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Beit Midrash Bet Midrash

Firing the Coach

All of us inveterate sports fans who absurdly and loyally follow the fortunes of a certain team, when that team does not do well or does not win the championship and has disappointed us, the solution to the problem always seems to be to fire the coach or manager of that team.
Rabbi Berel WeinAdar 2 5781
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All of us inveterate sports fans who absurdly and loyally follow the fortunes of a certain team that we are somehow attached to, are aware that when that team does not do well or does not win the championship and has disappointed us, the solution to the problem always seems to be to fire the coach or manager of that team.

It is clear and logical to us that the failure of the team to win the championship is not exclusively to be laid at the doorstep of the coach. The usual explanation is that the team was deficient in talent, and even the most talented teams often fail to win the championship through no fault of the coach’s decisions and strategy. The coach did his best, and perhaps even overachieved with the raw materials – the players – that he had under his tutelage. Nevertheless, the axe of blame and responsibility always seems to fall upon the head of team, no matter what.

This is undoubtedly not fair, just as we are all aware that we were never promised that life would be fair and just in all circumstances. Thus, anyone accepting the job and responsibility of coaching or managing any professional sports team knows in advance immediately upon accepting the position, that he will eventually be ignominiously dismissed and fired, for no team can forever win every year. Despite this knowledge, there always are many applicants for the position of head coach, for we are all capable of self-delusion and the belief that we are the exception to all the rules that apply to everyone else.

I use this illustration from the world of sports, which in the long run of human history is not the most important of human endeavors, but it fits the increasing trend that exists in the field of Jewish education, certainly in the United States, but has seeped into the culture here in Israel as well. I speak of the fact that anyone who volunteers or is chosen to serve as the principal of a Jewish school practically agrees in advance that he or she will be fired at some point because of the whim of boards of directors, disgruntled parents, and other social currents, that really have nothing to do with the quality of education being offered and taught at that school.

Every year, there are many capable and experienced educators who are rather summarily dismissed from their jobs as principals of schools that they have served for many years. The dissatisfaction of parents and of lay education committees which run these schools never seem to focus on the role that the parents and the students themselves play in seemingly underachievement, but rather always direct their anger and frustration at the principal of the school.

Thus, in the world of Jewish education, there is a continual game of revolving chairs that absolutely destroys any sense of continuity or tradition in any given school. It is as though every principal knows in advance that he or she is going to get fired no matter how good a job one does, when attempting to educate a very spoiled and many times disinterested student body.

I do not mean to indicate that every principal of every Jewish school is perfect. Nor do I fail to recognize that there are instances where the behavior or competence of the principal of the school certainly does warrant dismissal. However, the rate of dismissing principals of Jewish schools on a regular and continuing annual basis is disheartening. I feel that it is also counterproductive to the goals of producing a better education for the students attending those schools.

The fallout from this trend is that it certainly has made teaching or administering in a Jewish school, as a life career, much less attractive. To start with, one must be an idealist to enter the field of Jewish education. Though great improvement has been made regarding salaries and remuneration for teachers and principals in Jewish schools over the past few decades, the payment scale in the Jewish educational world still lags far behind other fields of endeavor that are open to talented Jewish young men and women starting out in their professional careers. Knowing in advance that one is likely to be fired from one's job is hardly an inducement to enter that field in the first instance. Parents and the lay leaders of Jewish schools should think carefully whether firing the coach is really the solution to what they deem to be a losing season.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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