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A Career in Chinuch (Part One)
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz

Our 21-year-old son just came back from his second year in Eretz Yisroel and informed us that he would like to pursue a career in chinuch (Jewish education). We are very proud of his idealism and we both feel that he is doing this for ‘all the right reasons.’

Nevertheless, we wonder how we can help him determine if he is really ‘cut out’ for chinuch. We are also quite concerned about his ability to support his family in the future. Do you have any suggestions that can help us guide him properly?

Thank you in advance

Proud and Concerned Parents

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Allow me to begin by commending you for being open to the notion of encouraging your son to pursue the career of his choice. (It may be presumptuous of me, but from reading your question, I assumed that a life in chinuch was not what you had originally envisioned for your son.) All too often, parents try to pressure their children to their embrace their preconceived notions of which professions they want them to enter – often resulting in frustrated, underachieving adults.

I once heard a stunning thought attributed to Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky z’tl. He asked why the final charge of Yaakov Avinu to his children (See Bereshis 49) is referred to as the “Birchas Yaakov,” (Yaakov’s Blessings) when, in fact, many of his comments were words of rebuke or simply factual statements. Reb Yaakov explained that the fact that Yaakov Avinu celebrated the diversity of his sons’ personalities and occupations and did not covertly or overtly attempt to squelch their innate nature is perhaps the greatest blessing a father can give a child. Having said that, it is most certainly your sacred obligation to help guide your children in making informed decisions regarding their career choices. (I will address the broader issue of career guidance in next week’s column.)

Here are some practical suggestions that may allow you to help your son with his decision:

Do what you can to have your son gain a better understanding of what a career in chinuch will entail. I can tell you firsthand how incredibly rewarding it is to teach Hashem’s Torah and help educate a generation of His children. I am filled with gratitude to Hashem for having the zechus (merit) to have spent my adult life in chinuch. At the same time, a career in chinuch is quite demanding and requires a significant level of misirus nefesh (devotion). Perhaps the best way for him to get a better understanding of what a life in chinuch is like would be for him to meet with a successful rebbi or two – preferably someone as close to his age as possible – and discuss all aspects of his professional life. Encourage him to ask the rebbi which skill sets your son will need to become a successful mechanech (interpersonal skills, lesson preparation, creating worksheets and materials, computer skills, etc). I would also suggest that he spend some time discussing finances – how that rebbi ‘makes it all work.’ I can tell you from my personal experience of 15 years as a rebbi that one can provide for his family’s needs in comfort if not luxury – but that usually requires the commitment to supplement income by taking an afternoon and/or summer job.

Another helpful idea may be for your son to get ‘behind the wheel’ and try his hand at teaching. It is one thing to have lofty goals about dedicating one’s life to chinuch. It is quite different to actually get behind a desk and teach twenty-plus children for an entire school year. Some young men who are contemplating a career in chinuch take the route of contacting yeshivas in their community and placing their names on a list to call when substitute rebbeim are needed. The only drawback with that approach is that substitute teaching is notoriously challenging and may leave your son with an inaccurately negative view of what classroom teaching is all about. Another route to take would be for your son to take a job as a rebbi in a summer camp or giving a one-hour shiur in navi or gemarah for an entire school year at a local yeshiva. This ought to replicate in a smaller and less challenging manner what classroom teaching will actually look like.

Next week: Career counseling, training for a career in chinuch, and some practical tips for prospective rebbeim.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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