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Area Judaic teachers forming group to 'increase respect,' benefits
February 23rd, 2001
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of the line, I get no respect. But people who really feel that way particularly when it comes to their work usually dont find it so funny.
Many teachers feel this way, including teachers in Milwaukee-area Jewish schools, day and supplementary.
As Ateret Cohn who has taught at the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC, the Milwaukee Jewish Day School and practically every Sunday and Hebrew school in the city over some 50 years put it, The most anonymous characters [in the community] are teachers.... [They have] horrendous status.
That status is manifested in low pay, no health care or retirement benefits, and a sense that, for all the community rhetoric about its importance, Jewish education gets the short straw from boards that determine budgets, said Lisa Sattell, who teaches at Congregations Shalom and Sinai. Moreover, Sattell said, When I tell people I teach Sunday school, they say, Are you nuts?
For years, Cohn has wanted to create an organization of Milwaukees Jewish education teachers to help elevate the status of teachers in the community, among other things. This year, such an organization may be beginning to form, born of local teachers desires not only for respect, but also for professional growth.
Two meetings have already been held, the most recent on Feb. 12. The next is scheduled for Thursday, March 29, 7 p.m. at the JCC.
According to a flyer produced by the organizers, the organization will be a non-profit, non-union professional association open to anyone who teaches in Jewish education in either day schools, religious schools, Hebrew schools or other formal and informal settings.
It will aim to raise the profile of those teaching in the Jewish community, increase opportunities for professional growth and development, foster educational excellence through partnerships with parents, boards and clergy, among others, and seek benefits for those who work in the field.
The moving force behind the as yet unnamed association is Sattell. A book club member, she had the idea that local Judaic educators could have a club in which to read and discuss articles in education journals.
She also attended her first conference of the national Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education this past summer, which she said taught her how much she needed and wanted to learn.
Sattell mentioned her idea to Dr. Steven Baruch, executive director of the Coalition for Jewish Learning, the education program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She said Baruch expressed support and told her about Cohns long-standing idea.
In fact, Baruch and others who are in the administrative end of Jewish educational work in the community have expressed support for creating this organization, according to Sattell.
Dr. Sherry Blumberg, education director at Congregation Shalom, told The Chronicle that she herself tried to create a similar organization for the Reform movement nationally.
From my own standpoint, one reason really fine people dont go into Jewish education is that they need benefits, health care, the ability to support their families and pensions, Blumberg said. Moreover, as a teacher herself, Blumberg feels there is a need to raise the quality of teachers and the way people look at Jewish teachers.
As often happens when Jews try to organize, the organizers here are already encountering disagreements. Sattell said she has the sense that the needs of day school and of supplementary school teachers are different.
Laura Greene, a long-time teacher at Congregation Shalom, said she also perceives a division in the people who have met so far (about a dozen, according to Blumberg) between those who look at their [teaching] work as community service, as a mitzvah and those regarding it as a profession.
Sattell insists that this organization not be considered a union because were not about making trouble and because she has faith that this community has the foresight to see that if you want good teachers, you need to pay them a living wage. (Cohn wanted to say respectable wage.) But Greene said, I see nothing wrong with a union.
Greene also admitted to being a cynical voice about the new organization. She said the former Milwaukee Association for Jewish Education attempted to start a similar group years ago, but it fell on its face because promises were broken and its hard to restore confidence after an experience like that.
But Greene acknowledged that while the people interested to date may not agree on the emphasis of the new group, they do agree on whats important. And she believes that doing it Lisas way is more likely to be successful.
For more information, call (414) 352-0760.