For love, not money

What motivates capable young people to choose what may be the country's least lucrative profession?

school children teacher  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
school children teacher
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"People who go to study education aren't looking to make money," says Moran Argaz, who studies at Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv. That's an understatement. With starting salaries lower than NIS 2,900 per month and teachers earning between a third and a half less than their similarly qualified counterparts in the rest of the developed world, The Jerusalem Post went in search of the motivations that inspire intelligent and capable young people to choose what may be the country's least lucrative profession. Surprisingly, most prospective teachers know precisely what awaits them in the system - overcrowded classrooms, pitiful wages and poor training. Yet as all but one agreed, the desire to teach the young, to open a child's mind to knowledge and values, to help form tomorrow's leaders, trumps all other considerations. For Argaz, the question is a difficult one. "The system takes a lot and doesn't give much in return," she acknowledges. "I know a lot of people who work in education and also take additional jobs at the same time." But Argaz is confident of her future in the education system. She believes she will rise within the narrow confines of the education hierarchy, where the number of positions shrinks dramatically with each promotion, and be able to influence it from within. "The ones who are good can advance," she insists, so "I don't have a problem earning minimum wage at the beginning." Argaz plans on getting a master's degree "to move ahead" and feels that, ultimately, the financial aspect is not part of the decision. "Being a teacher lets you say, 'I made a difference,'" she notes. "I want to raise a generation of tolerant, wise people." For all teachers, she believes, "There is this ambition to educate a generation." Re'ut Fischer also sees herself as part of the solution. A special education student at Levinsky College, she believes that if teachers are serious about their calling, the financial considerations are secondary. "If I was looking for a profession that can support me, I'd go study something else," she says. "True, there isn't money for fun, but the life of a teacher is tough, with lots of work at home." And those afterschool hours spent grading and preparing for the following day "in any case don't leave free hours to spend extra money." For Fischer, who says she is in it "for the [special needs] children, [to find] a solution that doesn't exist today in the education system," the financial incentive is simply not relevant. "These kids need a lot, and there aren't enough people who come to this out of love for the kids and the desire to help. For those people, money is a side issue." Indeed, she says, the selflessness of educators may be part of the problem. "The country and the [national] leadership don't understand the value and importance of education. So they cut [funds] and shorten [school days]." All this is possible, she believes, because "the people who are doing the teaching aren't those who will scream over lost money." Arye Barnea, principal of the highly regarded Be'er Tuviya Regional High School, agrees that prospective teachers are attracted to the career by advantages unique to education. In his decades-long experience with teachers, he believes that they come to education for two reasons. "Some believe with all their hearts in [certain] values, and feel a duty to bring these values to the next generation," he says. "For them, the primary ingredient [of teaching] is personal example." For some, there is "a second motive, one of personal fulfillment," he continues. "The satisfaction of helping a child to move forward, or helping a group of children, is hard to compare to the satisfaction of any other profession." But, Barnea adds sadly, "there are those for whom that's not enough." After all, he notes, a teacher "decrees for his family a humble and modest life, and can only hope to convince his children that it is an important calling." OF ALL THE education students who spoke with the Post, none were more critical of the educational system than Tom, who studies at Seminar Hakibbutzim College of Education in northern Tel Aviv. "The [starting teacher's] salary isn't the only folly," she insists, "and not even the worst one." For Tom, the worst part of Israel's education system is that "education isn't for everyone. You know according to where someone is born where he will end up. That's a failure of the education system." And that's just the beginning of the problem. "A school has three jobs to do: to teach values, to educate and to supervise. In all three, today's school has failed. It hasn't taught values for a long time. Schoolchildren don't learn critical thinking, tolerance, democracy. Also, the education itself is lacking - I got my education despite the school system, not from it. And I wouldn't let the school watch over my kids. They're more likely to encounter violence and bad behavior there then at home." Then why get into it? Because, she insists, the fact that "I know what I'm getting into" only increases her determination "to be one of those who change the system." But not everyone can sustain that determination, she adds. "Of all those learning with me, only a few plan to continue in education. Most don't actually want to be teachers." One such frustrated student is Yael, who studies education and Jewish thought at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "At first it looked to me like real 'doing,' the kind that makes a difference," she recalls. "Today I don't want to be a teacher. I don't think I can have an effect there." Asked what changed her mind over the course of her studies, she says she grew convinced that, rather than working to change the system, "the system will affect me." What convinced her it would be impossible to have a positive effect? "The conditions are too difficult. There needs to be a lot more money in it," she insists, "and a smaller classroom. Right now, the classroom is just frightening." It is perhaps easier to understand Yael than any of the other prospective educators who spoke with the Post. While the Education and Finance ministries spar incessantly over the question of whether more funds are needed for education, or just increasing efficiency in the bloated and expensive state bureaucracy, the teacher at the bottom of the hierarchy, the one actually teaching children day after day, continues to carry on in conditions unheard of anywhere else in the developed world. The country is lucky that, for many of them, sentiments such as those of Re'ut Fischer carry more weight than the promise of financial stability. "I came to education," she says, "to complete myself."