When I was in junior high, I looked in awe at straight A students in the grades above me. They were about to finish high school and become teachers, too. They could have gone anywhere. They could have gotten scholarships to any college and studied any profession that came to their mind, but they chose teaching. At that time, in Belarus, where I grew up, teaching was a highly respected occupation.
Today, in Israel, teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Our education system is being depleted and new teachers are far fewer than those who leave. Worse yet, many, if not most, of those who join do not last more than a few years. What is more, the ones who leave are the better ones, those who can succeed elsewhere, too. Our children will soon have no teachers to teach them.
There are two major problems behind the “Great Desertion” of the teaching occupation. The first is that the society does not value it. The prestige that went with teaching, and which I knew as a child, does not exist today, at least not in Israel. The second problem is the teachers’ salary.
Today, as teachers are protesting in demand to raise their salaries to a more respectable level, I think it is necessary to address the issue of the teachers’ salaries before everything else. A higher salary, not high, but higher, or at least not as low as it is now, will enable teachers to get by more easily, especially in the early years of their career, and will also reflect a higher level of respect for the teaching occupation.
Teachers, after all, are very meaningful people in the lives of all of us. Along with parents, they are the people entrusted with preparing our children for life. They are very meaningful in shaping the future generation’s approach to life and to other people. Therefore, we want our teachers to be good role models, individuals worthy of teaching the future generation. They must feel that their work is important, and that society feels that their work is important.
In today’s world, that feeling is expressed, to a great extent, in salaries. Currently, when teachers’ salaries are low, besides the financial hardships, it is a statement by the society that they are unimportant, their occupation is unimportant, and they are not worth more than what they are paid. Who would want to stay in a demeaning occupation?
Therefore, in my opinion, the first step toward healing the education system is to pay teachers a decent salary. Afterwards, it will be possible to see that teachers teach what we want them to teach, that they are worthy role models, and that they know how to pass on the values we want them to pass on to their students, who are our children.