How Day School Teachers Perceive Their Working Conditions: A National Study

From Section:
Education & Administration
Jan. 08, 2017
Induction and mentoring are widely considered in the United States and in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries as a basic universal and critical intervention for a successful launch of new teachers. Based on an expanded set of survey data, this article focuses on how Jewish day schools offer professional support and learning opportunities from the head of school, the administration, colleagues, parents, and the school community and how useful teachers perceive these resources to be.
This study reveals that less than half of all teachers in the schools surveyed report participating in formal induction programs and believe their schools take the learning needs of new teachers seriously. Schools would do well to attend to this aspect of teacher support and consider the systems and structures that do (or do not) exist to help orient, support, and develop new teachers.
The data presented above offers a mixed picture of teachers’ experiences in Jewish day schools. Overall, teachers’ perspectives are positive, yet there is clearly room for improvement. Teachers seem to feel most positive about their relationships with their administrators and express a general sense of being appreciated and supported. Yet, there is a troubling gap between teachers’ relatively strong sense of satisfaction with school administration overall and the weak assessment of certain critical indicators related to a productive professional culture.
Every beginning teacher deserves ongoing support and targeted guidance. Induction and mentoring are not just for beginning teachers who struggle, but are widely considered in the United States and in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries as a basic intervention critical for retaining and developing new teachers and launching them on a successful teaching career.

This study reveals that in the many Jewish day schools sampled here, less than half of all teachers report participating in formal induction programs and a similar percentage of teachers believe that their school takes the learning needs of new teachers seriously. This is particularly striking since one third of the sample are graduates of the Jewish New Teacher Project which specifically focuses on new teacher support and development. Jewish day schools would do well to attend to this aspect of teacher development and consider the systems and structures required to orient, support, and develop new teachers (Johnson, 2004).

Besides attending to the unique learning needs of new teachers, Jewish day schools must attend to the learning needs of all teachers. All teachers need and value regular opportunities to work with colleagues on issues of teaching and learning. This can be a particular challenge in small day schools, where there may be only one teacher for a grade or content area. Since this kind of embedded, ongoing professional learning is highly rated in terms of its usefulness, Jewish day schools may need to think critically and creatively about how to create the structures and professional culture for ongoing teacher learning across career stages both within and across schools.

Finally, a striking finding is the lack of opportunities for professional advancement on the part of Jewish day school teachers. The teachers who responded to the survey represent a particularly committed group of Jewish education professionals. Those who attended the DeLeT programs at Brandeis University and the Hebrew Union College as well as the masters programs in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminar and Stern College’s undergraduate teacher preparation track have specifically chosen to work in the field of Jewish education and are driven by a strong sense of mission and purpose. In order to capitalize on the commitments and capacities that these teachers bring, Jewish day schools must provide opportunities for professional advancement throughout their careers as day school teachers.


Jewish day schools would benefit from providing professional learning opportunities embedded in teachers’ ongoing work. This research provides evidence that day school teachers value such opportunities, which fits with research in general education. Clearly some day schools do offer ongoing professional development. Extending such opportunities for teacher learning may not only increase teachers’ sense of satisfaction, but also improve their teaching.

Developing new forms of teacher leadership can also expand the responsibilities of accomplished day school teachers without requiring them to leave classroom teaching. Schools with a strong collaborative culture offer venues for experienced teachers to share their practical knowledge and contribute to instructional improvement. For instance, effective veteran teachers can mentor new teachers, lead grade-level teams, facilitate professional learning communities, to name a few forms of teacher leadership that are increasingly popular (e.g., Darling-Hammond, Bullmaster, & Cobb, 1995).


Developing the structures and culture to promote ongoing teacher learning not only advances professional development, it also stimulates growth and renewal on the part of midcareer and veteran teachers. Transforming accomplished teachers into teacher leaders rather than spending school funds on outside consultants builds capacity, strengthens teacher retention and satisfaction, and has the potential to improve both teaching and learning.

Updated: Nov. 27, 2017
Administration | Day schools | Mentoring | Research | Teacher induction