Israel must pay its teachers more - editorial

If the country is to remain healthy and educated, it will also need to find a way to compensate those in the care professions in such a way as to attract more workers.

 Israeli teachers protest as they demand better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israeli teachers protest as they demand better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Israel is blessed, truly blessed, with a thriving hi-tech industry. It drives the economy, enhances Israel’s standing abroad and pays handsome salaries to those toiling in code and designing computer chips. 

They deserve it. 

But hi-tech workers, like workers in every other field – plumbers and electricians, bookkeepers and librarians, farmers and welders – have children and parents who need daycare workers and teachers, social workers, psychologists and caregivers. Everyone at some point needs the services of those who work in the traditional help professions – either for themselves or for their children or parents. 

If the country does not wake up and take a look at its priorities, it may end up in a decade with a mighty hi-tech sector but not enough math, science, English and history teachers to train the next generation of computer engineers and writers of code. 

 Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teacher's Union at a protest of Israeli teachers demanding better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG) Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teacher's Union at a protest of Israeli teachers demanding better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG)

Why? Because it just doesn’t pay to teach.

If you were 22 years old and just coming out of the army, if you liked being around young people and wanted to teach, if you had an aptitude for math and logic – what would you choose? Would you pursue a career in education, which you might find enjoyable, or study computers in order to land a job in hi-tech, which could pay at least four times as much?

Unless you are passionate about shaping young minds, and allergic to sitting behind a desk all day, chances are that if given a choice, you would pick hi-tech. Computer programming might not nourish your soul as much as teaching literature, but it fills your wallet. And with a full wallet, you can figure out other ways to nourish your soul.

Israel is facing a growing labor shortage in the “caring” professions. More and more people are asking themselves why they should change diapers in daycare for gross earnings of only NIS 35 an hour, teach a classroom of rowdy sixth graders and take home barely NIS 7,000 a month, or see dozens of hard-luck clients as a social worker for NIS 8,000 a month when they can go into hi-tech and earn so much more. 

All this is not meant in any way to begrudge the hi-tech workers their ample salaries. They studied hard, they are producing products in high demand by modern society and they have earned their pay.

But if the country is to remain healthy and educated, it will also need to find a way to compensate those in the care professions in such a way as to attract more workers. Last month, a reform was agreed upon that will see social workers’ salaries go up by 20%. Similar moves are needed for teachers, daycare workers and caregivers. 

Teachers’ Union head Yaffa Ben-David – who since last week has called for sporadic strikes at various schools for several hours each day as part of her struggle with the Finance Ministry for higher teachers’ wages – is, to put it mildly, not the most beloved public figure in the land.

During the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, Ben-David was widely panned for saying that teachers would not give up a single day of their summer vacations to extend the school year and help the struggling economy get back on its feet. Furthermore, the strikes she regularly threatens and calls are a constant thorn in the side of parents who must then scramble, often unsuccessfully, to find solutions for children left at home because of teachers’ industrial action. 

However, Ben-David’s current battle with the Treasury for higher pay to be folded into the next national budget is justified. By the same token, she needs to show flexibility and – as a cost-saving measure – give school principals more leeway in firing teachers deemed to be underperforming, something the union has always adamantly opposed. 

“Their cause is for everyone,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said this week, coming out squarely behind the teachers. Her choice of words was spot on. Higher salaries for teachers not only benefit the teachers directly affected, they benefit everyone. Everyone needs teachers for their children, and everyone will be negatively affected if – because of non-competitive pay – there are simply not enough of them to go around.