(Courtesy of YU) It’s a crisis we’re hearing about everywhere: the shortage of teachers entering Jewish education. While it’s easy to point to causes large and small, Yeshiva University is most interested in a solutions-oriented approach: How can we encourage and support young men and women who have what it takes to be great educators?
In 2021, YU conducted extensive surveys, interviews and focus groups that comprised school leaders, teachers and graduate and undergraduate teachers. Three broad challenges emerged that influence students’ willingness to consider a career in chinuch:
Money. How will they support themselves and their families? While this fear may be real and demand broader communal investment, many concerns are based on misconceptions or individual anecdotes that do not accurately reflect the reality in the field.
Perception. Young people worry that the field is not a respected one in our community. This, too, is a broader communal issue, and yet we must also ensure that aspiring educators hear from the teachers who love their work and experience its many rewards.
Inexperience. Too many college students make decisions about a career in Jewish education without stepping foot into schools and learning directly from professionals in the field. Firsthand exposure and fact-based information are paramount for would-be teachers.
The Chinuch Incubator was created to counter these challenges. Targeting students who are part of YU’s sphere of influence, the program will work collaboratively across YU’s schools and departments to identify, inspire, educate and guide students as they consider careers in Jewish education.
The program is led by Rabbi Yehuda Chanales under the guidance of Dr. Rona Novick, dean of the Azrieli Graduate School for Jewish Education and Administration; and Rabbi Menachem Penner, dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.
“Our community is soon going to have to make a choice,” said Rabbi Penner. “We can either encourage the next generation of young adults to consider careers in education or we can lower our hopes for the chinuch of our young children. RIETS, the Azrieli Graduate School and Yeshiva University as a whole are committed to assuring that we have the teachers we need to assure our future.”
How It Works:
Identify: Tapping young people with a talent for teaching, the Chinuch Incubator will collect “nominations” for talented teachers from a variety of contexts: camps, youth groups, day schools, yeshivas and seminaries.
Inspire: The Chinuch Incubator will encourage teachers to develop mentorship relationships with students. This may also include invitations for students to experience teachers in their family settings, to see firsthand the impact a life in Jewish education has on educators and their families.
For example, Azrieli’s MafTeach Fellowship, now expanded under the Chinuch Incubator, will send 25 students to communities outside the New York metropolitan area for four extended weekends. These fellows will spend all day Friday in schools teaching, observing and interacting informally across various grade levels with students, teachers and leaders. Over Shabbat, they may meet with communal leaders, eat at teachers’ homes, or run experiential learning activities. Fellows will be asked throughout to reflect on their experience—making sense of, as a cohort, what they were learning about themselves and the lives of teachers. Experience with similar programs left fellows inspired and excited by the relationships they built even during these short stays, and some even reported that the experiences had a major influence on their career decisions.
“Jewish educators are a critical resource for today’s students and the future of our communities,” said Novick. “When we pool our efforts to grow the field and nurture this resource with a comprehensive approach, we make an investment that guarantees amazing returns. Azrieli Graduate School is excited by the early success and impact of the programs of the Chinuch Incubator, and looks forward to bringing more resources to Jewish education.”
Sending students to communities outside the New York/New Jersey area also broadens their appreciation for Jewish life, especially for those who grew up “in town.” In addition, the lower cost of living and more relaxed lifestyle often found in “out of town” communities present a different, broadening experience.
Educate: By collecting data on teacher salaries, benefits, tuition remission and general teacher satisfaction, the Chinuch Incubator will ensure that students are making decisions based on a real understanding of the teaching field. In addition, it will profile different ways in which teachers supplement their income through other jobs that build off their teacher skill sets and further their personal missions for entering the field.
Finally, the Chinuch Incubator will show students the different pathways to entering the field and growth opportunities within it. Resources will be shared with parents to help allay potential fears and help them to better guide their children.
Guide: Of course, education and inspiration come hand in hand. Fact sheets and seminars only go so far; ultimately, anxieties about financial stability or concerns about the challenges of daily lesson planning are more likely to be quelled through meaningful relationships with people who happily work through these challenges as they pursue a career they love.
Every student considering a career in Jewish education has his or her own story and concerns. The community needs to invest in heightened guidance and encouragement for these students as they work through their career choices. If we provide mentorship and support for those considering finance, accounting, law or medicine, we have even more of a responsibility to hold the hands of young men and women considering careers in Jewish education.
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