Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's All Be Teachers

In the community that I was raised in we're taught that we can all be teachers, no matter what our education level. 

"If all you know is aleph," (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet,) the saying goes, "then you teach that aleph!"

It's an encouragement to share what you know with those who know less in an attempt to increase learning and understanding in the world. 

It's an admirable mission. I heartily believe that education is the best way to improve our standard of living, so I applaud all efforts to spread wisdom to the masses. 

Yes, it's a wonderful philosophy... Until it is applied to school staffing. Until you find that your teachers have little to no training or that the schools will hire just about anyone to teach their students. 

I experienced it both as a student and as a teacher. When I was very young, I didn't realize that my eighteen and nineteen year old teachers had neither the education nor the life experience to be educators. When my classmates and I did start to realize it, in about sixth grade, we took full advantage of our teachers' youth and inexperience by raising hell in their classrooms. We scared away teacher after teacher. As one school administrator told us, "You chew them up and spit them out!" 

When I was, myself, nineteen, I took my own turn working in one of the schools. I was hired as a teacher's assistant in a classroom of three and four year-olds, despite my warning to the school principal that I had zero experience with children. I'd told myself, as a (younger) kid that I'd never   be the one to subject children to an untrained teacher by becoming one myself, but I needed a job, jobs outside of the community are frowned upon, and they were willing to hire me, so I took it. 

I hated that job. I loved the children, but as a member of the school staff I saw the way that things were run, most significantly the way that they treated their teachers, (very poorly,) and I dreaded every day that I spent in that institution. 

Because I loved the children, I was determined to treat them with the best care I could offer them. I held them when they cried, when they had tantrums and when they were sent to the corner; I couldn't stand to see such innocent souls upset. I took special care with the children who didn't seem to have friends or couldn't keep up with their classmates academically, but there was very little I could do because my job was to do what the teacher told me to do, and that usually kept me too busy to give the children individual attention.

I don't know how long I would have continued working under these conditions if after two years of working in the school I was refused a raise (I was being paid close to minimum wage) and I said, "Well, if they're not going to give me a raise then I'm not coming back." 

It was the last day of the school year and I nearly skipped my way home. I knew I would miss the kids but I was just so incredibly happy to be out of that school. I was lucky enough to find a better job in an industry outside of education and I've never gone back. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has that option. Parents are limited in their choices of where they can send their children if they want them to be in a Jewish environment and teachers are often stuck in their jobs because they don't have the education or training to work in any other profession. (Never mind the fact, previously mentioned, that working outside of the community is frowned upon and teaching jobs seem to be the only ones open to religious women.)

Which is terribly ironic, you know. That those who are supposed to educate are uneducated themselves. 

I'm not saying that they're all bad teachers. They're not; especially the ones who care about the children enough to research teaching methods on their own so that they can offer a better classroom experience. 

I know that in posting this piece I risk upsetting a number of friends and acquaintances who are,  themselves, teachers in the Jewish school system. I ask them to please read this with an open mind and instead of getting upset, to provide feedback (in the comments area) with their thoughts on the subject. 


  1. I don't understand. How dare you have an opinion???

  2. I agree. I went through a similar experience as a young girl fresh out of seminary with no experience -- the only jobs available seemed to be teaching jobs. Though I had no interest in being a teacher, I needed a job. I was actually a pretty bad teacher, was never able to control the class, etc. Luckily for the students but unluckily for me, the schools usually realized I didn't belong there and fired me or made me an assistant instead of a teacher. As a mom now, I hope I have more of an understanding of kids than I did then . . . Anyway, yes, we need more educated teachers, but also more job options for young women.