Q&A with Rabbi Noteh Glogauer: Schools are missing the mark

Rabbi Noteh Glogauer believes schools need to become child-focused institutions.

Rabbi Noteh Glogauer, a South African native who grew up in Calgary, has immersed himself in both the Jewish and public education system in Canada, the United States, and Australia since he was in his 20s. Following his latest stint as headmaster of a private school in Sydney for nine years, Rabbi Glogauer, 47, recently moved with his family to Toronto, and is promoting the release of his book titled Never Give Up: A Journey from Class Clown to School Principal.

Rabbi Glogauer, who describes the book as both a memoir and a guide for educators, spoke to The CJN about his journey from being a not-so-observant Jewish immigrant in Calgary who cared more about playing sports and getting laughs from his peers to becoming an ordained rabbi and school principal who committed to improving the education system from the inside out.

What can readers expect from your book?

My book chronicles moving from the educational perspective of a child/student to a parent to a principal. My educational career began in the public school system and there were a lot of challenges being in that type of environment, in a punitive, corporal punishment environment. I tell everyone that the first real stand-out moment in my life was taking religious classes – non-Jewish, Christian subjects – and getting the strap in Grade 1, and now I look back at the humour of it.

How did anti-Semitic incidents when you were a child affect your Jewish identity?

My family immigrated from South Africa to Calgary when I was seven. I went to Talmud Torah from Grade 3 until Grade 6.

The school, which had a very progressive board, tried to create an opportunity for multicultural connection, so our school joined a large public school at an outdoor camp and I write about some pretty significant anti-Semitic episodes that happened at that camp. I write about that as a student who experienced it and for the first time really had an awakening of what it meant to challenge my own Jewishness through that experience.

It was the spark for me starting to really question and understand what my role was going to be as I was growing up as a young, Jewish Canadian but also as an immigrant. From there, after Grade 6, I ended up going into the international baccalaureate French immersion program at a public school.

Fast-forwarding, going into high school, I was in Western Canada High School, which at the time was the largest public high school in Canada. I started to recognize a little bit more of my own observance and how I wanted to be growing up a little bit more Jewishly, what it meant to be wearing a yarmulke in a high school in Grade 11 and Grade 12, and being on the football team. There were more than 1,000 kids in the school, and less than a 100 Jewish kids in that school, so how was I going to still maintain a connection with my friends, and at the same time, grow Jewishly?


What was the turning point that turned you from a class clown to an educator?

I had a lot of challenges. I write about having been the class clown, because my own challenge was to understand my own identity. My brother was the academic one, so for me, a successful day was how many laughs I got in the classroom.

There was one teacher who helped me recognize my intellectual potential – it was in math, and I ended up getting a degree in math. I was almost failing out at one point in high school because I always had a different way of thinking and the school would say, “You need to answer it in the way we’re looking for or it’s wrong.” I had a teacher say, “As long as you can show me what you’re thinking and how you’re coming about it, I’ll accept it.” It was amazing, and then I made sure every single year that she was my teacher.

Did you always know that you wanted to teach in a Jewish school specifically?

One of the things I chronicle were the changes going on in education in Alberta at the time, and I just saw myself as being a teacher. My first job was at my alma mater at the high school I went to after Talmud Torah, which itself was an amazing opportunity, and I describe what it means to have been this student in the school and come back to teach there.

I had an opportunity to go to Texas, where I had my first exposure to a Jewish school as a professional educator.

I describe a lot of systemic issues that were going on in my first Jewish school, having been there as a teacher and I realize that the only way I could actually change the system from within is not through being a regular teacher because of the hierarchical systemic issues, but by becoming a principal, which would be only through obtaining my Orthodox ordination.

We moved to New York for the sole purpose of getting my ordination. While I was doing that, I had three or four incredible experiences teaching in three different schools, each very different in make-up.

There were things that happened that only solidified the idea that schools are really missing the mark. It’s not about how many we graduate, or whoever has the biggest school wins, or how many students we can pack in so we can afford to pay the salaries. Schools are missing the mark in that it is about educating the individual and moving away from the financial challenges and creating a child-focused educational institution.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I want to empower parents to develop the tools to know what questions to ask, to be able to identify what is the best educational institution for their kids. To be very direct, looking here in Toronto where I’ve come after living in Australia for nine years, I’ve had a chance to speak with a lot of different schools and understand the landscape of what is actually happening. There is a lot of turmoil in a lot of the schools, and there is the affordability issue, but even if we put all of that aside, the questions for the parents to ask is if the school is serving the needs of their child. It’s not just about the academics. There are all those other intangibles to make sure that the child is nurtured, understood and has the ability to recognize their individual talents so the children themselves can grow and have their future set in front of them with those doors of opportunity opened.