Thanks for a great newspaper.
I read with interest the Jewish Link article reprinted from 18Forty by the rebbe who shared the frightful financial state of many Jewish educators (“I’m a Rebbe, and I Can’t Afford to Be a Jewish Educator,” March 9, 2023). This topic has been discussed at length in many venues already, with little change across the board in most Modern Orthodox schools. Some notable exceptions of improvement in this area include efforts made by Torah Umesorah to increase teacher salaries minimally in some of their affiliated schools, as well as a significant and successful effort by Bnos Yisrael in Baltimore to raise teacher salaries (profiled in a 2022 Jewish Action article, “The Great Teacher Shortage”).
No one enters the field of education expecting to live a life of luxury, to bring in a huge salary or to go on expensive vacations. But teachers do rightfully expect to be able to put food on the table and pay the monthly mortgage. While schools and administrators rightfully say that they have expenses that preclude raising teacher salaries, it behooves all the stakeholders to look carefully at some of the deliberate choices schools and administrators are making. When schools hold teacher salaries steady for years (or in some cases, cut them due to ostensible financial needs), but over the same period of time seem to find the funding to significantly increase spending in other areas, schools are making a conscious and deliberate choice about where to spend the money.
One example of where funding has increased significantly in recent years is in the area of out-of-classroom activities—a vital area, as all parents and teachers know, but one which, at the same time, is a conscious choice of resource allocation. While there are multiple needs in running every school, and of course schools need to nurture the entire child and not just the insides of the classroom, perhaps outside funding and efforts could go into covering the costs of all activities outside the classroom.
Schools have come a long way in supporting the “whole child,” both inside and outside the classroom. It’s time for administrators and schools to support the “whole teacher” as well. That investment will yield significant dividends for the students themselves. When administrators choose to visibly increase spending significantly on student activities, programs, swag, and other necessities, but are simultaneously cutting teachers’ salaries, they are making a conscious choice about allocation of funds. As parents, of course we acknowledge the necessity of the funding outside the classroom for our children. But we need our children to have teachers who can survive!
In real life, we know that we can’t have everything simultaneously. This may be the time to make deliberate choices about what makes the most sense in order to stabilize the teacher shortage and the realities of teachers such as the article’s author.
The Jewish community has made some very clear and deliberate choices about which priorities we want to spend money on. The pages of this and many other current Jewish publications’ advertising say it all. Perhaps those of us going on a Pesach hotel program that costs the equivalent of one of our children’s teacher’s yearly salary may want to think about dedicating a percentage of the cost of that trip to alleviating the serious financial burden facing many teachers. And maybe we can all speak up and make a difference so that the people who educate our children don’t ever have to write an article such as that written by the rebbe who can’t afford to be a Jewish educator.
As we approach the most expensive time on the Jewish calendar, it behooves us to remember the educators who are quietly struggling to put Pesach food on the table. An example should be taken from the Jewish communities in Monsey, Lakewood, Passaic, Brooklyn, Queens, and elsewhere, where Chasdei Lev and other communal initiatives have been created to help subsidize the cost of Pesach food for our teachers. In those communities, community activists, school administrators and boards decided to think outside the box so that their educators could have some basic relief from the expense of Pesach foods (a concern every year, but even more so this year).
If you are an administrator or on the board of a school that has not taken this initiative for your teachers, please reach out to the activists you know in these communities to find out how you can help your teachers for next year’s Pesach. For everyone else, please take a few minutes to think about what you can do to ease the coming Pesach season for our educators who can use the help. Even if you can’t make a big difference, think about small differences you can make for the rebbe who can’t afford to be an educator. Maybe purchase a few extra tickets to NCSY’s or any other Chol Hamoed program and gift it to your child’s teacher; give a gift certificate for a pizza supper during one of the busy nights before Pesach. Think creatively about the financial pressures that teachers in your lives are quietly suffering, and come up with dignified ways to both alleviate this hardship at least minimally and show your gratitude for what they do for us on a daily basis.
The article by the rebbe who can’t afford to be a Jewish educator should be a wakeup call for us all. Start to proactively listen to the individual teachers in your lives to verify the letter writer’s experience; you’ll hear it echoed frequently. This community has responded accordingly to cries for help from various segments of the Jewish community over the years; our teachers have just issued such a cry. Don’t just put down the newspaper and move on to something else. Decide that you’ll be part of the difference.
A parent who cares and who listens to the realities of our educators.Name Withheld