The Much-Needed Judaics Teacher Already at Your School

Many Jewish day schools have excellent general studies teachers who are also engaged and interested members of their Jewish communities. These teachers have proven classroom teaching skills, are committed to the school’s mission and values, and understand the community and the students, but they may not yet have a strong enough Jewish content background to teach Jewish studies classes. What if these teachers could be intensively taught the content and Jewish text skills they need, paired with content-specific pedagogy, so that they could transition, in part or in full, to teaching Jewish studies at their schools? 

The new GS2JS (General Studies to Jewish Studies) program of the Pardes Center for Jewish Studies aims to achieve just this. Over roughly 18 months, the program, which is currently being piloted, will work intensively with general studies teachers who are already working in Jewish schools to provide them with the content knowledge, text skills, pedagogic techniques and resources they need to bring their talents effectively into the JS classroom. The program consists of:

  • Weekly 1-on-1 virtual content havruta-ing (with an experienced mentor and content expert) to prep the texts and topics the participant will likely be teaching at the school in the coming academic year.
  • Filling Jewish literacy gaps through independent literacy readings customized for each participant.
  • Content-specific pedagogy tutorials to help teachers gain specific skills, such as how to foster multiple interpretations of a pasuk, utilizing havruta study effectively and using bibliodrama. 
  • Participation in the three-week Pardes Summer Program (funding permitting), which includes immersion in the Pardes community, beit midrash text study, educational trips around Jerusalem and working in person with a mentor.
  • Virtual mentoring to get support in curriculum development, lesson planning and assessment design.

The program is structured flexibly to meet the content and scheduling needs of each participant, since much of the work takes place one-on-one. Learning begins in the winter of the academic year before the educator starts teaching Jewish studies, and work with a mentor continues through the summer after the first year of having transitioned to the JS classroom (roughly a year and a half in total). Paired with the Pardes Summer Program, the summer in between the start of the program and the move to teaching Jewish studies presents an opportunity to intensify work with the teacher’s mentor/havruta and focus on both deeper content study and Hebrew skills acquisition (if needed), at the participant’s chosen pace, as well as work to prep materials—unit outlines, lesson plans, assessments, classroom materials—for the upcoming school year. 



Of course, three-way communication between the mentor (program), the supervising administrator and the participant is crucial to the success of the participant’s transition to Jewish studies. Setting mutually agreed upon goals, identifying what content study to prioritize, understanding the school’s approach and vision for its Jewish study classes, and ongoing input and feedback from the administration are all important factors for maximizing the growth of the teacher through the GS2JS program. 

Finally, it is worth noting that schools would have the flexibility to determine the size of the JS teaching load the GS2JS participant takes on initially. Depending on the participant’s abilities, some might commit to a full JS load, while others may only take on the teaching of one or two JS classes during the program, while they continue to teach their regular content area. GS2JS can help them bridge the transition, which may take a few years.


Tailoring Professional Development to General Studies Teachers

Why is PCJE confident that we can turn a GS teacher into a JS teacher in 18 months? The idea emerged from our Mentor Matching program. We had worked successfully with several educators at three different day schools, whose administrators approached us because the teachers had decided to transition from teaching general studies to teaching Jewish studies and wanted our support. Our mentors designed a tailored content study curriculum for their mentees, focused on text skills, worked on building up their JS classroom teaching toolkit, introduced them to a variety of useful resources, guided them in setting suitable learning goals for their students and gave feedback on newly designed lesson plans. All of these seasoned teachers who transitioned to JS stayed in the JS classroom upon completion of their mentoring sessions. The GS2JS program enabled PCJE faculty to take the kinds of training they had used with budding Jewish studies teachers and channel their expertise to a slightly different population.

We’ve worked to integrate lessons learned from our initial work into the GS2JS program design and its components.

  • Discovering that the particular habits of mind that are most helpful when approaching the teaching of Jewish texts or topics—such as the value of questioning, the search for multiple interpretations, finding relevance in ancient texts—don’t necessarily come naturally to even seasoned classroom teachers and often need to be modeled and made explicit by mentors. But they can be learned.
  • Content-specific pedagogy is important to explore because not all of the techniques that work well in a social studies or English class will be as effective in a Chumash or Mishnah class. Mentors in the program need to integrate the “how this will be taught” conversations with the “what will be taught” learning. Especially because participants in this program are experienced, they are likely to default to familiar teaching strategies. Some of those habits may need to be broken.
  • When exploring online Jewish content resources with mentees, a focus on identifying hashkafic suitability is valuable, as it is not necessarily obvious to an educator less familiar with these sources. 
  • Administrative clarity, in advance, on what they want their teacher to achieve and focus on during their participation in the program will greatly increase the impact and preparedness of the participant to take on their first JS classes. 



To continue our learning and to gather additional useful information that might inform the design and improvement of the program, we reached out to over a dozen day school administrators in the field to get their thoughts and input on GS2JS. The reactions, unsurprisingly, were as diverse as the schools themselves. Some replied that they would be quite keen to have a GS teacher at their school participate and thought they had someone interested on their faculty. A head of JS in the Midwest thought this program would be a good way to invest in a teacher’s professional growth while maintaining their talent and experience at the school. 

Other administrators responded to our query by raising important issues and questions for consideration. A middle school administrator from New York noted that they simply do not have a suitable general studies teacher on staff who would be able or willing to take on JS teaching. Several other schools noted that their JS classes are taught Ivrit be-Ivrit, so this program almost certainly would not work for them. A K-8 school rabbi raised the issue of not having the budget to financially compensate a participating teacher, something he thought necessary to incentivize the amount of time and effort entailed. A vice-principal in Toronto wondered if it might be more effective to transition Hebrew teachers to the JS classroom, rather than general studies teachers. 


Considerations for Program Design


We recognize that the GS2JS program won’t work for everyone, and we have more to learn about how to make it most impactful for schools and practical for participants. We are also asking ourselves some important questions as we begin to expand the program during the next academic year.

  • Should we establish some kind of minimum Jewish text skill level or Jewish content background for participants before they start the program? Or should we rely entirely on the schools to determine the suitability of their teachers for this kind of professional switch?
  • How do we ensure that we are setting achievable goals for the participants within the parameters of the program? How do we account for the fact that what will be realistically attainable for one participant might not be for another?
  • What strategies can we and the school employ to minimize the chance of teacher burnout? How can we ensure participating in the program feels enriching rather than overly demanding? 
  • How, where and when will teachers continue their Torah learning after completing the program? Should alumni of the program be invited back to learn in the Pardes Summer Program? What are the other suitable learning opportunities that ought to be encouraged for program alumni?
  • Can PCJE raise the funds to provide stipends for the participants to recognize them for their time and tremendous efforts? How would financial compensation impact interest in GS2JS and the numbers who participate in the program?

We have more to learn as we continue to build and run the GS2JS program; we invite you to help us continue this conversation by addressing any of the issues or questions above or by raising new ones for consideration. If you are interested in sharing or participating, please be in touch with my colleague Reuven Margrett ([email protected]). 

We hope that this program will provide the schools for whom this program is suitable—and who are lucky enough to have a suitable and interested teacher on their GS faculty—with enough support, structure, legitimacy and confidence to help this GS2JS participant grow into a skilled and confident Jewish educator.

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Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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