Who will teach our children and grandchildren?
This piece on the crisis regarding the shortage of Jewish educators is authored by members of ADCA, the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education from around the country: Rabbi Scott Aaron, PhD; Tzipi Altman-Shafer; Peter Eckstein; Dr. Gil Graff; Rabbi Mordechai Harris; Marlyn Bloch Jaffe; Lawrence M. Katz; Amian Frost Kelemer; Lisa Klein; Dr. Julie Lieber; Elana Rivel; Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan; Dana Sheanin; Susan H. Wachsstock; and Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar
The crisis that we knew was coming is here. Jewish day schools, early childhood centers and part-time congregational schools across the country face a shortage of educators to fill multiple openings for lead teachers, assistants and substitutes. This is no longer simply a “challenge.” Rather, it is a crisis because of continuing trends in the overall job market, exacerbated by the pandemic.
In day schools, the teacher shortage is felt deeply in the challenge of finding Jewish studies and Hebrew language teachers. In early childhood programs, where Jewish engagement and connection for families are established, the shortage of teachers is compounded by the low wages typically paid to those in this field. Congregational schools face the same challenges as day schools in finding Jewish studies and Hebrew language teachers, and schools often are left with enthusiastic but untrained members of the community as teachers.
What can we do to find solutions to this crisis? How might we as a Jewish community work together to ensure that there will be well-trained and inspiring teachers to teach our children and grandchildren?
A recently released research report from CASJE on Jewish educators shows that fewer new teachers are entering education and more current teachers are leaving. Covid has worsened the teacher exit; some teachers did not feel safe teaching in person and left or opted for early retirement. Burnout is also a contributing factor to teachers leaving the field. Feelings of being overworked and underpaid have only increased during the pandemic.
National data shows teachers make about 20 percent less than other professionals with similar education and experience. That percentage gap is even higher in Jewish educational settings, especially early childhood.
Recruitment and retention of educators demands both professional development and material support. Jewish federations and communal agencies for Jewish education have undertaken a variety of initiatives to address local needs. National programs, such as the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI) and Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), have supported and encouraged educators’ professional growth. Despite these positive efforts, the CASJE study points to the reality that more is required.
ADCA, the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education, representing cities throughout the continent, shares local efforts through ongoing communication and collaboration and has organized collective opportunities for the professional growth of educators. Its members have worked with national foundations and institutions to address aspects of the growing teacher shortage in Jewish education. Yet, more is needed.
We welcome publication of the CASJE study as the start of a national conversation that brings funders and educational leaders together to propose and develop new and strengthened approaches to addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in multiple sectors of Jewish education. Well-conceived initiatives, collaboratively developed and implemented in national and local partnership can surely make a difference. Such initiatives – as inattention to the presenting crisis – will have an impact for generations.
Members of ADCA