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Spending the Money
So, What Would We Do?
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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11/10/06
So, how would I spend money on programs to improve Jewish Education?

Here are some ideas that I will expand upon, one at a time, in the coming weeks:

  • Mentoring/Apprenticeship Programs
  • Creating Chinuch Materials for our Children
  • Benefits Programs for Full-time Educators
  • Master Teachers - a Horizontal Promotion
  • A Chinuch Think Tank
  • A Sabbatical Program

Mentoring/Apprenticeship Programs

Let's cut to the chase and state a sad-but-true fact. Most of our rebbeim and moros receive little or no training before starting their teaching career. And, as the kids would say, "What's wrong with that picture?"

Everything is.

Take myself, for example. I am sorry to say that I started teaching (a very challenging 8th grade class) at the age of twenty-three without attending one educational class or undergoing training of any sort. If that sounds ludicrous, I propose that it indeed is.

Was I a decent rebbi? I think that I was. I would like to think that I was a lot better than just decent. But I look back at those wonderful 15 years that I spent teaching Torah with fondness - and great regret. I feel badly that I was not exposed to the staff development that the rebbeim in my Yeshiva are undergoing. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have been a far more effective rebbi if I had undergone some training or done some professionally supervised student teaching before I started in the classroom.

Torah Umesorah's Aish Dos Program, under the leadership of Rabbi Dovid Bernstein, has done (and is doing) wonderful work in the arena of pre-service training in Lakewood and Baltimore over the past ten years, as is Rabbi Yoel Kramer's 'Merkaz' training sessions. I can attest firsthand as to the effectiveness of these programs as several of the rebbeim in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, have benefited from them before they assumed full-time teaching responsibilities.

However, the graduates of these excellent courses immediately plunge into classrooms or spend a year or two serving as a substitute rebbi in various yeshivos before taking a full-time position. Overall, this is a great deal better than the manner in which I started my chinuch career. However, if you remember anything from your school days, subbing is not exactly the same as teaching. In fact, it is hardly likely to engender warm and fuzzy feelings regarding the teaching profession on the part of these rebbeim.

A Modest Proposal

Here's an idea.

Why don't we invest in the future of our children and retain ten or fifteen outstanding rebbeim (of various grades) to provide one-on-one mentoring for these new recruits for three or four months after they receive their Aish Dos Training?

The broad strokes of the program would be quite simple.

The experienced rebbi and the trainee would enter a contractual agreement with the sponsoring foundation or organization. The experienced rebbi will agree to provide his apprentice with, say, 3-4 months of hand-on training. During this time, the trainee will spend his time observing his mentor's shiurim and acquiring a variety of skills from the experienced rebbi. His mentor will teach him how to structure his lessons, train him in classroom management techniques, and supervise him as he does some student teaching, conducts some enrichment and/or remedial teaching. The master rebbi would receive a sum of money, say, $15,000-, for his commitment to his trainee. Perhaps the mentor should assume follow-up responsibility during the first year that trainee retains a full-time teaching position by conducting weekly phone conferences. During that transitional period, the mentor will share all his worksheets, tests, and other teaching materials with his apprentice. Essentially, the trainee will be 'learning the ropes' at the feet of a master rebbi of the grade-level that he would like to teach. The trainee must commit to devoting a pre-determined number of years to the chinuch field in exchange for the investment that our community is making in his future career - and perhaps even explore the notion of giving something back to the community by serving as a mentor himself after 5-10 years of teaching if at all possible.

Does this idea need some fine-tuning? Surely it does. I recently ran the broad strokes of this concept by some educators who train teachers professionally. They each offered to help structure the mentoring program to achieve maximum benefit. In fact, the head of a large Jewish foundation even offered to underwrite the cost of having the mentor rebbeim receive professional training in effective mentoring techniques.

The Deal of a Lifetime

But this clearly sounds like a win-win-win to me. Our mentor rebbeim get much-needed additional income while expanding their chinuch skills, the trainees get to acclimate to their avodas hakodesh slowly, professionally, and in a classroom setting. Best of all, Klal Yisroel gets ten-fifteen beginner rebbeim who are far more likely to reach our precious children during their teaching career.

How much would this cost? My estimate is that doing this correctly, with professional oversight, would run about $300,000- to properly prepare ten rebbeim in this manner.

Figuring that the average trainee rebbi will teach for ten years (most stay on longer), that amounts to 100 significantly improved years of teaching, which breaks down to $3,000- for each improved rebbi-teaching-year for the first group of trainees.

Three thousand dollars.

That's about what it costs to send a child to summer camp nowadays. Three thousand dollars is about what it costs for one person to attend one of the hundreds of Pesach hotel programs. Three thousand dollars is approximately six week's tuition in a remedial Mesivta for the kids that we are not reaching in our schools. Or about an eleven-day stay in a drug rehab facility for our teenagers who spin out of control after many painful years in our schools.

And if you further break down that three thousand dollars over twenty students, that's one hundred and fifty dollars per child for each year.

L'man Hashem, don't our kids deserve this minor investment to enrich their learning experience while they are in our classrooms at a young age - eager and hungry to learn?

© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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