This article analyzes retention and career patterns among graduates of the DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching) teacher preparation program at Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). DeLeT, which was established in 2002, aims to prepare professional, certified teachers for “liberal” day schools through a program that integrates Jewish studies, professional studies, and extended clinical experience. We use Ellenson’s (2008) definition of liberal day schools as “those affiliated with PARDES—the progressive association of Reform Day Schools, RAVSAK—the network of community day schools, and the Solomon Schechter Day School Association” (p. 245).
DeLeT’s investment in the professionalization of Jewish day school (JDS) teaching and in the recruitment and preparation of effective teachers goes against the grain of popular beliefs about teachers and teaching in general, and about teachers in JDSs in particular. Both teachers and teacher educators suffer low public esteem. Teaching is largely considered a “semiprofession” (Etzioni, 1969; Ingersoll & Perda, 2008) by the general public (academics included) and teacher educators have long been mocked and viewed as unintellectual (Bestor, 1953; Kahlenberg, 2007) and engaged in pseudoscience (e.g., Labaree, 2004, 2005). The failure of the profession to establish teaching around a specific content knowledge that is backed by scientific evidence (Tamir & Wilson, 2005) has resulted in constant interference by politicians and state bureaucrats and reduced autonomy of teachers and teacher educators, as illustrated by decades of struggles around teacher certification (Cochran-Smith, 2005; Tamir, 2008, 2010a; Tamir & Davidson, 2011; Wilson & Tamir, 2008). Consistent with this general undervaluing of teaching, JDSs tend to pay low salaries to their teachers, do not require their teachers to hold teacher certification (according to Ben-Avie & Kress, 2008, only half of all JDS teachers hold state teacher certification), and provide unsatisfactory levels of professional development (see Gamoran, Goldring, Robinson, Tammivaara, & Goodman, 1998; Stodolsky, Dorph, & Feiman-Nemser, 2006; The Commission on Jewish Education in North America, 1990).
Counter to these norms, the DeLeT program has tried to recruit and prepare certified teachers who care about JDSs and their students, seek to grow professionally, engage in teacher leadership, and ultimately work as agents of change in their schools. The program incorporates a residency model (borrowed from the medical profession) with some university course work, and reflects a combination of an innovative alternate route program with traditional university-based teacher preparation. DeLeT’s success as a program can be assessed, in part, by the extent to which alumni feel well prepared for teaching in JDSs and their overall long-term commitment to teaching and leadership in these schools.
In order to assess DeLeT’s success, this article employs t-tests and chisquare tests to analyze survey responses of alumni from cohorts 1 to 4 (2002/2003–2006/2007). We use variables that have been previously found to either support or inhibit teachers’ retention and career commitments.
Our findings suggest that those who stay in JDS teaching (as compared to those who leave JDS teaching) are more likely to do so because of:
(a) a strong commitment to Judaism and the Jewish community, (b) a positive (effective) teacher preparation experience, and (c) positive school support. These findings are consistent with sociocultural perspectives that view teacher career commitment as a complex phenomenon explained by the interaction between the personal characteristics and backgrounds of teachers (person), their teacher preparation experience (program), and the schools in which they work (setting; Grossman & Loeb, 2008; Humphrey & Wechsler, 2006).
In the article, we provide a brief review of the literature concerning teacher retention and elaborate on the conceptual model that guided our own research design and analysis. We then lay out the method and analysis, elaborate on the findings, and conclude with discussion and implications for policy makers and future research.