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
This guest post is by Susan Kardos, Senior Director of Strategy and Education Planning at The AVI CHAI Foundation and a research associate at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard University. She was the Mandel Center’s first post-doctoral fellow.
This essay is drawn in part from a summary of the work of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers presented by Susan Moore Johnson and her research team at Harvard in May, and in part from a presentation given during a session called “Teachers as Learners: a Discussion Honoring the Contributions of Sharon Feiman-Nemser to Jewish Education,” at the Network for Research in Jewish Education conference in June. The author participated in both.
A little more than fifteen years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard, I came to know Sharon Feiman-Nemser, first, as a peppering of citations. I got to know her better when I was charged with creating an annotated bibliography of sources related to my interest in new teachers in public schools. It was then I read everything—article after article, chapter after chapter, book after book—and wrote summaries that would become the basis for the literature review in my thesis. Sharon’s work about teacher preparation and learning to teach was an early foundational reference for the work of The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, a Harvard-based research project addressing critical questions about the future of the nation’s public school teaching force. Sharon’s work featured especially prominently in my contributions to the project, which focused specifically on the kinds of professional cultures new teachers’ experience in their schools, especially related to collegial support, mentoring, and induction—all Feiman-Nemser specialties.
At the same time, and a world away from my thesis work, I was pursuing a line of research related to underground schools in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust and feeling a stronger and stronger pull toward building a professional home in the world of Jewish education. Imagine my surprise to find that one of my intellectual heroes was not only looking for a post-doctoral research fellow locally, at Brandeis, but was herself crossing the border to make her professional home in the world of Jewish education.
Teaching is complex work, and learning to do it well takes time. Even the most rigorously-prepared new teacher encounters a steep learning curve on the job. The first several years of full-time classroom teaching are a time of intense learning, during which teachers form the teaching habits and professional dispositions that will stay with them through their careers. Continue reading