The Key to Positive School CultureMarch 5, 2019
Teacher Retention Through EmpowermentAugust 5, 2019
MRS. ETTI SIEGEL
Well-trained and competent teachers are necessary to ensure a good education, and yet shortages are causing principals to accept unqualified applicants as teachers as a last resort. In some schools, shortages are reaching crisis mode, as hiring happens even past the first day of school, with some schools putting in substitutes as they cobble a staff together.
Attracting and retaining staff is one of the obvious needs of our education system, and yet it is becoming more and more elusive. There are fewer and fewer applicants for teaching jobs as certifed teachers are choosing public schools and benefits over yeshivas, and acceptable programs oﬀer the Bais Yaakov graduates (a group that could be counted on in the past) a chance to get degrees in higher paying fields. Parents want their small children to have good teachers, but at the same time know that they cannot carry the financial burdens of their married children, and so they push them into other fields besides education. Even in circles where a degree of any kind is frowned upon, graduates are taking office jobs where they can make more money and not have the burden of marking papers and calling parents after hours.
There is another wrinkle to this. The challenges teachers face in the classroom may be more difficult than those of yesteryear and often their experience with children is far less. Teachers often have little babysitting experience, and many girls are going to camp to be entertained, not to work, until and sometimes through, their senior year. There are programs advertised in every magazine, and many girls take advantage of their last years to be an unencumbered kid. This leaves them woefully unprepared to deal with children and in desperate need of a mentor with patience, willing to slowly guide and lead them into making good decisions, and not yelling and giving out punitive punishments all day long. Our experienced teachers are often experienced in a bygone era, and these teachers need help as they adjust their mentality to the expectations of school and families nowadays.
After much discussion with elementary school principals and teachers across a wide spectrum of schools, including Chassidish, Ashkenaz, Sephardic, Lubavitch schools, modern Orthodox day schools and more yeshivish institutions, I have found that some schools have figured out ways to attract and especially retain staff. They have employed various ideas and methods, which I will present grouped by the three general categories, interspersed with stories of specifc school leaders who have found success in this area:
Parsonage was oﬀered to the women who teach in some schools I spoke with. While this is complicated, as a woman who is married to a spouse collecting parsonage does not benefit, and Social Security benefits are reduced in the future as less is collected in the present, for many teachers this has been helpful. Under the guidance of legal counsel and a competent halachic authority, schools have given classes on child development, tefilla, spirituality, and spiritual counseling to the women, allowing them to meet the criteria of pastoral proficiency. Some have even aligned themselves with certifying organizations to procure certification for the teachers.
Some schools, with guidance from their rabbinical council, have delved into ﬂipping the day; allowing a teacher to teach the same grade and subjects twice, earning twice as much salary with only one prep, and allowing the school to have fewer and better teachers. In some instances, this change was hard, as the parent body was used to limudei kodesh studies in the morning and limudei chol in the afternoon, but over time the high level of teaching and happy children won the parents over. It was explained to me that there is no mesorah for girls to follow the schedule of a boys’ school, and this restraint can limit the teacher pool.
A simcha fund can have a lot of names, but whatever it is called, many schools have parents who will help the school present a substantial amount of money to the staff member making a simcha to alleviate costs.
With programs like Sayan, Title funding paying for coaches, and numerous courses oﬀered by Catapult, Consortium of Jewish Day Schools, Torah Umesorah, Rabbi Yoel Kramer, and many others, teachers are getting more support than ever before. Federal funding oﬀers coaching in the form of Title II, Title III, and Title IV. Schools that use their federal funding eﬀectively find that they have lower turnover, as the teacher feels supported by the highly trained coach that visits her classroom, models and observes, and gives the advice and praise that the teacher craves.
Principals are busy, dealing with the myriad of issues that come to their door. This leaves the teacher feeling like she is on an island, alone, with no one visiting, supporting, complimenting, and validating the rising challenges that the classroom of this millennium brings. Te coach helps with all of that, and in an atmosphere where coaching is accepted and is seen as normal, the teachers thrive. Coaches cannot be a substitute, however, for the very real need teachers have for their direct supervisors to appreciate them; and to that end, I recommend principals use some of their funding to provide coaching for themselves!
Mr. Richard Altabe, Hebrew principal of grades 1-5 at Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB), shared how HALB has teamed up with Touro College to offer a Masters in Judaic studies, allowing teachers to further their education. They also try to provide a lot of professional development in the school.
I personally work regularly with over 20 schools, coaching and mentoring staff. Unlike in my days of being a full-time teacher, teachers I work with are excited about the support and interested in the strategies I show them and in the solutions we brainstorm together. Rabbi Frohlich of Torah Academy of Boston used his Title funding for phone coaching; and I worked with some of his new staﬀ this past year. I work with new teachers and veteran teachers; currently I am working with a veteran mechaneches who has been teaching for 33 years but wants some new tips and tricks for this new generation.
An atmosphere of coaching and “we are in this together” seemed to be an important factor in workplace satisfaction. When teachers feel the sense of collaboration, and that it is not an admission of incompetence to ask for help, most teachers are happier and content in their positions. Teachers seem to appreciate the always-present principal; the principal who is visible, understands the classroom dynamics, and shows appreciation and care for the teacher. In fact, some schools report low turnover because of the genuine loyalty the staff feels towards the school and its administrators.
Mrs. Miriam Kohl, principal of Bnos Yerushalayim, will often model instructional methods for her teachers so they can see a well-run lesson. While it adds to her already long list of “to-do’s” in her day, she feels the modeling helps her teachers, and helps her know the children on a more personal level, allowing her to then be able to strategize better with the teachers when the need arises.
Mrs. Rivkah Dahan, principal of Yeshivat Darche Eres Girls School, makes caring and nurturing her staff a priority. She has a policy of noticing what is going right, and reminds staff that everyone makes mistakes, and if they let her know, they will work on fixing it together. She tries to welcome each staff member personally every day, and keeps the teachers’ room stocked with coﬀee, snacks, and has lunch set up for the teachers. She finds having veteran teachers mentor incoming teachers builds professionalism and camaraderie for all.
Mrs. Khavi Rosenshein, principal of Bnot Yaakov of Great Neck, also
makes sure to nurture her staff, but invests time helping her staff learn to nurture each other. She fnds the bond between her staff a powerful force in the school that produces a far higher level of education than when each person is only looking out for themselves.
Coaches and professional development cannot be a substitute for the very real need teachers have for their direct supervisors to appreciate them, and often teachers cite unhappiness because of a perceived lack of gratitude. If getting a copy of a worksheet for their class becomes a hassle, or if every conversation is an accusation, the ability of a teacher to be able to give over knowledge to students is diminished and the unhappiness cycle begins.
Rabbi Yosef Deutscher, principal of Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe (with women teachers in his General Studies department), honors teacher requests to make changes or add to the existing curriculum. If the teacher has done his/her homework and decided a certain program would work better in the classroom, he will do his best to make that happen. He strongly feels that the more teachers own and enjoy what they are teaching, the better the quality of instruction.
Mrs. Sari Bacon, assistant principal of Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, shared that a Health Room, with a comfortable chair and fridge, was built as a room in the new building to accommodate nursing mothers.
The need for appreciation from their supervisors is increased because of the challenges teachers confront nowadays. Teachers are rightfully being asked to stay with their classes, never leaving them unattended, and yet that is causing isolation, increasing the teacher’s potential for dissatisfaction with her job. Children are experiencing ever more trauma homes, and this is bleeding into the classrooms, where untrained teachers need to deal with various psychological issues.
Many schools don’t have school psychologists on staff, and many principals will respond too punitively or not seriously enough, both leaving the teacher feeling like she is not being supported. Also, to stay relevant and to attract families it seems schools keep taking on new initiatives, causing teachers to spend hours on preparation and write-ups, leaving them less excited to come into class and teach.
Rabbi Nosson Neuman, mehanel of Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam, is famous for his warm smile, and personally asking about each family member of staff and students alike.
Many principals I spoke with use some of the federal funding they receive for social-emotional programs for the children.
In most schools there is little chance for advancement, and it is rare for a teacher to receive widespread recognition. Some principals have admitted that they are stingy with their compliments, as they feel that too much praise leads teachers to request salary increases, which they often cannot accommodate. Principals are also wary of complimenting teachers for fear that they will miss complimenting other teachers, and cause jealousy among staff. This can make teachers less anchored and loyal to their schools.
Mrs. Rivkah Dahan, principal of Yeshivat Darche Eres Girls School, will always look within the school first if she sees a position that needs filling, rather than begin advertising for new people. Often the talent she is seeking is right within her school, and she can promote her already committed staff.
Public traditions have also shifted. It is no longer customary for parents to shower teachers with presents, even around the holidays. Some will contribute if a school campaign is initiated, like Chanukah gelt collections, but many will not. Parents are busy and feel that teachers are just doing their jobs, both factors contributing to the unease teachers have with the lack of positive feedback from parents. Te uneven distribution of compliments and complaints is troubling, often making teachers remark, “When I hear nothing it must be good.”
In such a time, our culture of appreciation must be all the more overt. More and more schools are hosting Teacher Appreciation luncheons, buying gifts before the holidays for their staff, giving Rosh Chodesh treats and poems/inspirational messages to their staff, and trying to be as ﬂexible as possible, when possible, to make scheduling work when family matters come up.
Mrs. Suri Adler, principal of Gan Yisrael, hosts a Rosh Chodesh luncheon for all the staff each month, and tries to accommodate teacher absences (within reason).
Mrs. Nechama Jurkowitz, Hebrew principal of Bais Yaakov Academy of Queens, gives gifts to the teachers before every Yom Tov and presents it to each teacher in her classroom, in front of their class.
Mrs. Malky Moscowicz, assistant general studies principal at Gan Yisrael, has been known to call a teacher at home, after already complimenting them in school, just to say, again, how wonderful the lesson she observed that day was, or how organized the fair was that day. Teachers have told me what a difference that call made to them.
There are so many reasons that good teachers are becoming harder and harder to find, but the one factor that has worked for schools and businesses throughout the ages is positive word-of-mouth. Many new teachers I spoke with have told me they applied to the schools based on what they heard about it from friends and neighbors. Principals need to ask themselves, “What is my staff saying (or thinking) about working in our school?”
Do you have a good idea for how you hire, train, and retain your staff? Please share it!
Mrs. Etti Siegel, Adjunct Professor, Coach and Mentor, Workshop Presenter, master teacher, holds an MS in Teaching and Learning/Educational Leadership. She is a coach and educational consultant for Catapult Learning, an educational coaching agency, is a sought-after mentor and workshop presenter around the country, and a popular presenter for Sayan (a teacher mentoring program), Yachad/OU, Hidden Sparks, and the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools. She can be reached for comment and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.