Mothering and the Teaching Profession

I recently met a lawyer who quit her job after the birth of her third baby. If she had to do it again she told me she would become a teacher, despite the low salary and status. She wants a profession that allows her to spend time with her children.

There is a lot of talk of making teachers more “professional” by having them work longer hours and giving them more responsibility. Yet many women choose teaching because they see it as a way to combine career and family. It’s still a big commitment; they answer phone calls from parents and must take enrichment courses. They prepare for class and attend meetings. But teaching is still much more family-friendly than law or high-tech. You get to be home with your kids during vacations and even strikes (if your union is the one striking). You’re in an environment with other mothers who understand why you can’t come in when your child is sick.

The recent (so-far-unimplemented) Dovrat reform will put all children ages 3-18 in school until 4 (or was it 5?) PM, five days a week. What about the teachers, perhaps the majority, who hoped to spend their afternoons with their children? Not every family wants both parents to work such long hours. There is an inherent contradiction that must be addressed.

Teachers deserve a good salary and respect for doing an important, extremely difficult job. Let’s not forget the needs of their families as well.


  1. I don’t know. I’m only been here a few months, but it seems to me there is ALOT of down time for the kids here. I appreciate that the teachers want the flexibility and the shorter hours, but ultimately I think its better for the kids to have the longer day. (It’s 2:00 and my daughter’s been home for half an hour already!)
    And what do working mothers who are not teachers do about the short days? So no matter what, someone’s always going to be unhappy….

  2. mominisrael says

    When you compare the number of hours your kids are in school to what they had in the US keep in mind: commuting time, the fact that the hours are spread over a six-day week, and that here they don’t have a dual curriculum. I don’t know how old your daughter is but by sixth or seventh grade they get home at 4 or 5 o’clock, at least the boys.
    As for working mothers, I guess the question is whether we send our kids to school for babysitting or not. Do we want our taxes to go to longer days to help working mothers (I’m not talking about low socioeconomic levels)? Being in school longer hours does not necessarily translate into more learning. I want more choice about what my kids will be doing with their time.

  3. mominisrael says

    MB, thanks for your comments. I agree that reliable after-work care is important for many families. Our school has a tzaharon until 4, but it is optional. Frankly, school gets out at 1:45 and the school seems a hard time finding worthwhile classes to fill the time (but that is mainly because the “mechanechet” only works 18 hours out of 34). The tzaharon includes lunch, homework and a choice of hugim (activities).
    I don’t mean to say that teachers are not dedicated to their students just because they want to raise a family while they are working. People choose professions for many reasons.
    You’re right that my views are different about how much time I want to spend with my children. That’s why I have a blog. Anyway most women in Israel didn’t use to work even until 4 o’clock; that used to be very unusual even when my older children were in gan. It’s all relative.

  4. You might not use school as babysitting or childcare, but the fact is, most women in this country do work and the school system makes it extremely difficult for them to have reliable consistent care for their younger elementary children. It’s crazy that most younger childcare options run till four, but then when first grade hits,it’s every mother for herself.
    To be honest, I know very few children who enjoy hanging around all afternoon. Which means it’s up to the mother to plan and shlep to numerous activities to keep the child occupied.
    I also think you’re ascribing a bit too much to many teachers’ proffesional choices. I know many wonderful dedicated teachers who felt a calling to teach and judging by their work, they are clearly in the right profession.
    I also know many teachers who couldn’t think of anything else to do with their lives, they wanted a paycheck and this seemed like as good a place as any to get it.
    I don’t consider working till four a clock such long hours. Picking a child up at four means there 2.5-3 hours to play and be together till bedtime. that’s not exactly getting home ten minutes before bedtime.
    You seem to have a very specific way that you like to raise your family, which is great. I don’t think the majority of Israelis share this way.

  5. I still think the day is way to short, and no I don’t need babysitting from the schools; first of all I am a full-time mom here in Israel and second of all, when and if I do go back to work my kids are old enough to let themselves in the house and be alone or go to chugim until I get home. I just think the day is to short for kids period. They need more structured learning, and I mean quality. I understand longer days don’t translate into more learning, but it should! And my kids kind of do have a dual curriculum here, because they learn science, math, history etc, plus Torah, Mishnah, Navi etc etc. It’s just more abridged here.
    I worked in a public school in NYC, as a speech teacher, so I understand where the teachers are coming from. They certainly deserve more money for the work they do. But having school until 12:30 (twice a week!) means our children are not getting educated enough…..
    And don’t get me started on class size…

  6. Regarding time off to care for sick kids (or to be sick yourself) – I was in the army for 19 years, then in Hi-Tech, and I am now a teacher. Teaching is the LEAST understanding of all three jobs regarding sick leave. A teacher who doesn’t come to school leaves 40 kids (ever hour) alone, with no one to watch them / teach them. Filling in for a sick programer is much easier.

  7. mominisrael says

    Sara–you could be right. The attitude probably depends on the boss, as in any job, but there are supposed to be substitutes.
    Baila, I have to think about what you wrote. Children in Israel hate school more than in any other country, and I think my kids can get more from their time at home. Even without hugim.

  8. While teaching isn’t for me, I think it is a great profession. There are so few professions where you can walk out of the job market and return in tact and have the time your children have off, also off.
    I think the push for greater hours is basically because parents are at work and want care. In America, frum schools run longer hours than public school and yet you still hear parents wanting kids in school for more hours because of work schedules. Some would like to see no vacations period. It is about time and, of course, money.
    Personally, I like our time to be less structured than your normal house. Kids need time to explore what they are interested in, be it building legos, reading, or learning the parsha.

  9. I tend to agree with baila- I just have a hard time understanding how children are getting a full education walking out of school at 12:30 1pm, even if they have an extra day of week at school (btw, no teacher works six days a week; they always have one day off, in rotation).
    I also agree with sara g- when I taught, being sick was the worst! i was harrassed ever day I stayed home with the flu.
    And when you say “Frankly, school gets out at 1:45 and the school seems a hard time finding worthwhile classes to fill the time” do you mean they have a hard time finding worthwhile classes UNTIl 1:45? If so, that’s a serious problem with the school.
    When I taught a bit here in Israel,it was in long day programs in the afternoons. I was amazed at how afternoons were just babysitting and entertaining kids till they could go home at 3:45, 4, sometimes run by a bat sherut. ( i sometimes taught an english class, or attempted to)
    When I went to day school in America, the afternoons were just as productive as the mornings, after a long lunch break and recess.

  10. mominisrael says

    I always thought that not having lunch is a big time-saver in terms of number of hours, but perhaps it would make the time more productive.
    I do mean that in first grade, they are limited in what they can teach because the kids can’t read yet. It gets better as they get older, at least it did with my older kids. Yet they are committed to being open until 1:45, because of teh 5-hour torani program (that we parents pay for).

  11. anonymous mom says

    Hi. Teacher here. I was intrigued by the first part of your post. Um…while it is somewhat convenient for mothers to be teachers, it is a profession after all and not everyone should be doing it. I have seen too many women and men who chose Chinuch or secular teaching because it was what they were supposed to do, not what they were good at. That said, recently in the NY area, there has been a push to recruit people from other fields like graphics design, computers to the world of education and I have met one or two of these “transfers” who are excellent teachers. Let’s not oversimplify the craft of teaching. Now, the point made earlier about teachers taking off was extremely important and valid. It is much harder for me to show up late or take off due to a sick child at home than for you. And the fact that someone would comment that that is what substitutes are for further emphasizes my earlier point which is that people do not understand the profession of teaching that well at all. I believe this is due to the fact that people have a more unique relationship with teaching than with other professions. If you are a parent and have children in school, you think you know something about the job. Alas, you do not. Ask a teacher. She/he will understand what I am saying. With regards to your Israeli schools being let out later. I have always felt that 3 P.M. around the time that Public Schools here used to get out is really best developmentally and academically for children of all ages above first grade. The younger ones here in America are being warehoused for much longer hours than they should be. And the older ones are being squeezed for days that are too long as well. None of these decisions should have anything to do with the concerns of teachers or working mothers. Ideally, they should have to do only with the developmental needs of our children.

  12. anonymous mom says

    1 o’clock is too early for elementary school children to be properly educated. I assume that Chareidim in Israel like my sister-in-law do not want their children to be properly educated. I would if I were her or you.

  13. If the school day is longer, then presumably the mom who is a teacher is still finishing work when her kids finish school.
    When I went to school we had EVERY DAY: Reading, grammar, spelling, math, social studies, science. Recess in the morning, recess in the afternoon (1/2 hour each) plus lunch (also 1/2 hour)
    3x a week we had gym, twice a week music, and once a week art.
    7 hours nicely filled if you give 15 minutes of “getting organized” in the morning

  14. mominisrael says

    I don’t think you can compare day school in the US, where you pay $10-20,000/year, to public religious school here. I don’t want to get into that argument. I agree with you here:
    None of these decisions should have anything to do with the concerns of teachers or working mothers. Ideally, they should have to do only with the developmental needs of our children. That is my point about Dovrat. Some may disagree but there is no way being in school for 8 hours meets the needs of a 3yo.
    As for teaching, it is still a women’s profession and if we want young women to choose to go into teaching we must be flexible about their family’s needs. I am sad to hear you all describe how difficult it is for teachers to take a day off for sick children. It says a lot about the way that the schools are run, if they can’t handle such a common occurrence easily. Perhaps the solution will involve co-teachers or some other such arrangement.

  15. anonymous mom says

    Typical American Yeshiva day in a good day school.
    Limudei Kodesh: daven, organize, chumash, mishna*, loshon, dikduk, yahadut/chagim/yediot klaliot, occasionally Parsha. Inserted halfway through is a 15 minute recess.
    Limudei Chol: Math, English Language/Reading skills*, literature, writing, grammar, Science–usually three times a week, Social Studies–usually three times a week
    Inserted here is a 15 minute recess and/or a gym, computers, library, music sessions.
    *age appropriate
    Again, good luck to you all.

  16. anonymous mom says

    It’s not that they don’t allow you to take off. Many of us are permitted 5-7 sick or personal days no questions asked. It is the fact that some schools pressure you to help find the sub. That if they don’t make you find the sub, you do have to provide detailed plans. You have to wipe up the mess that you find when you come back. You know that the kids at school–your other kids–are floundering if you take off one day one week for one kid and one day the next for another sick kid. You are given all Yamim Tovim and usually Isru Chag so your days are finite. Okay. That said. And once again, teaching is a teachers’ profession not a womans’ profession. People who like to teach and are good with children should enter the field. Those who are good at it should stay. And, of course, 3 year olds should not be in school for 8 hours. Many mothers over here lament the short nursery day (5 hours). I lament that they lament so much. I ran down the American day school day because I think it works well for kids above first grade. I understand that you guys don’t have that there.

  17. anonmom wrote:
    People who like to teach and are good with children should enter the field. Those who are good at it should stay.
    I agree with you 100%. However, we cannot afford to ignore the needs of those talented teachers who also have young children. Not to mention the children themselves.
    (I’ll leave the discussion about family-friendly work places in general for another time.)