For Every Child,
83rd Annual Convention of Agudas Yisroel of America
Taking questions and comments after a chinuch workshop, a lady approached me, and with pain clearly written on her face, said “I must tell you what happened just two days ago. My daughter came home from school crying hysterically. After spending a few minutes helping her calm down, she told me her story. While sitting in class, her teacher told every one to take out a pencil in preparation for a review sheet she was about to give out. As my daughter was taking out her pencil, she noticed that her friend sitting next to her was fidgeting nervously. It didn’t take long for my daughter to realize that her friend’s pencil was not sharpened so she took out her pencil sharpener and offered it to her friend. The teacher saw them ‘talking’ and took them to task for talking during class. And for good measure, the teacher warned that next time they would be punished. With the greatest of effort, my daughter managed to control herself from crying, allowing only a few tears to fall from her eyes.
But what hurt me the most” the lady continued, lowering her voice “Was the question my daughter asked me. A question that I don’t have an answer for. Perhaps you can help me. My daughter wanted to know why it is that “All day, all year we are taught in school how important it is to do chesed, of how the world is based on chesed, and not only should we do chesed when the opportunity presents itself, but we should search out opportunities to do chesed. Our teachers tell us such beautiful stories of people doing chesed. So then, why is it that when I quietly did a chesed for my classmate, not only did my teacher not praise me for it, but she screamed at me and embarrassed me in front of all my friends?” The lady then added, “You should know, that it’s not the first time this teacher embarrassed my daughter or her classmates. I don’t know what to tell my daughter anymore.”
After waiting a moment, silently conveying my understanding of the pain her daughter felt, I suggested something that she could tell her daughter and what she may want to tell the teacher. As an afterthought I added, “You know, in life you get what you pay for.” In response to her puzzled look, I explained “It is painfully obvious that this teacher does not belong in a classroom. Perhaps she would be successful as an accountant, lawyer or a saleslady in a shoe store. Perhaps not. But parents have no right allowing their children to be taught by such an insensitive and uncaring teacher.” “I don’t understand” she countered. “The school hires the teachers! Parents have nothing to do with it.” “But that’s not true!” I responded. “Parents have everything to do with it. Teachers have to get paid. The better the working conditions and the higher the salary, the better Rebbaim and teachers a school attracts. That is a direct result of the parent body. How much do they really value their child’s chinuch?”
The truth is, this phenomena, while not exclusively a Jewish one (society at large places little importance and as a result, little monetary value, on childrens’ education) is a fairly recent one. Years ago, parents would do almost anything to give their children a solid education. Indeed, by Yidden this has always been a priority of the highest order.
When residents of Yerushalayim approached Rav Chaim Yackov Levin to accept the prestigious position of Rov of Yerushalayim, he instead directed them to offer the position to Rav Betzalel Zolty. In response to their quizzical looks, Rav Levine explained himself with a story he heard from his father, the venerable Tzaddik of Yerushalayim Rav Aryeh Levine zt”l. Going for a late night walk in Yerushalayim, he saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk under a streetlight mending socks! Rav Aryeh’s heart pained at the sight. In response to his question as to why she was out so late at night by herself and mending socks under a streetlight, she explained “I am a poor widow and I work very hard all day in order for my children to have what to eat, but there is no money for anything else. I don’t even have money for lights. So at night when my children are asleep, I come out and mend people’s socks, this way I can earn some money to pay for my son’s Melamed.”
“That son” concluded Rav Levine “Is none other than Rav Betzalel Zolty! Don’t you think Yerushalayim deserves a Rov whose Torah was acquired with such tremendous mesirus nefesh?”
When I discuss these issues with people, the comment I most often hear is “Oh please, spare me! A Rebbe works only a few hours a day. Big deal. I work much harder and for longer hours – and how much do you think I am getting paid? Let a Rebbe put in a full day’s work like everyone else – and a few hours at night wouldn’t hurt either! Besides, where is the Rebbi’s mesirus nefesh? He has no right to be in chinuch if he isn’t prepared to be moser nefesh.”
There are so many fallacies with the above argument, it is difficult to know what point to address first. While it may appear to some that Rabbaiem / Morahs only work four to six hours a day, that assumption would be correct if only actual classroom hours are being discussed. However, anyone with even limited exposure to the teaching field, is quite aware that many minutes of preparation are required for every minute of classroom teaching (I will discuss later those few unprofessional teachers that perhaps don’t prepare as well as they should). Besides for the actual preparation time, a professional educator can spend many evenings on the phone speaking to parents about their child, often spending two or three hours strategizing and scheming together as how to motivate and encourage their child. To this, the response usually is “So what? I also work hard. I also have to work overtime. I also have to bring work home. Welcome to the real world!”
Let’s explore the validity of the argument. Berel the accountant, spent the last three nights burning the midnight oil, feverishly working to finish a report before a fast approaching deadline. In the office the next morning, Berel snapped at his secretary, yelled at his subordinates and squabbled non-stop with his colleagues. Berel caused the office atmosphere to be very tense and uncomfortable, but he was not to blame; after all, he was very tired and tense.
Yes, the job got done and the report was handed in on time – but at what cost? In the office it may be an accepted and common occurrence. Everyone understands that this is the cost of doing business. A deadline is a deadline and it must be met regardless of who gets hurt along the way. The goods must be delivered – no matter what. The deal must be closed regardless of the consequences. How about when it comes to the world of chinuch. Would you be prepared to say that the ‘cost’ of doing business would include the understanding that a Rebbe should work late (meeting the demands of his first job, working at his second job etc.), go to sleep late, and this way he can earn an ‘honest’ living. And if he is tired in class the next morning and snaps at a student or two, embarrasses another one and verbally scars a third, hey, that’s the cost of doing business?!
It’s sad enough to hear people talk about the value of children’s chinuch with such disdain. But what about your own child’s chinuch? Even if you don’t value chinuch in general, but who would want to place their child in the care of a person who isn’t well rested? It’s absolutely frightening! And to do it everyday? For so many years?
One would think that even those who feel teachers are under-worked and do not deserve to get paid anymore than they are paid now, would still want to pay more simply to ensure that their own precious child does not come home crying because a ‘teacher’ sent a careless, biting and insensitive remark their way, perhaps even psychologically scarring the child.
There is a reason why the Aruch HaShulchan writes “People that teach children Torah must sleep enough at night as they must have strength to properly teach the next day.” So why are we so concerned with that the Rebbi should take a 2nd job like everyone else to make ends meet? We are talking about your child!
The problem of course, is money. People simply can’t afford to pay any more tuition. As it is, it’s a tremendous struggle to pay for tuition every month. This is an interesting point- that paying for our children’s' chinuch is too expensive. Is that what we say when a pipe bursts at 3:00 AM and our living room floor is flooding? Do you know what it cost to get a plumber to your house at 3:00 AM? It’s expensive - very expensive. Yet we call the plumbers because, after all, we have no choice? We can’t allow our house to get flooded and ruined. Yet, for your child’s chinuch you do have a choice?!
Why is it that everyone grasps the concept of “You get what you pay for” by cars. If you are willing to pay a lot of money, you can buy a Lexus. Spend the minimum and you get a 2nd hand Pontiac. Hey, a car is a car right? [So why don’t you drive a 2nd hand Pontiac?]
We understand that if we want the best medical treatment, it’s going to cost more than just going to the local HMO doctor. We understand that if we need a good lawyer to get us out of a difficult situation, it’s going to cost a pretty penny. A $100 an hour lawyer just won’t do.
We understand that nicer shoes, a better photographer, fancier jewelry and a more spacious seat on an airplane costs more. Everyone understands you pay more for quality, as the saying goes “You get what you pay for.” Yet, when it comes to our children’s chinuch, we pay for a 2nd hand Pontiac and for the life of us just can’t understand why our children aren’t receiving a Lexus chinuch!
Only by our children’s chinuch are we so busy with how much a Rebbi is worth. We don’t look at the great chinuch we can provide our children if we just pay more! When we buy shoes, we don’t think to ourselves, “You know, I don’t think the owner of this shoe store works that hard that I should pay $150 for this pair of shoes.” Indeed, the only thought that comes to mind is “Are these shoes worth $150 to me or not?” That’s the only consideration. For some reason, it’s only by chinuch that we take the approach of not considering what my child’s chinuch is worth, but if the Rebbi is worth his salary.
This is Education Economics. Education economics evolved many years ago. A parent couldn’t (didn’t want to) teach his child any more. However, taking his responsibility to teach his child Torah seriously, he looked for someone to teach Torah to his child for him. When he heard the amount the person wanted to charge him to teach his child, he was flabbergasted. It was so expensive; he just didn’t know what to do. Out of sheer desperation, he suggested to a friend that their sons learn together with one teacher and they would each only have to pay 50%. What a great deal! They spoke to the teacher and told him their idea, to which he agreed.
It was just a matter of time till one of the fathers said, “If he will teach two boys for the price of one, maybe he will teach 4 boys and we could split the cost 4 ways!” From there it went to “Perhaps he’ll teach 8 boys and we could split the bill 8 ways!” “How about 16 boys?” How about 32 boys and we’ll be able to split the bill 32 ways?” Then, as one of the fathers suggested “Well, what about” the teacher interrupted him “No! No more! I can’t possibly teach more than 32 boys.” Hence, the average current class size of 30. Of course, if the teacher wouldn’t protest 100 kids being placed in his class, then that is how many he would have in the class, because the operating word is money. In how many pieces can we split the teacher’s bill? The focus unfortunately isn’t “What is the optimum amount of kids to have in one group that can bring out the best in them to maximize and optimize their chinuch.”
In fact, the Shulchan Oruch says “A Rebbe can teach up to 25 children maximum by themselves. However, the Maharsha writes “That was then when children had a desire to learn. Nowadays (over 350 years ago!) a Rebbe can only successfully teach 10 or maybe 12 children at one time.” What can we say nowadays, how many students can a Rebbe teach? The students then may not have had such a burning desire to learn the whole day, so they would think about playing outside. Our children today have so much going on in their heads, so many things competing for their attention. Even a child that doesn’t watch TV or videos but just playing computer games or following professional sports can alone totally distract a child’s mind. Now the Rebbe must compete with all that. Is it really possible for a person to hold the attention of 25 kids and teach them something that really isn’t a priority for them?
There is no denying that there are many people in chinuch that don’t belong there. Some that should retire already and many that shouldn’t have been teaching in the first place. However, there are also many people who are not in chinuch that should be. It is our children’s loss that people with tremendous teaching ability and talent, people that have a great love and rapport with children, are choosing not to enter the field of chinuch. The flip side being, that people who want to stay in learning but need a job, look to the field of chinuch as the perfect compromise. They get to continue learning and receive a paycheck at the same time. Is that what our children need, people who enter the chinuch field as a compromise? Also, people that may not have any specific talents or training, enter the field of chinuch because “Those that can do. Those that can’t, teach.” Who else – other than schools - would hire people without any talent or training? Is this to your child’s advantage?
The facts are indisputable. Recently, I told a close friend of mine who is heavily involved with Kiruv that “We teachers should be appreciated by Kiruv organizations, because while you work with the not yet frum, we work with the not yet frei!”
Do you feel insulted by the above statement? Revolted? Perhaps you think it’s disgusting to even contemplate such a thing, but to go so far as to actually verbalize it? Well, what do you think the consequences are, of placing children and teenagers in classes that are conducted by people that are perhaps either untrained, unprofessional, untalented, tired, nervous, not dedicated, not nice, ignorant or unhappy with their present lot in life? Or most frightening, all of the above? It doesn’t take a lot to damage a child or teenager nowadays. Is it really not a priority for you? It is, after all, your child.
The problem facing us is quite evident. I, however, am not of the opinion that money is the panacea of all problems. This great country of ours has been throwing countless trillions of dollars (yes, that’s trillions with a T) at all sorts of society’s problems and there is nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. However, while money isn’t the answer to everything, it is I believe an integral part of the solution.
This brings us to two points that must be examined. 1] How would more money help? 2] How do we as parents get hold of more money to pay a higher tuition?
In response to the first point, more money would create a different environment in the chinuch field. The mindset must be “Hire the best, not the cheapest.“ If a Rebbi and Morah’s salary would be considerably higher, a lot more people would be interested in a career in chinuch. This would put our schools in the enviable position of choosing teachers that are well trained. Teachers that are committed for the long term. The school can raise their level of expectations and only hire teachers that meet the new higher standards. In addition, once they are hired, teachers will not always keep an eye and ear open to find out if there are other positions that are opening elsewhere that would be better for them.
Schools that pay above the S.R.S. [Standard Rebbi Salary] have a much happier staff, but even more valuable than that, their teachers remain year after year. This creates a positive attitude whose effect is felt throughout the school. This would help the potential talented teachers who would otherwise stay away from the chinuch field because of the low salary, think otherwise. However, there is another issue that a higher S.R.S doesn’t address and that is the issue of ‘What is to be done with a Rebbi that just doesn’t have ‘it’ anymore’. He may have been a fabulous Rebbi the past 20 years, but now, his patience has gotten a little thinner and his enthusiasm has dimmed. He just doesn’t connect with his talmidim the way he used to. This problem has two very serious ramifications. 1] People that should be entering chinuch are not because they are frightened as to what will happen to them in 15-20 years when they get burned out from teaching. It’s not very appealing to embark on a new career at 45 years old. Yes, it’s true that people sometimes are forced to do that, but who would plan their career in such a way? 2] Where is the yashrus to take a person who devoted himself to his talmidim – your child - for the past 20 years, was a wonderful Rebbe who put tremendous effort in to his avodas Hashem of teaching children Torah, and toss him out on to the trash heap like a squeezed out lemon? Would that be acting with Hakoras Hatov? It is just not proper.
On the other hand however, should a child be forced to have a Rebbi that is not enthusiastic, not interested and worn out just because it’s not fair to the Rebbi to fire him? Every child deserves to have a Rebbi that is full of enthusiasm, loves to teach children, and comes to school each day well prepared and brimming with excitement. And no matter how much money a Yeshiva could raise, I do not believe a full pension for a Rebbi after 25 years of teaching is remotely feasible or even a fair demand.
So we are in a bind. What is to be done with the burnt out Rebbi? It’s not proper to just toss him out after his years of dedicated service. It’s also not right to place students in his class.
I would like to suggest the following solution. A Rebbi at the age of 40 or so that feels his best years of teaching are behind him, can’t just retire from the chinuch field and allow a younger, more energetic Rebbi to take his place. He can’t stop teaching and get an entry-level job in a different field because at that age he has a family to support and simply can’t afford to take an entry-level job. So what can he do? He realizes it’s time to move on, but at 40 years old, where can he go and what can he do? We should learn from the business community as to how to proceed. Let’s observe how they deal with similar situations and perhaps we can apply some of their successful ideas to the world of chinuch.
How does the CEO of Pillsbury get the position of CEO of General Motors? After all, manufacturing food is very different than manufacturing cars? Shouldn’t the new CEO of General Motors only come from someone who has spent his career in the car manufacturing business? The answer is no, because the reality of today’s business environment is such that while every trade or profession obviously has its own subtleties, there are certain skills that are necessary for all types of jobs.
Hence, a Rebbi who successfully taught for 15-20 years has developed many marketable skills that can be used in a variety of capacities. The saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” has never been more true than nowadays. A consortium of businesses should list positions that are available and appropriate for a Rebbi that is looking to leave the chinuch field and enter the business world. Capable Rabbaiem that are looking to enter the business world should be given priority. For example, a telecommunications company that is looking to hire someone to purchase or sell blocks of line use, would be able to hire a Rebbe. It’s not difficult to train a Rebbi to successfully perform such tasks. After all, a successful Rebbi has communicated with many many parents throughout his career. He has had many responsibilities to execute. He had to be well prepared, creative, patience and resourceful. It won’t be difficult for that Rebbi to be quickly and successfully trained.
A Rebbi could be hired as a nursing home administrator; after all, he did manage many (albeit young) people over the years. With training, a Rebbi can be an effective administrator. This is true by many types of occupations.
The point is, if we want the absolute best chinuch for our children, then the Rebbes and Moros we hire must be the absolute best.
Remember your counselor in camp? The one everybody liked so much? Why is he an audit accountant today if he was so good with kids? How about that Yeshiva Bochur who gave up his Shabbos afternoons to give pirchei groups and test for Mishnayos on Motzei Shabbos. Why is he in real estate, why isn’t he in chinuch? The reason is as simple as it is sad. When he explored the idea of becoming a Rebbi, he thought of his future, and while ready and eager to give it his all, he was not ready to do so for his whole working life. To always be worried about adequately providing for his family, worrying if his paycheck will bounce, and worried about what he will do once he gets burnt out of teaching, is extremely unappealing. He instead opted for an ordinary career that pays well, on time and, perhaps most important, there is opportunity for real career advancement. In the chinuch field, the working conditions and pay scale are pretty much identical for the 30-year veteran Rebbe and the 3-year veteran Rebbe. The chinuch world thus loses fabulous potential members. In fact, Rav Ahron Kotler zt”l writes in response to a question of whether Rabbaiem are permitted to strike for better working conditions that they may not strike because of the irreplaceable loss of learning Torah. He concludes with a warning that “Schools should Chas vesholom not use this to their advantage. Moreover, if Rabbaiem must get a good night sleep in order to teach properly, how much more so is it the responsibility of the parents to make sure the Rebbe doesn’t have to worry about paying his electric bill or grocery bill, otherwise he won’t be able to concentrate 100% on teaching!”
Further more, Rav Ahron concludes “If we want talented Rabbaiem teaching our children, we must attract them to the chinuch field. If we don’t, they will embark on other more lucrative careers and our children will lose out.”
This was written over 45 years ago. Unfortunately, time has born true Rav Ahron’s dire predictions. Our children are the ones that lose out. It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way! It’s very unfortunate. We can attract energetic and talented Rebbaiem and give them an exit strategy – and implementing the above idea doesn’t even cost any money!
However, there is something else that more money can accomplish. A friend of mine once told me that he was participating in a meeting with people from the community who are involved hands on with many of the issues that our communities must unfortunately deal with nowadays. As issue after sad issue was brought up and discussed, someone finally got up and said “It’s raining outside and the roof has many leaks. Everybody is discussing how to fix each leak. Trying to figure out the best place to put our limited bowls to catch the rain. Doesn’t anybody once and for all just finally want to fix the roof?” The point he was making is insightful and so very true. Allow me to explain. Our children today face many challenges and b”h we as a community strive to help our children overcome their difficult challenges. We have all sorts of special education services, all types of psychiatrics and psychologists. There are children who have anger management advisors, and some go to social skills workshops. Many schools have (or should have) guidance counselors or mashgichim – yes, elementary school children also need guidance, advice and encouragement.
When one takes a step back and looks at the whole picture, the thought must enter one’s mind “Is all this really so necessary? In the past the only thing a child needed to be successful was a good Rebbe. Why now does each child need a team of highly trained professionals to learn some Chumash? Is there perhaps something that we should be doing differently that would not require all of the above services?” The answer, I believe is no. All of the above services must be made available to our children. The times and environment we live in today are dramatically different than ever before. Our children are faced with situations that children in the past never had to face. It’s a tough world out there. However, it still need not be done this way. In fact it should not be done this way.
Many people interact with a child on a daily basis. Parents, friends, Rebbe, teacher, principal, school secretary, school psychologists, music teacher, bus driver, tutor etc. Consider the following. Of all the various people your child interacts with on a daily basis, who knows and understands him/her the best? Who really knows your child? No doubt we would all like to answer “The parents”. Unfortunately, for most people that would not be the honest answer. The truth is, a child’s Rebbe/Morah is usually the individual who spends the most time day after day with your child. It is the Rebbe/Morah who davens with your child, teaches your child, sings with your child, watches them play (or plays with them) by recess, eats lunch with them, observes how they interact with other children, and listens to them recount all their little stories and fascinations. This is almost every day.
Your child’s Rebbi\Morah really knows your child well. It’s a shame that this relationship isn’t maximized and used to its full potential. Imagine a Rebbe that finishes teaching at 1:30, who then races out to his car to get to his afternoon job by 2:15. If the school can pay this Rebbe to stay in the school in the afternoon instead of running to his afternoon job(s), children- YOUR CHILD- would gain so much!
Come, let us fantasize and imagine this scenario of chinuch utopia. Here goes. The Rebbi finishes teaching at 1:30. He doesn’t have to race out of there by 1:31, he can stay to answer all the ‘important’ questions the kids still want to ask Rebbe but couldn’t be asked in middle of the chumash lesson, and listen to the stories the children love to tell their Rebbi. Now comes the most amazing advantage of having Rebbeim in school for a full day. The Rebbi sits down in an office somewhere in the school or an empty class room etc. and in his mind he goes through the day’s lesson and evaluates how it went and where it can be improved. Then he takes out his class roster and proceeds to go down the list. “Ahh Reuvain, a good kid. What a shame his father travels all week and is only home for Shabbos. His mother has her hands full with her three other children and since Reuvain doesn’t bother anyone and does his homework by himself, that is good enough for his mother. But the truth is, Reuvain's homework is usually not done correctly, and it’s a shame because he can achieve so much more if he would just have more support at home.” The Rebbe goes to Reuvain's English class, takes him out for 10 – 15 minutes and reviews the Chumash (or Mishnah, Navi etc.) with him and then they do some of the homework together, and Reuvain goes back to class. Mission accomplished. Reuvain is now ready to go home and really tackle his homework and review the Chumash because now that he knows it, he can review it. Who can do this with Reuvian better than his Rebbi who knows exactly what Reuvain needs, what his strengths and weaknesses are?
The Rebbi continues down his class list and comes to Shimon. Shimon is a rambunctious bright kid who can’t sit for more than two minutes at a time. He is a smart boy but just can’t concentrate in class. Shimon’s father is home every night and is very involved in his children’s chinuch. In fact, he makes sure to test Shimon on his homework every night. If Shimon can’t translate a word from Chumash, or answer a question on a worksheet, he feels his father’s displeasure on his cheeks! But since Shimon can’t sit still in class, he doesn’t know the translation of many words. Sadly, each evening, he feels every word he doesn’t know, on his cheek. The Rebbe takes Shimon out of his Social Studies class and for 10 minutes reviews with (i.e. teaches) him the Chumash the class learned that day. This time, Shimon listens because he is allowed to walk around the room and fiddle around with things in his hands. Since he isn’t constrained to his seat (as he must be in a classroom setting), he is able to concentrate on the Chumash and being a bright boy, he now has a good grasp and clear understanding of the Chumash. It took only 10 minutes with someone who knows him well, has a strong bond with him and knows how to create the perfect learning environment for him - and now he is ready to face his father in the evening.
The Rebbe continues down his class list. Levi. Levi lives with his mother and sister. He was too young to remember when his father passed away. Levi’s mother does everything and more, for him and his sister. However, now that Levi began learning Mishnayos in class, his mother is having great difficulty helping him with his Mishnah homework. The Rebbe takes him out of math class and revie
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