Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On the Education Front

For those of you who don't know, I am entering into the education field. Being someone who has taught both in a Jewish High School setting and in a New York City public school setting, I want to dispel some of the classic thinking that is associated with both institutions.

Assumption Number One:
Public school students are not as smart as Jewish high school students.

This is not true. There are just as many smart students in the public school system as there are in the a Jewish high school. The difference is the amount of work put in. Often, the publicly educated student will not have as many hours, classes and subjects as a Jewish high school student. This gives the NYC public school student less time on their plate and more time for leisure (not necessarily a bad thing).

Additionally, students found in the Jewish high school are generally more motivated to perform than a NYC public schooler. On average, the Jewish student will come from a more classically complete home, whereas Inner City students may often come from broken homes. This can effect their motivation by not having someone one their backs all the time. I had one public school student who was particularly bright and always participated in classroom discussions despite never doing any of the work for the class. She ended up failing (or at least coming close to it) because she never studied for tests, did her homework or write her term paper.

Assumption Number Two:
Public School kids have more respect for their teachers than Yeshiva high school students.

Again, this is definitely false. Public school kids do not have any more respect for their teachers than do Yeshiva students. It is true that public school kids are easier to control. However, it's not a respect thing. I believe that when people bring this up, they forget one basic idea.

Yeshiva students are difficult to control because they can talk to anyone in class. If Moishe is on one side of the room and Josh is on the other side, Moishe has no reason to feel ashamed of talking to Josh. They both know each other and Moishe has something to tell him, so he will. In a public school, a student will likely not know his or her classmate on the other side of the room. There is no reason to talk to that person. In fact, it is not unheard of to not know anyone in your class. If a student is friends with another student, they are often sitting next to them and a conversation between those two students is much easier to quash than is a cross-room conversation.

In other words, the sense of comfort between classmates is what keeps Yeshiva students more susceptible to trouble-making and is what keeps public school kids in check.

Public School teachers get paid more so they care more than teachers in a Jewish high school.

While the pay scale is true, it's not as high as you think. Remember, teachers in a Jewish school are often not working full time. Full time in the teaching profession is five classes. Even if magically a teacher is giving five classes, he or she is not working five days a week. So even though they are getting paid less, they aren't getting less by much.

Having said that, this is not what translates into caring. A teacher who cares, cares. I've seen public school teachers who don't care. I've seen Jewish high teachers who are some of the best I've seen. It's all in the teacher. The pay scale has nothing to do with it.

The only thing that might have something to with it is the attitude of the school and its administration. If the administration believes secular subjects to be far inferior (and that influences the student's perception) then the teachers will tend to lose interest in teaching. Not because they don't care, but because they will have the mentality of any employee who works for a boss who doesn't care about their employees performance, and that is "why should I bother?"

There are many more assumptions that I would like to deal with, but I believe that these three are good starting points. All of these actual problems are fixable, but they can't be done overnight and the my solutions to them will come in other posts.


  1. To add to your first point, from my experience, Jewish students may be more motivated because they realize they need to make more money than non-jews (due to extra cost of being Jewish, mainly vis a vis tuition for kids down the line.) If high school students don't yet realize this, their parents do and that is why they make education such a priority. By college, students themselves start realizing this. I believe this also explains the large amounts of Jews in the "professional" fields (Dr, Lawyer, CPA, etc) which tend to pay more but require large investments of effort.

  2. I think Jewish kids, to some extent, get used to the rigorous schedule. They grew up with it, so they are (often) better able to handle it in adult life.

    Anyway, good post.

  3. Interesting post!

    I'm actually in my senior year of getting my BS in Engineering, but am contemplating getting a Masters in Education... maybe be a High School Physics teacher...

  4. I've taught in both types of schools, too (elementary though).
    I agree with you on the "smarter" myth--there are just as many smart kids in public schools as in Jewish schools.

    But, sorry, on the whole I have seen WAY better teaching/teachers in public schools--what people don't realize is that there is a lot of accountibility. I may have tenure, but I get an official evaluation every other year and have official observations every year. I have to submit data for every subject I teach and show how I am providing help for those students who did not perform satisfactorily, that I have contacted the parents, etc. I understand that things have changed since I went to school, but even so, thinking back to the mostly crummy teaching I experienced as a student in elementary/middle school (for some reason my OOT BY high school had some very decent teachers) I realize that there was so much I just basically ended up learning on my own, mostly because I was/am a voracious reader.

  5. Anon- the reason you have seen better teachers in a public school comes down to timing. As you have said, you teach in an elementary school. Fine. But you have to realize that because of the time that elementary schools have secular subjects, they are forced to hire teachers that are out of work (either because they are retired and therefore don't really care to teach anymore, only to occupy their time or they have no formal education training).

    I on the other hand work in a high school where teachers may come from another job in a public school and still have time to teach in a high school where their particular subjects don't begin until 3:30. They are still the same good teachers that just taught in a public school an hour ago.

    The data submission just further attests to the idea that the administration in Yeshivas don't care about the subjects. This and only this is the reason that such teachers don't teach to their full potential. If their bosses don't care, why should they?