When I was in 7th grade we had a teacher who was probably still there only because the principal was afraid to fire her. She was in her upper seventies for sure, and her teaching style was a cross between Catholic nun and child-hater. We would regularly get lectured on how kids had no respect these days and were terrible in every way, and it wasn’t like this even twenty years ago, let alone when she was a upright and obedient little girl.
These lectures could take up a full 30 minutes, and completely eclipse Chumash class. But the next day she’d move on to the next perek as if she actually covered her material the day before, and then test us on it. If anyone tried to point out that she hadn’t actually taught the chapter, she would yell at them about how kids have no respect these days, etc.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
In 4th grade, we had a brand new Hebrew teacher. I mean, obviously she was brand new to us, but she was also brand new to teaching. She was a little bit awkward and mercurial, as brand new teachers can be, and the class tortured her mercilessly. Several times throughout the year they made her cry. (I’m leaving myself out of it, I didn’t even participate in group hazing activities.) The principal offered to relieve her of the position if she wanted, but she had the guts to see the year through to the end. I respect her for that. A classmate whispered to me that she had to; she had no choice: her teaching salary was the only thing supporting her family.
When I was in 9th grade, a classmate had a sister in 12th grade. It was a “thing” because this sister was much beloved by the principal, and my classmate was, therefore, the exact opposite. When we hit 11th grade, that older sister was back: but now she was teaching 9thgrade.
I remember being perplexed. This sister had exactly three years of education on me; five on her students. Was five years really all it took to learn enough to teach? Did all my young teachers know that little more than I did?
But, that’s kind of how it works. No, not kind of. That’s how it works. The qualifications to become a bais Yaakov teacher are minimal, especially if you’re teaching limudei kodesh. The idea is that maybe a degree in history is useful to teach history, but what degree would help you teach Chumash?
Um, well, an education degree, maybe?
Perhaps, with the salaries being offered, requiring an educational background is too much. But if that’s the case, a rigorous in-service training program and the willingness to fire the incompetent would be, well, nice.
That said, I have to pay tribute to my 7th grade science teacher.
For some reason, the school couldn’t keep a science teacher for more than a month or two. In desperation, they brought in a CPR instructor for a bit, and then a second grade Hebrew teacher who gave us optical illusions and sat and chatted with us for hours on end. She told us the administration kept getting on her back to teach science, but she was a substitute teacher, and wasn’t going to risk classroom decorum by actually trying to teach.
Finally, they yanked a former teacher out of retirement. She clearly needed the cash; she had three maternity outfits and a lone, threadbare sheitel. But she had an infectious enthusiasm for physics that piqued my lifelong interest in How Stuff Works. She taught us why airplanes fly, how washing machines get the water out, and about metal expansion.
Also, I won the paper-airplane distance race (if you leave out the girl whose airplane went out the window).
She left after only two months to have her baby and we all mourned. But she left me with an indelible thirst to learn more physics. (It isn’t covered in most Bais Yaakovs because it’s “too hard”). Finally, one summer in college I took a book out of the library and taught it to myself, and then switched my major to engineering.
I have no idea what her name was or where she came from, but she is one of the few Bais Yaakov teachers of whom I have only fond memories.