Should I quit my job?

June 7th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

I have been listening to you for several months now and I have greatly appreciated the wisdom you share. However, I am currently struggling to apply some of it to my profession because I work at a public school.

Yes, I teach high school music in a GIC and thus am paid by the tax payers of my school district. As such, I do not have a ‘customer’ whom I serve in any direct manner. Additionally, my salary advancement is dependent upon taking more graduate and continuing education courses rather than my job performance.

That said, I try very hard to be conscientious in my work and diligent to serve my students and the community which is paying my salary. However, even I have found it difficult to be motivated at times to do my best work when I know it will make no difference in my paycheck.

I should note that I am a Christian who really believes God called me into this position five years ago, but I am not certain I should stay long term. Based on ancient Jewish wisdom, what would you recommend to someone in my situation? Should I stay in the teaching profession and attempt to counteract the ‘government indoctrination’ of which you speak? Or is my young family best served by me pursuing a different line of work?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my question!

David V.

Dear David,

We’re delighted that you have been finding value in the weekly podcast. You may have heard me (RDL) say that my job is not to massage listeners with warm butter but to tell them the truth. Since you asked this question about your professional life, we are going to show you respect by answering it honestly and directly without any sugarcoating.

You are most likely filling an important function at the GIC (Government Indoctrination Camps formerly known as public schools) where you teach. Not only are you exposing your students to music but you are also, we are confident, exposing them to an excellent example of a Christian man.

However, while you are doing your students some good, as the years go by you will probably not be doing the same for yourself or your family. There are a number of reasons why this is so and you have articulated one of them. (We are going to be incredibly non-politically-correct now and note that we are writing this answer for you as a man, husband and father. We would give a different answer to a woman, wife and mother.) When increasing your salary has nothing to do with how you perform your job, you will be very susceptible to gradual and incremental loss of self respect. As an honorable man you will strive to give your best at your job, but already you are beginning to feel the lack of motivation. As your family responsibilities grow along with your economic needs, you can already see the writing on the wall that will relegate your teaching to what energy you have left over. After all, your paycheck won’t change.

In addition, you will almost inexorably find yourself drawn to political positions that will selfishly serve you even if they hurt the community, such as increased taxation for teacher pensions and anti-charter school activity. As you claim more benefits through your job it will sometimes be at the cost of hurting the students and their families. Please understand, we never blame anyone for acting in their best economic interests as long as they act morally and honestly.  But we are questioning whether placing yourself in such a situation for the long term is in your best interests.

There is another problem that you didn’t mention. Your livelihood is not secure. Should budget cuts be necessary and the system cuts back on arts education you will be left high and dry. You are relying on others to ensure that you are employed rather than taking control of your future. Additionally, at the moment, you are basically being paid a wage dependent on your being in a certain place at a certain time. There is no way to grow that algorithm by having others work for you or by earning money when you aren’t on call. We believe every man should try and adjust his circumstances to be in business rather than being merely an employee.  In your case, we aren’t sure whether that might mean starting to develop a private music instruction business on the side or something else quite different.  But we encourage everyone, even the person pouring your coffee at the corner coffee shop, to consider himself to be an entrepreneur in the beverage business even though he currently might have only one “customer” for his services, namely his employer.

Lastly, have you considered what you will do if the GIC demand that you teach in a way that conflicts with your values? We can think of any number of events that the administration might want to celebrate with music that would run counter to your own ethics.

David, as you probably already know, we are ardent supporters of using some of one’s money, skills and time for volunteerism and charity. We recommend that you channel your desire to help youth into those activities.

Meanwhile, we do think you should be pursuing something (that may or may not be music related) that is more of a business rather than a position.  Growing a marriage and raising a family is ever so much easier when financial stability is part of the picture and when you respect the man in the mirror.

Keep making music,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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17 comments

Mike says:

Rabbi Lapin,

This advice is so insightful and to the point. Thank you so much for not gently messaging us in warm butter. The straight talk is much appreciated.

Faithful Listener

Steve Woodyard says:

I always enjoy reading and hearing a variety of views on many issues. Here are my thoughts on the above topic.
I am a Christian and I have been a public school teacher in Canada (British Columbia – western Canada) for 36 years – I retired June 2018 – I taught music most of my career and the last 8 years of my career I taught math. I also taught music part time for many years at a local university (Capilano University). Where I have taught, public education certainly isn’t a GIC. I had the freedom to perform a variety of music, primarily as a Concert Band and Jazz Band instructor. Some of the repertoire was sacred and there was never an issue!! When I taught choir for a brief time, much of the repertoire was sacred and I had the freedom to perform this repertoire. I also had the opportunity and freedom to discuss the text and it’s meaning, as I would any other Concert Choir or Jazz Choir selection (love songs, protest songs from the 60’s, etc.). My colleagues whose area of expertise was choral would also do the same – at music festivals this was also true. There was only ONE time when performing sacred literature at Christmas was an issue, in the many 100’s of concerts in which my students performed. As long as I wasn’t proselytizing, there was never an issue. Frequently I could tell which of my students could relate to the spiritual truths expressed in music by their response when we would be discussing the text. And it wouldn’t be unusual for my students to be curious as to the deeper meaning of the text. This has been my experience as well the experience of the many music educators with whom I have taught or worked with.
Another reason public education isn’t a GIC, is that bullying has become unacceptable. Public school is a much safer place than what it used to be when I went to school. In one public school I attended when I lived in Seattle as an early adolescent I was called a homo because I was involved in music and was beat up a couple of times because of what I was called. I learned to defend myself but there was still an element of fear when I went to that particular school. Fortunately, bullying is now not tolerated and is certainly discouraged.
Regarding being remunerated for a good performance as a teacher, how does one measure good performance? Is it from provincial (or state wide) test results? As in many jobs, measuring who is doing a good job can be difficult, and can easily become too subjective. This isn’t to say that a job performance review is a bad thing. Its just very difficult to do well. In many entrepreneurial kinds of jobs, an individual might be an excellent worker, but might not be remunerated according to his/her production. This might be due to a lack of competence on the part of one’s manager. It isn’t unusual to have someone in a managerial position in the private sector because of who he/she knows – not because of a high level of competence. There is dishonesty, incompetence and a lack of integrity in all types of work, and in many instances people are not properly remunerated for quality work.
Also, regarding remuneration, there is both the extrinsic (being paid) and the intrinsic remuneration (the gratification of doing a good job – which I did all of my career – most of my colleagues did the same). I have also worked as a musician and I saw that sometimes musicians would get hired again for performing well. On the other hand, I observed some would get hired because of who they knew.
Finally, there has been so much research over the last 30 years as to how students and people in general learn. There has been research on the different kinds of intelligences, the various learning difficulties students might have, as well as adolescent development. Education is in a much better place than it was in previous decades. There is so much more I could write here, but the public schools and universities in which I have taught were not GIC’s. This may the case in other jurisdictions in North America, but certainly not where I have taught.
Steve Woodyard

David Altschuler says:

Might there be a few other factors to add into this problem, while granting the strength of every point offered so far?
1. How old is David? If he’s in his late 40’s, he is in line for a secure retirement pension in 15 years the likes of which most people no longer consider possible. This would allow him to help his children out or, at a minimum, not have to call upon for help in old age.
2. Is his personality, and that of his wife, more or less suited to the risks of starting a business or working for somebody for whom competence is an indicator of success but so might be many other less objective factors: Relatives of the owner, Hi-tech running the business down, etc.
3. Does he live in a large city with other opportunities?
4. Does he live in a wealthy city, where the music dept. is more secure than in larger, poor school districts?
5. Is it right to consider at all what will be with the students without even one teacher who sees past the bureaucratic leftist union mentality?

Steve says:

Exactly what I needed to read today! I too work in the GIC or public schools. Today is especially difficult and I feel less fulfilled each day. I am trying to get my business off the ground. I wish David luck in his endeavor.

Marie-Anne Harkness says:

I would appreciate hearing your response if the question came from a woman of childbearing age or empty nesters.

Julie Hungerman says:

Certainly you did a year of student teaching, and knew precisely what you were facing before you took this job. Why did you not think ahead and consider all of your possibilities before this? Teaching jobs in music are not that plentiful. You were very fortunate to attain one. Being an entrepreneur of your own business, whatever it may be, requires you to buy your own health insurance and file your own taxes. You are never really “off duty.” You cannot be forced to teach music in a public school that conflict with your values. On that subject, how can the way you teach music conflict with your values? I am very interested in knowing what you face. Have you investigated laws pertaining to this thoroughly? Right now, your family is top priority, as is the health of your family. Another option to consider is to maintain your self respect and supporting your family by furthering your education in music via a masters or doctorate in a music related field. This will afford you more of a variety of opportunities in the future.

Judi says:

“On that subject, how can the way you teach music conflict with your values?”

Maybe not the WAY he teaches but rather WHAT he teaches. Suppose one day he’s required to showcase homosexuals? Or have his students play accompanying music for a homosexual play? (I’m assuming that, as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is a sin.) What recourse would he have? Either be forced to do it, or quit his job.

Or what if the school wants music that venerates satan? (Please note: I intentionally don’t capitalize his name. )

There are a number of things that might conflict with his beliefs.

Flayer says:

Perhaps you might be called upon to put on a program that “celebrates diversity” which will be defined as celebrating homosexuality, transgenders, sexual deviancy in general or the forbidding of teaching the Christian roots of the music you adore. I was a substitute teacher in a quite conservative town in Massachusetts but even there in the schools I had to listen to such garbage spewed from official scripts such as equating Martin Luther King to Elderidge Cleaver or Malcolm X and others like them, one advocated peaceful change and racial equality based on character vs violent racism and the justification of rape of white women. I confronted the woman who had to read the “script” to students about how she could lie knowingly. She shrugged and said that well they had the “same goals” to which I said, “No, they didn’t and YOU know it.” She was just doing her job. These are the death by a thousand cuts and it is immoral and harmful. These are constant compromises that teachers must make that will kill the soul and have NOTHING to do with education but everything to do with the ideology of the teachers’ unions and Big Ed who are now in the classrooms and not just in their contractual work agreements. Thank you for the very insightful yet painful answer to the question.

Lori says:

I am a substitute teacher trying to help make ends meet for my family (while also being a homeschool’n mama). I can testify to the internal struggle that is felt in the various classrooms where I find myself. Conflicted,
Lori

A. Hoffman says:

Rabbi, Please bear with me.What happens to the disabled when the hearts decide we are not viable form of life? The reduced ability to perform common task makes the getting even a little more than a little tough. A reward for effort, or such, is decided by appearance.
Could I suggest a gleanings…? Your telling the teacher to use his skills is good, and still , some form of method by system of law is sharp. Yes?

Sixto says:

Rabbi Lapin,

Such a wise response, better than gold! Thank you for this insightful advice. Many more can apply it to their lives. Thank you for not being politically correct!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Sixto–
Thanks so much
Cordially
RDL

Phuc D says:

I have carefully read all of your answers. I love your advice “…we encourage everyone…to consider himself to be an entrepreneur…” It’s so inspiring.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks so much!
Cordially
RDL

Paul Elder says:

Dear Rabbi, I am 73 and have been retired. My Mother used to say, “You think you are busy now, wait until you retire”. You say there is no Hebrew word for retirement, I feel there is none in mine either. May you & yours be richly blessed.

Scott says:

I have dealt with this conflict as well. I am an active member of my church and an elementary special education teacher in Ohio. I have taught for 4 yrs, and I am 42yrs old. My area of Ohio is economically poor and most “good-paying” jobs here are sadly government-provided. Additionally, I refused to join the teachers union during my first three yrs of teaching but reluctantly joined after considering the financial effect on my family in the event of being sued (*male, special education, elementary). I am very opposed to the teachers unions and their financial support of Planned Parenthood and support of political candidates and causes. I have searched for alternative legal protection.

My wife (also an elementary special education teacher) and I see our professions as ministries to our hurting community. We have taken on multiple roles as counselors and mentors for some children and parents.

During our extended breaks we use our time to spend with our three children (8 yrs, 4yrs, and 5 months), and I help maintain the grounds and facilities at our church and Christian school. We feel very blessed to serve in this capacity.

However, I know there is more to be done and areas that I need to pursue and grow in and help our private school (which our two older children attend) become more successful.

Thank you for your tv show and your weekly teachings!

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for the ‘boots on the ground’ narrative, Scott. You are right that by being a member of the teachers’ union (as well as many other unions), your money gets used to support agendas that often run counter to your values.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

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