A strategic approach to addressing the teacher shortage
Our strategic approach focuses on collaboration with institutions, organizations, and individuals to bring about successful outcomes for those entering the field of Jewish education while simultaneously focusing on methods to grow the pipeline of excellent Judaic and Hebrew educators.
The challenge of finding excellent educators is greater than it has ever been. A recent article in this publication by the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies poses the question,“Who will teach our children and grandchildren?” The authors argue that inattention to the teacher shortage crisis will have an impact for generations. As recruitment season to find educators begins, new approaches need to be explored as to how to find those who will inspire and teach the next generation. The model of job fairs and posting on job boards is no longer sufficient to bring qualified individuals into the field. Now is the time to deep dive into not only why the challenges exist but also possible solutions.
In June 2020, CASJE published a study that examined the factors that lead someone to launch a career in Jewish education as well as the dynamics that may encourage individuals to enter the field even if they had not considered it in the past. The study examined both the stimuli (positive role models/experiences, parents) that would bring a prospective educator to the field and the inhibitors (finances, training) that keep promising individuals from a career in teaching.
Will & Deni McIntyre/getty images
In 2019, TalentEducators, a project of the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Jewish Agency for Israel, was launched to address many of the inhibitors mentioned above. Since our founding, TalentEducators has placed over 120 candidates in positions in both formal and informal Jewish education. As outlined below, our strategic approach focuses on collaboration with institutions, organizations, and individuals to bring about successful outcomes for those entering the field of Jewish education while simultaneously focusing on methods to grow the pipeline of excellent Judaic and Hebrew educators.
- Recruitment into the field: The challenge of finding both Judaic and Hebrew teachers exists worldwide. TalentEducators works with hundreds of educational institutions from Memphis and Seattle to Dublin and Chicago that struggle to find qualified educators. Part of our mission is to broaden the pipeline and use innovative methods to find and train individuals. We have created a recruitment system to widen the net and attract those who could be successful Jewish educators. As discussed in the CASJE study, we look at touchpoints where potential candidates are primed to enter the field. Along with digital campaigns across multiple media, our recruitment methods include reaching those who were involved in youth movements, leaders in campus Hillel, or camp counselors. Each applicant who applies to our system goes through a rigorous vetting process including: several interviews, a content check for both Judaics and Hebrew knowledge, and a resume review. Currently we are vetting over 1,000 individuals who have applied over the last three months.
- Understanding the needs of the field: Our work at TalentEducators can only be successful if we understand the needs of the institutions we support. We profile and map the institutions through site visits and conversations with each school, synagogue or JCC that we work with. Our goal is to understand the unique culture, pedagogical approach, and needs of each institution to ensure the candidates we match fit the unique profile. Through honest and transparent conversations, the partnerships we build with institutions create a sustained relationship of trust. Currently we are working with 340 Jewish institutions to support their recruitment and retention efforts.
- Retention, professional development and collaboration: Teaching is one of the most rewarding, yet challenging careers. Educators need coaching and mentoring to not only hone their craft but also feel supported in their position. At TalentEducators we strongly believe that when it comes to effective and meaningful teacher support there is no one size fits all and therefore our goal is twofold: (1) help institutions find excellent educators and then (2) support the educators we place with a tailored and personalized professional development plan. The professional development we provide is created in partnership with each institution and fellow. All educators we place receive a year of fully-funded professional development. These personalized plans include partnerships with over 70 organizations such as BetterLesson, the Jewish New Teacher Project, Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, Middlebury College, Hebrew at the Center and Yeshiva University, just to name a few.
- A wide tent: The challenge of finding excellent educators exists within all communities. We have the privilege of working with institutions that are affiliated with all Jewish denominations. Our approach to understanding the hashkafa and vision of each institution allows us to honor their mission and values and in turn reach all Jewish people no matter who they are, how they pray, or what they believe.
For many who are involved in Jewish education, the challenge of finding excellent educators is at the forefront of their concerns. Actionable steps must be taken to bring about real change in the area of recruitment and retention. As the CASJE study suggests, there are tangible ways to address the challenge and through conversations, collaboration, strategic approaches, and new pipelines we can begin to tap into the talent and possibilities.
Alanna Kotler is a North American Director for TalentEducators. She has been engaged in Jewish education for over fifteen years as an educator, administrator, leadership coach and consultant.
Yael Harari is the Chief Operating Officer of TalentEducators and has more than fifteen years of experience in the field of education: as a teacher of literature and language and as a teacher-mentor in American Jewish schools and in Israeli mechinot.