Jewish Day School Teachers: Career Commitments in the 21st Century

Jun. 02, 2013

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 79, Issue 2 , pages 131-156


This research identifies four profiles of Jewish day school (JDS) teachers and analyzes their association with teacher retention in JDSs and Jewish education. We employed a comprehensive sample of JDS teachers from the Educators in Jewish Schools Study (EJSS; N = 552) and the DeLeT Longitudinal Project (N = 77) which tracks JDS teachers prepared by the DeLeT programs at Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

The study identified two distinct profiles of teachers among EJSS teachers, which we termed (a) very engaged teachers, and (b) disengaged and unsupported teachers. Moving to DeLeT teachers, we identified two different profiles: (a) well supported teachers, and (b) very engaged and unsupported teachers. While these profiles describe a somewhat gloomy story of Jewish day schools, they also offer a glimpse of hope, if further proactive steps are taken.



What do these findings tell us about the staffing challenges facing JDSs? The first issue implied by the findings is that teacher retention varies across day schools. Although the EJSS study did not acquire an accurate representative sample of Orthodox schools, according to the available data, school affiliation with Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative movements had no effect on retention. This means that schools, educators, and community leaders need to realize that teacher retention is primarily affected by the commitments teachers bring, the preparation they have, and the support they receive from their school. Three of the four profiles we identified lacked one or more of these components.


Such findings should serve as a wake-up call to school leaders, funders, parents, and the Jewish community. They reveal a disturbing reality about some day school environments which do not support teachers or help them grow professionally. They also suggest that despite some important initiatives aimed at improving professional development, many Jewish day schools cannot and do not offer teachers the types of support and development they need, as described in a growing body of research and research-based literature in general and Jewish education.


Finally, even if day school teachers find the personal connections and resources that help sustain them in teaching, they will not necessarily continue to teach for the long run. Thus, as uncomfortable as it may be, these findings should stimulate serious discussions about making Jewish day schools good places to teach as well as to learn.


Policy Implications and Future Research

Our analysis suggests that poor working conditions exist in many JDSs and thus should be a source of concern to the Jewish community. It also suggests that new programs to prepare and support day school teachers and to improve professional development are unable to turn around years of neglect on the part of schools. Still, they set an example and have positive effects on the preparation and recruitment of a committed cadre of professional Jewish day school teachers. Future research should analyze teachers from various teacher preparation programs and evaluate their preparation, commitments, and retention in teaching and leadership positions in the field of Jewish education.


Finally, the uncoordinated fashion of conducting research in Jewish education makes any attempt to compare studies and populations a challenging task (see Tamir, 2012). In this study we compared two surveys, each of which used a different set of instruments to assess very similar issues and subjects. We tried to match only the most suitable items. In the future researchers and program evaluators should use the same validated instruments across multiple studies. Furthermore, instead of commissioning a study of teachers in Jewish day schools every 10 years, it would be far more beneficial to establish and fund a systematic, ongoing longitudinal data collection initiative that would track the teacher workforce and school conditions in JDSs. This type of initiative, comparable to the data collection of the National Center for Education Statistics, could offer substantial feedback to day school leaders and teacher educators and inform policy-makers’ decisions.

Updated: Jun. 25, 2013