Rabeeya, the director of educational services for the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education of Greater Philadelphia, is attempting to "professionalize the profession" by encouraging Hebrew-school teachers to take classes and gain credits toward becoming licensed teachers.
Currently, Pennsylvania law does not require teachers at religious institutions to be certified by the state department of education.
Rabeeya, however, would like the Jewish community's teachers to seek certification through ACAJE's Dr. David Horowitz Greater Philadelphia Community Board of License.
The program is an affiliate of the National Board of License for Teachers and Principals of Jewish Schools in North America.
Even though Hebrew school teachers may only teach for a few hours per week, Rabeeya said that ACAJE "wants to enhance their professionalization. Life-long learning is a Jewish value and a Jewish tradition. What is changing is how to get there."
To help promote the plan, ACAJE officials are working directly with schools – sitting in on faculty meetings and offering stipends for teachers – in the hope that congregations will encourage their teachers to further their educations.
"You have to create a culture where you say [continuing education] is not a choice, it's expected," said Rabeeya.
An added incentive might be the possibility of increased pay for the hours that teachers put into earning their certification.
ACAJE, explained Rabeeya, developed a pay scale – implemented by one-third of the area's Hebrew schools – that awards more money to those with more college- and graduate-level credits.
"A teacher's salary should reflect the hours teaching the students, preparation, contact with parents, faculty meetings, as well as the experience and training that they have," said Rabeeya. "Salaries should reflect all of their responsibilities."
Although this educator admits that the pay scale is too expensive for some schools, she does believe that it offers a financial guideline that schools can follow.
"The schools want to be in-sync with each other," she said.
ACAJE also offers stipends for teachers who complete its professional-development programs, such as workshops or conferences. The organization plans to soon raise the stipend to $100 for eight hours; support for it comes from the Norma Furst Personnel Initiatives Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
'Like a 101 Course'
One of the qualifying workshops – called Giborim ("leaders" or "heroes" in Hebrew) – trains novice teachers by addressing the fundamentals of creating lesson plans and conveying ideas to their classes, as well as trying to understand the culture of today's youth.
"It's like a 101 course," said Rabeeya – "an introduction to teaching."
Speaking more generally, she added that she hopes that the idea of continuing education will encourage both teachers and schools to assess "where they are strong and where they need to grow."