Research shows that school contexts influence teachers’ career decisions and their effectiveness. From the mid-nineteen-seventies to the present, researchers have examined how the organizational contexts of schools support and constrain teachers and teaching. Based on extensive observations and interviews as well as large-scale surveys, a robust body of evidence challenges the belief that teachers’ career decisions and success are mainly related to the students they teach rather than the conditions under which they work.
We know, for example, that teachers who work in supportive schools stay longer and improve faster than teachers in less supportive schools. In supportive schools teachers can count on regular opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, receive feedback and instructional guidance from administrators, and experience an orderly school environment. This is especially true for beginning teachers who leave teaching at alarmingly high rates, often before they have a chance to grow into effective teachers. We know that principals play a critical role in creating these conditions.
So how do Jewish day schools stack up? Continue reading
Do we need to cultivate the inner spiritual life of our Jewish educators, as Aryeh Ben David claims? Certainly we do. But as Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld has argued in response, based on recent empirical research at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis, many teachers already bring a passion for Judaism to their teaching. Passion is not enough. What those teachers need, she continues, is “the professional development necessary to foster skilled, reflective practitioners.”
I agree with Ziva’s argument, but I’ve also been thinking recently about another aspect of the issue. Sometimes passion is not enough—but sometimes it is too much. When a teacher demonstrates passion, when a class seems to get drawn into a focus on the teacher’s persona, does that inevitably threaten the boundaries between teacher and student? Does it interfere with learning? Is it simply too dangerous? Continue reading
By Ziva R. Hassenfeld
Many believe that being a great Jewish educator is, above all, about being a passionate and spiritual Jew. But decades of education research have shown that good teachers are made, not born. Ultimately, an inspiring Jewish journey can only take an educator so far. The best Jewish educators need to have deep knowledge of how to teach as well.
Aryeh Bendavid recently argued that without the “white fire” of a teacher’s spiritual journey, the “black fire” of Jewish learning lacks intensity. This notion of teaching and Jewish studies teachers is what Jewish education scholar Alex Pomson called “the teacher as Rebbe, the oldest and most powerful archetype of Jewish teaching.” Bendavid concludes by arguing that professional development for Jewish educators should focus on cultivating their inner spiritual life.
But in research that I’ve conducted at the Mandel Center, I’ve found that Jewish studies teachers from across the Jewish educational landscape already place a high priority on their own spiritual life as a key factor for success as Jewish educators. One teacher told me, “Either you’re a teacher who’s living by this stuff, or, at the very least, you have some connection to this stuff. That’s why you’re teaching this.” He paused and concluded, “My passion for Judaism just innately comes through when I’m teaching.”
To be sure, powerful role models are a key ingredient for successful Jewish education. But being a good teacher requires much more. Continue reading
Teacher retention and effectiveness stem from a clear vision of good teaching, strong alignment between coursework and field experiences, a focus on subject matter preparation, and a year-long internship. That view is supported by a new report from the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, which finds that graduates of the DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching) Program at Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion feel well prepared for their responsibilities as day school teachers.
The report comes from the Longitudinal Survey of Day School Teachers, which has been tracking the careers of DeLeT alumni since 2007. Previous reports described graduates’ backgrounds and views of day school teaching, the factors influencing their decisions over time to stay in teaching or leave the classroom, and the opportunities and challenges they face in their schools.
Renee Rubin Ross, program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation and former Mandel Center post-doctoral fellow, contributes today’s guest post.
Through the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investments in Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), The Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, the Day School Leadership for Teaching (DeLeT) program, and the Jewish New Teacher Project, the Foundation has invested millions of dollars in educator training and support. The rationale behind this is straightforward: more well-trained and supported teachers and educators will lead to more effective and compelling learning experiences for young Jews, the central goal of the Foundation.
Strengthening teacher training and support has a number of elements, as two presentations at last month’s annual conference of the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NJRE) suggest. Continue reading