistaken view of teachers. They believe that people go into chinuch because they can’t succeed at anything else, and that the job could be done by anyone. This view is not conducive to acquiring and maintaining quality educators.
“Teachers are not ‘babysitters’,” Rabbi Mordy said. “They are professionals in a field that requires talent and expertise. Their experience working in the classroom and engaging with the students means that they have insight into the day-to-day operations and educational curricula that no one else has. When their participation is discouraged, the quality of chinuch suffers.”
This dismissiveness also affects morale. If teachers aren’t valued and treated as competent professionals, they are less likely to be motivated and inspired in their work. Rabbi Hirshy*, another Crown Heights melamed, says he has seen many colleagues struggling with this.
“When a teacher offering feedback is considered ‘talking out of turn’, it’s demoralizing,” Rabbi Hirshy said. “He quickly learns that if he speaks up, at best, his feedback will be dismissed; at worst, the teacher himself will be dismissed. The subtle message is that he’s dispensable. If he doesn’t fall into line, it will cost him his parnassah.
“Baruch Hashem, when I enter my classroom, I can leave my negative perceptions at the door so that my students experience the best of me, but not everyone can do that. At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s difficult to throw yourself in when you are worried that one false move could mean the end of your career.”
Sometimes, he explains, it doesn’t even take that. Several teachers have shared that when parents complain, they aren’t given a chance to respond. Oftentimes there is no real issue other than a disgruntled parent who will nitpick at anything that isn’t to their liking, and yet the teachers suffer real consequences.
“Many teachers don’t feel that the administration has their backs,” Rabbi Hirshy said.
The schools have started investing in initiatives to honor mechanchim and their dedication to the job, teachers say. There are appreciation events throughout the year and generous gifts before yomim tovim, and parents are encouraged to express thanks with thoughtful gestures of their own.
Still, there’s an important point that must not be overlooked: valuing teachers isn’t only about appreciating their dedication. It’s about recognizing the role they play as spiritual leaders who shape the ideals and future of an entire community. Meaningful gifts and gestures are a great way to express this respect, not to replace it.
When asked why he chose to stay in this field, Rabbi Mordy explains that this is his shlichus. “Every shliach experiences challenges. You can’t let that drive you away. Sometimes you need to persevere even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.” However, he warns, “This isn’t likely to last. If teachers aren’t feeling secure and supported in their positions, their commitment to chinuch will wane.
“This could end up having serious ramifications for the schools. If the field of chinuch becomes unappealing for young teachers, they may face unprecedented teacher shortages. And everyone involved loses when decisions are made that aren’t in the children’s best interests, or that don’t promote the chinuch we want to see in our community.”
In spite of the challenges, Rabbi Hirshy says he and his coworkers feel hopeful about the future. While the issues are structural, he believes that simple changes can make a big difference. For example, he has seen that when principals walk through the halls regularly and take time to test students on their learning, they see the progress that is being made instead of only hearing complaints. It helps bridge the divide that can exist between a school’s administration and its teachers and students.
“Sometimes, all it takes is for the people making decisions to have more insight into what’s happening on the ground,” Rabbi Hirshy said. “Engaging with students and teachers on a regular basis helps. If administrators and board members could experience this, they’d probably have more respect for the mechanchim, too.
“Parents can also make a difference. Make sure the school administration knows of your admiration for your son’s teachers, and how much you value quality educators. Of course, speak up when a teacher is being hassled with a bogus complaint.
“The quality and stability of your kids’ chinuch depends on it!”
*Names have been changed
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A big yasher koach to all the teachers of my Crown Heights children and grandchildren. Your Yiras Shamayim, skill and dedication to the children is having an incredible positive impact. I especially appreciate you after returning from Pesach in a small out-of-town community and noticing the tremendous quality difference between the chinuch the Crown Heights kids are getting and the chinuch of some grandchildren out of town (with non-Chabad teachers, some of whom are not even fully Shomer Shabbos, unfortunately). Keep up the great work. You should receive all you deserve from the schools and parents, and Hashem should shower you with revealed brachos.
Out of curiosity, what are some of the “quality issues” you noticed between your CH grandchildren and your Out-of-Town grandchildren.
I feel one of the main reasons there are teacher shortages (and i was a teacher in an anash school for quite a few years) is that there are almost no professional curriculums for Kodesh subjects.
That mean when teaching a girls high school for example, its not just the teaching that one has to do, the hours of endless preparing is huge. To walk into a classroom properly prepared with a lesson that will engage your entire classroom takes enormous amount of work.
It would be time, that a Chinuch office would be instituted (similar to JLI) that will provde textbooks, lesson plans, powerpoints, everything needed and rest assured many many people will reconsider being teachers.
It is extremely difficult to give a high quality class and thats why many teachers are getting deterred.
If there would be a Chinuch Office pumping out textbooks, teacher manuals on all subjects, Chumash, Halacha, Tanya, Sicha, Mamer, Tznius, many more teachers would be able to teach.
Its almost impossible to research a subject throughly, then create a lesson that is proffesional, and do that on a frequent basis and keep it up. Its very hard and not many people are able or willing to do that anymore.
We need to help provide all teachers with all they need so they can just focus on knowing the material and then walking into a classroom and giving over the class. Instead of also having to focus on preparing.
This includes incentives, prizes, This Chinuch office should also have things availible for all teachers, instead of each teacher having to invent the wheel him or herself, with all resources necessary.
If someone would take upon themselves to do this, it will save the Lubavitcher Chinuch.
Great point! How do we get this started?
Thank you. Teachers really need to make a demand for it.
Lehavdil in other schools, the Chol teachers have everything made for them on a silver platter. They just have to do a little preparation (familiarize themselves well with the knowledge) and then teach it.
If the Teachers will make a Machoah, the Principles would get together and make it happen.
Its unbelievable that in some schools, the principles get so demanding and critical when they don’t even provide the teacher with anything!
Its actually they who are at fault. It is their responsibility to support the teacher in this way.
Point being, not looking to blame the principles, but they should not be criticizing the teacher when her lesson is not up to par.
Everyone in our Chinuch system is stretching themselves, principles and teachers, which is unbelievable, maybe someone reading this would like to turn this into their life Shlichus.
I dont know who could do it, but its a least important to recognize what needs doing. If you are reading this, and yourself or you know someone who would be able to do this would be a Bracha for Klal Yisroel.
Thank you for this article, as a teacher this hits it on the nose. One thing I’ll add is, in Chabad we’ve become so focused on reaching Yidden that are not yet frum that we as Chabad have been less focused on educating our own.
Chabad leadership needs to do more for our mosdos chinuch and the educational system.
Well expressed. This is a huge problem in the girls schools as well. Between the ridiculously low wages – completely unlivable, and frankly embarrassing – and the lack of respect and regard for their expertise, there is no incentive to stay. Experienced and qualified teachers leave for more lucrative professions or prestigious positions, and no one even seems to miss them; the administration just replaces them with young, inexperienced teachers who will work for minimum wage. And then the parents complain about the quality of education…
So glad you raised such an important issue.
Personally, I was raised in crown heights to go on shlichus, and did so. After a few years and few kids later it fell apart. A friend approached me and offered to take me in to his growing business, I was really considering it. Something inside me told me stay in Klei Kodesh, I did something I never thought I would, I approached eigene mosdos for opening in chinuch. While Im not at the same exact mosad, it is now 17 years later and Im still in Chinuch and love it.
To the struggling mechanchim and to those considering it, I can only share a few of my own experiences:
Somehow, Im not sure how, but we managed to buy a house, BH (we are both children of mechanchim and large families).
How a mosad treat their staff, each mosad has its issues and cultures, none are perfect and the same applies to the corporate world. Power struggles, jealousy, kindness and support are found and lost in ALL organisations/corporations.
Our children deserve and need good dedicated mechanchim, just like any child on Shlichus.
The feeling you get walking into shul, seeing a yungerman davening or learning, and remembering, how when he came into your class in elementary school, struggling with Ivre, and he left your class teitching a few pesukim and an improved Ivre. And seeing where he is now. That feeling cannot be substituted, knowing you saved this kid from……..
There is so much more to say on this, we are still in golus the world is not perfect, the other side of the grass is not greener. Chinuch is a most gratifying and necessary PROFESSION, if you care about the Rebbe and His children, they need you.
One other thing being a mechanech did for me and my family. I learned what teachers put in to their talmidim, and how much it means to a teacher to get a small token of appreciation or even a thank you email. I have started to express greater appreciation to my children’s teachers, understood them better, they understood me and my children better. We went from a mosad bashing family, to a mosad thanking family, use your imagination to think of the ripple effect.
I agree with this article. As a parent, I would like to see teachers having influence on school policies. On top of salary, they should have 401k and IRA plans, provided by the yeshiva. When they are 65, they deserve to retire with dignity after they dedicated their lives to our children.
Agree. However a Melamed does not and should not under normal circumstances “retire” at 65.
Good question. But what would the Rebbe say?
Not going into the subject of retiring, however I do want to bring up an interesting point. I have realized that most working people get days off, usually Sundays. Teachers however, mostly don’t have this luxury. Most teachers work from Sunday to Friday, from 9:00 till the late afternoon. This is the schedule for months after months. Yes, the teacher might get off here and there, but during those long working months he might not have even a day to breathe. Even his regular doctor appointments have to be after hours, on Fridays or even on his vacation days.
Sometimes when a teacher asks for a break he is told that this is not what the Rebbe wants. Really?
Don’t forget that the teachers are human, and need a break too.
A teacher’s job demands heart and devotion. The success of a teacher depends on the love and feeling he has for his students. However if the board/principal/parents treat the teacher like an Amazon worker (which in so many cases, is the sad realty), it then becomes harder for the teacher to devote himself and give his soul to the kids.
It’s similar to marriage; marriage isn’t an Amazon company, where everything has to run smooth. Marriage needs devotion and love. Everything might be running smoothly, but with no love and devotion, there is no marriage.
It seems that some mosdos are focusing on running a smooth mosad, and not focusing on the heart and soul, which is the real part and success of the mosad.
One interesting thing I have realized over the years is, that many of the big speakers and chinuch advisers have LITTLE or NO classroom experience. They might be a principal or even be in charge of a school, but they have NEVER experienced the day-to-day job of a teacher: 1) working every day, 6 days a week. 2) working with kids for HOURS every day. 3) Day in and day out. etc.
They have many opinions, but literally have zero clue what the struggles of a teacher are.
Wow. So true. Never looked at it this way.
Interestingly, my best teachers, where the ones that showed love and devotion.
I recall Rabbi Katzin a”h. His smile and warmth is still with me till today.
On the other hand, I recall other professional teachers who had everything nicely prepared, yet there’s nothing that really effected me.
So I guess you have point
Because I was never a teacher I can’t have an opinion?
“דער וואָס האָט די מאה האָט די דעה
Dear teacher, don’t forget that this board or vaad you’re complaining about is the same vaad that is paying you and ON TIME!
Did you forget when the schools where always behind in salary?
Now that has changed, and you are now getting paid on time. So be happy and appreciate it.
Yes, the ones that have money, will have an opinion. Welcome to the world.
Sure. They can do whatever they want. The question is what the results will be.
Does he also tell the musician how to play or the doctor how to operate? Chinuch is both a skill and an art, and should be left to those who are capable.
This is not about teachers’ rights (though those are also sometimes violated). This is simply about creating quality chinuch.
The article is very well written and there is much truth in the comments.
As far as respectable compensation, disability, health and some Life insurance as well as pension plans we have it all and yet we are having difficulty finding teachers. If you are inteested in a Chinuch position in Chicago please call 773~716~6521 or email resume to [email protected].
Maybe a lot of the teachers “disrespect” comes from the teachers themselves…
After all, we all went through the system, and we all saw how the classrooms were run… Many of our teachers came to our school as a waiting room for shlichus. Once they had a shlichus, they left.
True that all this has mostly changed. Today there are many courses for mechanchim, and many curriculums have improved. But we are still stuck in the school we went to, and our image of a teacher is the teacher we had…
Is there a way to change that? Maybe. But maybe the teachers should show more of their work to the parents. Maybe this will change the old outlook.
Thanks in advance