‘Not everyone should be able to become a teacher’

Union head talks to the ‘Post’ ahead of new school year.

Teacher with students (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Teacher with students
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Forty to 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first four years, Yaffa Ben-David, secretary-general of the Teachers Union, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Many teachers who begin their careers for ideological reasons are unable to cope with the stress, Ben-David added.
There is no teachers strike on the horizon, so children across the country will begin the school year as usual on September 1, Friday, but that is not to say that things within the system have improved, “it’s just that nothing extreme is going on,” she added.
Another issue is recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. “Not everyone should be able to become a teacher,” Ben-David said, noting, “It’s a really difficult profession, we are in the classroom from 8 o’clock until 4 o’clock and work well into the evenings outside of school, taking phone calls, going to meetings, preparing lesson plans and grading work. We must take care of quality people who want to enter this profession.”
Many teachers who make it past the first years feel financial pressure to stay in the system for at least 35 years, in order to receive full pensions.
“After many years, teachers want to leave, but they can’t so they are stuck. We want to change this time to be like the police and army, which is 25 years. This is what we are asking of the Finance Ministry and the Education Ministry,” Ben-David said.
Ben-David said she is pleased with Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s efforts to reduce classroom sizes, but that more needs to be done in this regard. “Kindergartens are still averaging 35 pupils per class, this is crazy and it’s very hard for the teachers and the pupils to handle this type of learning environment.”
As for “religionization,” where more Jewish content is being introduced into the state secular system, Ben-David said: “I haven’t gotten any complaints from teachers, but if I hear any complaints, I will do something.”
Ben-David stressing the need for pedagogical autonomy, where teachers and principals can decide for themselves how to teach their curriculum. “The Education Ministry should not be in a place to tell teachers how to do their job.”
“Give us the fishing rod and not the fish,” she said. “The ministry can give the schools base requirements, but it is up to the teachers to provide the students with the tools to foster curiosity and inspiration in order to succeed.
“You can set goals and you can check the schools, but we know how to reach these goals; you don’t need to tell us how to get there, leave us alone,” added Ben-David.
Drawing attention to the need for resources starting in the schools themselves, Ben-David presented a pressing issue: a shortage of principals and vice principals.
“The main problem is that we don’t have enough principals and deputies in our schools,” she said.
Principals are grossly underpaid for the level of responsibility, and not enough people are applying for these positions to meet the demands of a high-quality education. In addition, teachers have little incentive to become principals since it comes with such a small pay raise for significantly more work.
“The number of responsibilities that the system throws on the principals’ is not equal to how much they earn, so we are seeing a number of principals quitting and not enough applying for these positions. Responsibilities in addition to running a school including being in charge of infrastructure and building maintenance and even after school activities, coupled with a salary that doesn’t reflect the work they are doing. This issue is very important to us and we want to see in this upcoming school year that their work is reflected in their salary,” Ben-David said.
“Israel has to understand that the security of the nation is in education; we have to continue improving,” she said.
She believes that the 5777/78 [2017-2018] school year will be a very successful and fruitful one for students and teachers alike despite the financial and structural challenges facing the national education system.
“Education is so important and if we want something good to come out of it, we need to invest in it,” Ben-David said.
With the education budget the second largest after defense, Ben-David stressed: “Don’t just give money for the sake of giving money. You [the government] need to know what you are doing with it.”
Ben-David has been secretary-general of the Teachers Union since 2016. Her duties mainly consist of protecting public school teachers’ rights and salaries.
She is the first woman to hold this position and has been involved in the education system as a teacher as well as on the teachers board in Kiryat Gat for decades.