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Who will teach our grandchildren?

The education system in Israel has entered a human resource crisis that will only worsen in the coming years. This is not the only crisis that the system is experiencing, but it is the most serious. Teachers are the bread and butter of education, or simply put, without teachers, schools cannot function. A serious lack of educators in both the primary and secondary school system threatens many schools in the center and especially in the periphery. Recently the head of the teacher’s union lamented the crisis of teacher shortage and attrition, calling it the most severe in the nation’s history.

Although only anecdotal evidence, the number of posts in the English Teaching Community in Israel Facebook page seeking English teachers is astounding. Barely a day goes by without a school posting a “Teachers wanted” advertisement. And this is true of other fields too, including homeroom teachers. Sadly, sometimes a prospective teacher will post on this group, asking for guidance in training/retraining options, and a flood of posts advising the prospective teacher to stay from teaching will inevitably follow. For the six years I was head of the English department at Achva Academic College, I received countless emails from school principals and English coordinators, begging me to send them worthy graduates or even students.

In another Facebook group (ImaKadima: Working and Career Minded Moms in Israel), numbering 15,400 professional English-speaking women, one of the hottest topics, reflected in numerous posts, courses, and discussions, is the tremendous desire of many to “transition into tech.” And again, sadly, quite a few of those seeking better salaries, more respect and more support are teachers. Explaining their decision to leave the teaching profession, they often preface their words with “I love teaching, but….” Teaching, after all, is a noble profession, which has an enormous impact on the hearts and minds of future generations. Working with kids is (mostly) enjoyable and integrating new pedagogies and digital tools keeps the job fresh, creative, and innovative.

Each new minister in the Ministry of Education believes that they can introduce reforms that will somehow improve or even transform our education system, but what all these reforms have in common, including the latest travesty of canceling the matriculation exams in the Humanistic fields, is a short-sighted approach that obscures a root problem in the system. And that problem is the status, salary and autonomy of teachers in Israel. The reformers sometimes like to mention the enormously successful project-based and multidisciplinary approach to education in Finland as their inspiration, but do they know that, according to OECD reports, there are few professions in Finland with a higher status than education? This emanates from high compensation, high entry and qualification demands, and a great deal of autonomy and growth in the role. A satisfied and empowered teacher is a creative and impactful educator.

According to OECD data from 2020, a secondary teacher in Germany with fifteen years’ experience earns 91000USD, while a similar teacher in Israel makes under 36000USD. Teachers in countries like Chile, Columbia, and Mexico earn more than Israeli teachers, and the dissonance is acute. Here we are, in the start-up nation, where hi-tech is booming and the public coffers are full, yet we cannot remunerate our educators fairly, in a way that will encourage high quality, motivated, and committed teachers to stay in the field and flourish there. Every resident in this country knows how high the cost of living has become in Israel, yet those charged with educating our future leaders, engineers, doctors, and researchers are earning a wage that does not enable them to cover basic expenses.

I am proud to be part of the start-up nation, and truly admire our technological prowess. But if we are to conserve our dominance as a world leader in knowledge and innovation, it is obvious that we have to start educating at the youngest of ages, with new and innovative pedagogies alongside tried and tested methods. To do this, we need high quality (wo)manpower, passionate, and inspirational teachers who are appreciated, well-compensated and empowered. No plaster of reform will fix this problem of teacher shortage. It is time to get to the root of the problem and begin fixing it.

About the Author
Born in South Africa, Laura Major (PhD) has lived in Israel for close to 30 years. She teaches English Literature at two Teacher Training programs and also served as head of the forum for English Department heads for three years.
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