Monday, May 25, 2009

Role Reversal

A while back SL at Orthonomics and I (and I imagine others, as well) commented on R. Hershel Schachter's speech in Teaneck about the yeshiva tuition problem. One statement that he made has been niggling at me and finally solidified. R' Schachter mentioned that we have a higher quality of person teaching limudei kodesh today than in the yeshivas of yesteryear. The teachers in the "olden days" were "shleppers," as opposed to the dynamic and well-rounded rebbeim that teach in yeshivas today--you got what you paid for. If you want top quality you have to pay for it, so rebbeim make a lot more money today than they did way back when.

I'd like to examine that statement in closer detail. Let's accept for a moment that the rebbes were not top quality back in R' Schachter's day. BUT, the secular studies staff WAS all "top quality" in that yeshivas in those days took their secular studies staff from among public school teachers who were looking to earn extra money. My first teaching job was at the Bais Yaakov of Williamsburg (trust me, you aren't going to get much more right wing then that), as an emergency sub for someone who went out with a health issue. All the other secular studies teachers were public school teachers, a few of them retired already, and without exception they were all not frum, the English supervisor/principal included. You are talking women with Masters degrees. They weren't making the full equivalent of their public school salaries, but they weren't making pennies either. (Note: go ahead, look at day schools and yeshivas in the NY area and tell me how many non-frum teachers there are in the secular studies departments. Where once yeshivas wanted to make the division between kodesh and chol visibly clear--limudei kodesh teachers are frum, secular teachers are not--today they eschew that choice. They want ALL teachers in a yeshiva to be frum.)

My husband was a Brooklyn boy, and all his secular studies teachers were also public school teachers. Only twice did he have a teacher whose only job was teaching in the yeshiva, and this was a retired public school teacher. Because this was a boys yeshiva, the secular studies teachers were all male from 5th grade up, and if you think a male teacher was going to moonlight in the yeshiva system for bubkes, think again. We have friends here in the neighborhood, many retired now, who were specialty teachers in the public school system--think math and science--and they, too, moonlighted in various of the yeshivas, and no, their services did not come cheap.

So let's look at this up close. In the past rebbes were paid, according to R' Schachter, a "poor" wage, but secular studies teachers could and did command a better wage, relatively speaking. My personal experience bears this out. I taught in a yeshiva high school for girls for many years. While none of us were making near what public school teachers were making, the secular studies teachers came in at a higher salary than the limudei kodesh teachers did. You couldn't get a qualified secular studies teacher if you didn't pay them fairly well.

Fast forward to today. Today rebbes make much higher salaries than they did in the past. Some of the figures that have been floating around are $80-100K and upwards. But what about secular studies teachers? As the see saw has gone up for rebbes it has gone down for secular teachers. (Note: in some schools, particularly those to the left, secular studies teachers' salaries are, for the most part, much higher than those offered in other yeshivas. BUT these teachers are all college-degreed with graduate degrees and/or with state certification.) For one thing, most yeshivas are not looking to hire public school teachers, or certainly not non-frum ones (yes, there are a few rare exceptions). In point of fact, a whole bunch of yeshivas aren't being all that fussy about hiring new teachers with college degrees. There are any number of Brooklyn yeshivas which have secular studies teachers who are still college students, and plenty who have no college whatsoever. One such yeshiva that I know of hired a science teacher who "majored in Biology" in high school--BY of Boro Park. Yup a powerhouse prep school for science teachers.

Also absent from R' Schachter's presentation was any mention of limudei kodesh teachers. If boys get rebbes, girls get morot. So, are the morot getting paid on the same level as the rebbes? Did their salaries, too, go way up? In your dreams. The schools may be pushing limudei kodesh over limudei chol but they aren't valuing their kodesh morot where it counts--in the paycheck.

So, back then: rebbes got lower salaries, secular studies teachers got higher salaries, relatively speaking. Today: rebbes earn salaries, in some cases, that put them into the top 5% of earners in the country or close to it. Secular studies teachers are paid far less, and limudei kodesh morot are the lowest on the totem pole, again, generally speaking. If I understand R' Schachter correctly, a raise in rebbe's salaries is one of the reasons for an increase in school costs, and he feels this is only fair and right. Where in this "fairness" was any discussion about salaries for the other teachers who teach in a yeshiva? If yeshivas have, indeed, raised the salaries for rebbes they have done so by lowering salaries for all other teaching groups in the yeshivas, relative to the salaries of the rebbes. (Note: an ex-student, teaching a primary grade in secular studies last year, made $16K for the year in a Brooklyn yeshiva. I made that salary in 1989 as an elementary school secular studies teacher. Why one difference? I was degreed and she was not yet degreed.)

And a word on perks: it is true that some limudei kodesh morot and rebbes made up for their lower salaries by receiving free or highly reduced tuition for their own children, so yes, they were actually making higher salaries than what was on the books. But this is a perk that is being done away with in many cases, or where rebbes and morot are being asked to pay at least partial tuition for their own children. Secular studies teachers rarely got this perk. You don't have to have a crystal ball to see that more rebbes and morot are going to be asking for tuition reduction and scholarships as they are increasingly being called upon to pay tuition. I believe the saying that applies, at least to the morot, is "you can't squeeze blood from a stone." (And oh that they would recognize that when dealing with some parents.)

On a personal note: I cannot speak about the rebbes who were around when R' Schachter attended which ever yeshivas he attended, but my experience in seeing my brother's rebbes and yes, my son's rebbes as well doesn't uphold the general idea that because they were paid less they were not good rebbeim. Nor does the converse hold true--higher salaries doesn't guarantee better rebbes today as a steadfast rule.

To sum up, the discussion of teacher's salaries and how those salaries contribute to the costs of a Jewish education is not a straight forward issue. There is a caste system used in many yeshivas with rebbes now firmly esconced in the top level. Before you argue that teachers in yeshivas make too much money, you might want to actually have some figures in front of you to back that up. And you might want to ask "Which teachers?"


Tammy said...

Yeshivas are already going broke paying the salaries that they pay. If they raised the secular teachers salaries and the salaries of the morot they'd be out of business tomorrow. Not saying they don't deserve more money, but where is it going to come from? Unless all parents pay full tuition there is no money to pay wages that put a teacher above the poverty level in income.

Tuvi said...

Just another reason why yeshivas need to get on a real business model. And why does a school of 700 kids need a head principal, two assistant principals to him, and an asst. principal for English and one for Hebrew studies, grades 1-3, asst. principal for English and Hebrew grades 4-5, asst. principal for Hebrew and English grades 6-8? And then there is an administrator and two assistants. And the preschool assistant principal. That's besides for all the secretaries and administrative assistants and God knows who else. Too many chiefs pulling down a lot of salary.

RW said...

Supposed to be that school lasts in NY for 180 days a year. So a secular teacher works what? 20 hours a week? That's about $22 an hour at $16K a year. Not bad for someone with no degree. The ones with degrees are a different story. Only way to pay what they are worth on the open market is to raise tuition and we see where that has gotten us. Morahs are underpaid? They're still making above minimum wage by a lot and they get perks.

Anonymous said...

Hold on, hold on!
80-100k for being a rebbe? I thought that was a low end job! If that was true, wouldn't we all be looking for rabbeim instead of doctors and lawyers and accountants for husbands?

Louis said...

Not all rebbes make that top end salary. But they do make more then the secular teachers. Even there there is a practical reason. Those yeshivas which pay their rebbes more also have them working more. There is school on Sunday and they work M-F. The Jewish studies portion of the day is longer then the secular studies portion. They are teaching more hours then the secular teachers.

You may not like to hear it but rebbes have the working degree required for their jobs. Studying for smicha easily matches the hours put in for a college degree and is probably a lot more. Toss in a Masters and it's probably more like it.

SuMMy said...

So the elephant in the room is that in general when schools pay secular teacher minimal salaries they are typically not getting quality teachers. Pretty scary assessment of our educational system.

I suggest that schools pay their teachers more! But only their good teachers. The bad teachers would get paid less and/or let go. Just like in the real world. Malcolm Gladwell did some research and determined that THE biggest factor in school achievement more than class size, more than special programs is teachers. So are you nervous for our children's future opportunities?

But we're in a tuition crises- where does the extra "pay" come from? unfortunately dollars aren't readily available (hopefully this will be solved soon with transparency etc). But we can give perks. Discounted tuition, same schedule as kids, more supervision of their own kids during the day, short commutes (plenty of people will accept less salary for a job closeby), summers off (where more money can be earned), etc. Most of these are already happening but not necessarily to the right people (high quality) i want to add one more item: respect. teachers especially the best ones should be treated like the stars they are.

with smarter students the next generation of parents will have more money to pay their teachers...

In conclusion reward the good teachers with good salaries. give teachers the respect they deserve.

Tuvi said...

I won't argue Louis that rebbes put in a lot of time studying for smicha and that they are trained for their jobs. The problem is that there are too many boys getting smicha for the purpose of being a rebbe. Graduate programs are picky about who gets in. Yeshivas encourage everyone to sit and learn. They push the boys into the idea of being a rebbe.

Where are the jobs? When there are too many accountants for the jobs available they have to look into other fields.The market self corrects. What other fields are there for rebbes? Instead the yeshivas make jobs for them, and there just aren't enough kids to justify so many rebbes. One reason why there are so many administrators and other made up jobs in the yeshiva system.

Rae said...

SuMMy, you are right to be worried. In too many yeshivas today, particularly in the NY area, the kids aren't getting a good education. Unqualified teachers is one reason.

Another is that the time alloted to secular studies grows smaller and smaller as Jewish studies hours grow longer and longer. It's no secret that a whole bunch of the high schools basically have no senior year for their students in secular studies. (They all get their high school diplomas though. A good trick there.) With that kind of educational background too many of the students can't do anything else BUT work for a yeshiva.

leahle said...

Bad4--stick to the doctors, lawyers and accountants. Not every rebbe makes the big bucks. Or if you are looking for big bucks of another kind, try plumbers and electricians. Heck, my exterminator has got to be making big bucks just based on what he charges for one visit, and I'm not his only customer.

SuMMy said...

Rae, I'm actually suggesting something a little more radical- teachers should not necessarily need qualifications to do their job- they need special skills like communication, patients, etc.

I'd rather have a high school graduate with good teaching skills than one with a graduate degree and a teacher's certificate who just drones on and cant control the class. (especially for younger grades)

There are two keys to this system: we need ways to evaluate talent and we need to be able to let some people go who shouldn't be teachers...

Lion of Zion said...


"You may not like to hear it but rebbes have the working degree required for their jobs."

i don't like to hear this because semicha is *not* a "working degree required for their jobs." (and in any case, you'd be wrong to assume that every rebbe even has semicha.)

Rae said...

SuMMy, eventually those high school grads might develop into excellent teachers, and maybe not. Yes, there is no guaruntee that getting a college degree means you will be a good teacher. But those skills you talk about are part of what is taught in college, what you get during student teaching and what you develop over the years of teaching.

Teachers cover a lot of subject matter as well, and the better educated they are, the broader their knowledge, the better they will be at having the knowledge necessary to pass on to their students and the less they will need to just read the textbook to their students.

Yes, I had teachers in elementary and high school and in college who were boring as hell. I've had brilliant teachers who couldn't figure out how to give over what they knew to their students. But at least they had been exposed to knowledge and it was clear they knew what they were talking about, even if we didn't much like their style.

Anonymously said...

I think both Summy and Rae make some good points. Summy is right that excellent teachers should be rewarded for that excellence. They have merit raises in business so why not in education? If nothing else it's something for all teachers to work towards, knowing that if they do their best it will be recognized. And yes, stop having rachmonos and get rid of the deadweight teachers.

But Rae is also right. It's the rare high school grad, especially one from our own system, that knows enough and just frankly has lived enough to be the best teacher. For a lot of our frum kids, teaching in a yeshiva while they are in college or still in yeshiva themselves is their idea of working at McDonalds. It's not what most of them plan on doing with the rest of their lives, so there is no push to become excellent at what they do. For most it's a year or two and they are gone. Our kids deserve better than a constantly changing roster of teachers who aren't in teaching for the long haul.

Shula said...

I think the last person made an important point. One of our complaints when we lived in Brooklyn was that about 1/3 to 1/2 of the staff seemed to change every year or every other year. Teachers would come for a few years and then leave. Some I was glad to see the end of but a few would have made good additions to the school. You can't have a stable school when your staff is constantly coming and going. Mostly this was the younger teachers. Although a few of the sort of older teachers also left.

Out of town where we live now there is almost no turnover of staff. I guess one reason is that they don't have the choice of so many young people who need a job and will take a lower salary just to start out. And they do pay a little better then in Ny, at least from what the teachers say.

Is Lion possibly right that those rebbes who work in the yeshivas don't need smicha to work as a rebbe? The principal of my son's yeshiva always referred to his teachers as Rabbi so and so. Sounds deceptive to me. If you're called Rabbi shouldn't you have smicha?

Orthonomics said...

I have no lack of respect for those with smicha. But it certainly isn't a qualification for running a school, overseeing a budget, hiring and firing, etc.

I had an article up about Catholic schools and their issues and the person quoted in the article noted the need for comprehensive business and finance courses for seminary graduates because the priests in charge of the school were running not just a religious program but a business.

Lion of Zion said...


to clarify, i did not mean to imply that all, or even many, rebbes lack semicha. i just know that the phenomenon exists of semichaless rebbes.

or sometimes it is given on an ad hoc basis when the need arises. just like a BA, not every semicha is the same.

this reminds of when i used to prepare bar mitzvah boys. the chabad rabbi in the shul would always refer to me as Rabbi Zion in the presence of the parents. a number of times i asked him not to do this. finally i said that if he feels the need to continue this then we need to make it official and he should put it in writing :)

as to your question:

"rebbes who work in the yeshivas don't need smicha to work as a rebbe?"

why should they? why is it necessary to spend a few years learning shas and poskim in order to teach an seven-year old chumash and rashi? today even the MO schools have bought into the rebbe thing. i still don't get it. the teachers i had titled morah, geveret, mar and dr were no less qualified to do the job than a rebbe.

frum single female said...

having semichah does not a good teacher make. one needs courses in education on HOW to teach. some people are born teachers but most arent , judging by some of the limudei kodesh teachers i had in high school.

SuMMy said...

I think we all agree that teachers should be paid based on merit.

My other point is that teacher's shouldn't be paid extra or rewarded more based on the degree (or even smicha) they have. They are in school to teach not to impress their students with the number of diplomas that hang on their wall.

It will turn out that those with extras degrees will have a leg up on their high school degreed counterparts because they obviously are more committed to teaching and have more time studying how to teach. but some people wont need the college degrees to know how to do this. Some very talented people have the skills to teach innately. They can then just read up on their subject and they are ready (for younger grades).

So what I'm saying is that degrees will be helpful to many future teachers but lets not judge a teacher by the size of his degrees but by the content of his character. Judge based on results period.

According to Gladwell's study the extra degrees didn't contribute much to the effectiveness of teachers.

Think of it like the effect of going to college for basketball players. most need the time in college to develop their games before getting to the pros- but there are a few (Kobe, Lebron) that went strait to the pros and thrived.

ProfK said...

Re your "My other point is that teacher's shouldn't be paid extra or rewarded more based on the degree (or even smicha) they have. They are in school to teach not to impress their students with the number of diplomas that hang on their wall." I disagree here.

In outside businesses employees are rewarded and paid extra if they come in with advanced degrees. An MBA gets more money than someone without. Why should schools run differently? In point of fact, a Masters degree is a requirement for New York State full certification as a teacher.

I didn't get my graduate degrees to impress my students with. I got them because the more I know the more I can bring to the table for my students. The more I know, the broader the experience I offer my students. And I got my degrees because I'm apparently an oddball, and wouldn't mind if I could infuse my students with that same "oddballness." I love being in school. I love going to class, writing papers, reading, discussing new ideas. At retirement hubby and I are looking forward to getting into the classroom again as students, taking courses in anything and everything that interests us that we didn't have time for before.

As to judging a teacher on the content of his/her character, yes and no. Certainly an sob who doesn't like kids and lets them know that doesn't belong in the classroom. Certainly someone who is bored with teaching and lets it show doesn't belong in the classroom. But it's not character alone that makes a good teacher. You can have a perfectly wonderful teacher who loves his/her students who is totally inept when it comes to teaching them.

SuMMy said...

ProfK, I appreciate your response.

You mention that an MBA gets paid more etc- I actually have an MBA (from a decent school not a paper mill)- i still don't think i should be paid more for my degree but for my knowledge i bring to the job. If I decided to take my mba and become a history teacher it should not increase my salary.

As a college professor you should have a degree and lots of knowledge- I'm referring to the younger grades.

A masters degree is a requirement for NYC schools- not yeshivas. This is where thinking outside the box can help yeshivas. IF a yeshiva can get a top quality teacher without a degree they should grab him (or her) and pay him. Keeping paying top dollar for top talent.

In general the teachers with degrees will have an advantage. They will have thought about teaching during their coursework. Hopefully picked up some techniques etc. but it's the results that count. Yeshivas cant afford to pay for paper.

Gladwell points out "A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom."

For example Sephardi lady (of orthonomics) may not be a "Certified Financial Planner" (I'm not sure) but I'm sure she'd do well dispensing financial advise (barring legalities).

As for teachers being judged by "character" I was paraphrasing martin luther king a little too literally- I meant what skills they bring to the job.

I think we ultimately agree: teachers should be judged based on performance- degrees may help them get better performance- but in the end performance counts.