by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 8, 2005
As part of its proposed educational reforms, the Education Ministry has announced that henceforth all teachers are required to take four years of education courses to obtain certification as senior teachers. The new rule applies to teachers in the Bais Yaakov system as well. (A temporary waiver of the requirement has been granted for those already studying for the Bais Yaakov teaching certificate.)
The proposed reform, at least as applied to Bais Yaakov schools, is not only unneeded, it will have exactly the opposite of the intended effect. The requirement of two more years of teaching preparation will only serve to drive the most talented Bais Yaakov students away from teaching.
The norm in chareidi world is for young women to complete post-high school seminary at around twenty. Many women marry and begin working at the same age. Requiring them to work full-time, while pursuing further academic studies, and all at time when they are just starting their families will discourage many from pursuing a career in teaching.
Even in the secular school system, it is doubtful whether another two years of pedagogy courses can do much to remedy the woeful results of our present educational system. A top official in the Education Ministry recently commented that the results achieved by the Israeli educational system increasingly resemble those of countries from which we import cheap foreign labor.
Attracting higher quality personnel, with a true love of teaching and commitment to their students, would do far more to remedying that situation than more pedagogy courses. The key to attracting more qualified people to the profession is restoring to teaching the high status that it once enjoyed in Israeli society.
Raising the prestige of teaching as a profession, however, is unnecessary in chareidi society. There is no higher calling for chareidi women than that of teacher. Teaching positions are the most highly sought jobs for women, and only the crème-de-le-crème of the Bais Yaakov teaching seminaries find jobs in the field.
Those graduates are arguably the finest teachers in Israel. That bold claim has been repeatedly confirmed by the educational marketplace.
Over the last fourteen years, an entire system of schools for children from families of Russian-speaking immigrants has been created. Today 6,000 children, ranging from kindergarten to high school, study in SHUVU schools all over the country, and an equal number participate in SHUVU summer camps and in SHUVU-affiliated schools. While Israeli students expressed the lowest level of satisfaction of any nation in a 2003 comparative study of 28 industrial nations, 84% of the parents in the SHUVU system describe their children as very satisfied or extremely satisfied.
Most SHUVU students transferred at some point from the state school system. Their parents overwhelmingly cite the atmosphere of respect for learning and the lower levels of violence as crucial reasons for their decision to transfer their children. Almost invariably, they also mention the dedication of the teachers and the connection the teachers form with the parents as well as students. Almost all SHUVU teachers spend many additional tutoring weak students and making home visits, for which they are not paid. Teacher strikes are unknown in the SHUVU system, even though teacher salaries are lower than in the state system and are often delayed because of the unpredictability of private donations upon which the system depends.
Last year, two mothers in Kfar Saba, who had visited the SHUVU school in nearby Netanya, approached SHUVU and asked the organization to start a SHUVU school for children from secular Israeli families. They were attracted by SHUVU's curriculum of enriched Jewish studies and the high academic quality of the SHUVU schools. Each year SHUVU adds 20-25% more math material to that recommended by the Education Ministry, and the SHUVU system has the highest level of teacher accountability in Israel, according to Professor Tamar Horowitz of Ben-Gurion University.
SHUVU opened the school in Kfar Saba last year with 24 students. Yet despite the sustained opposition of the Kfar Saba municipality, 122 students began the new school year last week, filling the current building to capacity.
The Kfar Saba example is part of a larger pattern. In 1999, a chareidi school with 25 first-graders opened up in Tzoran near Netanya. For the first month, the 25 six-year-olds had to run a gauntlet every morning of jeering demonstrators, some with large dogs. The school was tarred and vandalized throughout the year, and the lease was not renewed at the end of the year.
The next year the school reopened in nearby Kadima with 125 students, and the third year with 300. Among those 300, were three children of the principal organizer of the original demonstrations against the school. He was so struck by the poise with which the young Bais Yaakov teachers from Bnei Brak guided their charges past the screaming demonstrators that he decided that he wanted such teachers for his own children.
Even Modi'in, a city which once elected a majority of the city council on anti-chareidi platforms, even though not a single chareidi Jew lived in the city, now has a chareidi-run school. LeMa'an Achai started two years ago with nine students. Last week 130 students, from a mixture of secular and national religious homes, began the new year, despite the best efforts of the municipality to close the school.
These schools have one thing in common: virtually all the teachers are Bais Yaakov-trained. And in each case word of mouth about the atmosphere that they create in the classroom has enabled the schools to mushroom in size, even though none of the students come from chareidi homes.
Instead of creating a massive disincentive for Bais Yaakov graduates to pursue a teaching career, the Education Ministry should be trying to find out what the Bais Yaakov teachers are doing right.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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