In this edition of On the Record, you will be reading about students in two of our flagship programs—our MBA degree in nonprofit management and our master’s program in Jewish education. While we are pleased with the growing participation in AJU’s MBA program, we have become increasingly concerned about the enrollment trend in full time Jewish education programs, not only at AJU, but throughout the United States.
Simply put—the American Jewish community is not producing a sufficient number of well-trained teachers to fill the existing teaching positions in day schools around the country. This problem exists for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox schools, although it manifests itself differently in each of those sectors.
Orthodox day schools generally employ enthusiastic men and women who are themselves the products of Yeshiva day schools. However, many of these teachers do not possess college degrees, nor have they received significant training in the field of pedagogy. While they are often quite knowledgeable in Judaica, many of them lack the basic skills needed to effectively transmit that learning to their students.
In the non-Orthodox schools, the problem is of a different nature. We find it difficult to convince young Jewish men and women to even consider teaching as a career. And why should they?
When I was growing up in the 1950’s, teaching was considered an “ideal” career for women - especially women with children - since it allowed them to both work and raise a family. Furthermore, many of these same women were not encouraged to pursue other more lucrative professions. As a result, I was taught by many bright, talented female teachers who, today, would have become physicians, lawyers, psychologists or businesswomen.
Teaching on the elementary or secondary level provides little prestige and even less money. So even very committed men and women find it difficult, if not impossible, to consider a teaching career.
And here is the irony. Every single study of Jewish continuity points to the singular importance of Jewish education, both formal and experiential, in the formation of Jewish identity in our youth. Yet, even though we know this, we persist in paying our professionals low salaries and according them minimal esteem.
The Jim Joseph Foundation recently attempted to address this program by providing significant multi-million dollar grants to the three denominational schools (YU, JTS and HUC) of Jewish education. (Unfortunately AJU was not eligible, since we are a non-denominational institution). These schools have used some of the funds to provide full scholarships to their students, yet it is unlikely that even this praiseworthy effort will have much of an effect as long as the joint issues of teacher salaries and teacher prestige remain unaddressed.
From my own experience at AJU, I can tell you that the young men and women who, despite everything, still commit themselves to a career in Jewish education are extraordinary individuals. I cannot say enough about their enthusiasm, dedication and personal warmth.
Only one possible solution exists, and until we embrace that solution, the situation will not improve significantly.
In an American Jewish community that places such a premium on professional success, we must provide Jewish educators with the same tangible rewards that we so willingly provide to other professions. Only then can we hope to meet the challenge of providing our children with the best possible Jewish educational experience—an experience that will strengthen their Jewish identities and insure the continuity of our community.