Where Have all the Teachers Gone?

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At the very early stages of TalentEducators, in an effort to understand the lack of educators in Jewish education, we spent months reading, interviewing, and visiting Jewish educational professionals and institutions. While not surprising, what we found was illuminating and helped inform our work at TalentEd.

First, the teacher shortage is not specific to Jewish education. It is a growing issue within education in general. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the teacher shortage in the US will grow from 110,000 in 2018 to 200,000 in 2025. The issue also cuts across public and private education, from charter schools to prep schools. The issue is global: from South Africa to the UK to Latin America and the US. And, the issue is not simply about people choosing other careers, it is about educators leaving the field in droves.

According to The Atlantic, more than 40% of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years. In addition, approximately 15% leave their jobs every year and 40% of students who pursue undergraduate degrees in teaching never enter the classroom at all. So why do teachers not get to the classroom and why do so many of them leave once they are there?

The most prevalent reason that is presented is financial: teachers are not paid enough for the job that they perform. While that is of course a huge piece of the puzzle, recent studies have revealed that there are multiple other reasons that educators do not enter or alternatively consistently exit the field:

  • Lack of autonomy. Teachers in schools do not have the ability to “call the shots” and with little say and high expectations, the profession can feel unrewarding.
  • Teaching to the test. Since the beginning of the 21st century, standardized testing has grown as a stressor in the field. In the US, students are given standardized tests on average once a month.
  • Lack of respect. In a 2019 study conducted by PDK International, a professional association for educators, more than 10% of educators reported that they are considering leaving the field because they do not feel valued by parents, administrators, or even the public.
  • Limited career paths. Those who love the classroom have very few options to advance in their career and stay in the classroom. Instead, they feel pressure to advance to higher-level administration in order to better support their families.
  • High expectations. While teachers get the summers off and are generally only teaching for 5-7 hours a day, they bring home many hours of prep and grading. In addition, parent and administrative expectations of after-hours communication has exponentially increased in recent years.
  • Isolation. New teachers can experience an overwhelming sense of isolation, leading them to leave the field. A study by Dr. Richard Ingersoll of University of Pennsylvania indicates that even two small initiatives for first year teachers (working with a mentor and having regular supportive communication with an administrator) can help increase teacher retention.

At TalentEducators, we are tasked with addressing the challenge of recruiting and retaining high-quality educators in Jewish education. When we looked at the list above, we recognized that there are multiple ways that we can address the issue, some short-term and most long-term.

We are acting to raise the profile of Jewish educators through partnerships with multiple global organizations. Through this work around teacher training, educational branding, and institution profiling and matching, we hope to address both the lack of autonomy and the lack of respect that is prevalent for Jewish educators. If educators are highly talented and supremely skilled, they will naturally gain more autonomy and respect.

While pre-service training is essential for instilling skills, knowledge, and confidence, first-year mentoring is an key part of ensuring that educators do not feel isolated and additionally have the applicable tools to respond to parents’ and administration’s high expectations. Our educators will have a senior mentor on the ground with them as well as a cohort of first-year educators in their area. And of course, part of our plan includes financial incentives so that educators do not need to go into debt for their training and can also find ways to increase their earning power within their chosen career path.

Are these interventions enough to bring new talent to the classroom and stem the exodus of educators from the field? The problem is global and changing, but we are adapting, researching, implementing, and growing too. As we continue to learn and develop, we will be streamlining the training and mentoring process for educators, meeting with educational institutions to understand their needs, and working to support Jewish educators so that the next generation of Jewish youth can connect and develop their personal Jewish identity.

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