HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Training Students to Become Jewish Educators
Many college students hold teaching positions in Jewish supplementary schools. These eager young people are enthusiastic, have fresh ideas about Jewish education, and are instant role models for younger students. They build their resumes with real work experience in a field they may enter in the future and earn salaries well above what their friends are earning for what seems to be far fewer hours. A more perfect match could not be possible. So, what is the problem?
The overriding message to the wider community is that there are no “real” requirements beyond personal experience to enter the field of Jewish education.
Too often, the majority of these students have little preparation for this endeavor other than their own experience as young students in a religious school classroom. Lacking the pedagogic foundation for their work, they may flounder unnecessarily. Once hired and on the job, there may not be any training to fill in those gaps. In a worst case scenario, if the experience has been less than enjoyable and fulfilling, that young person will not likely seek another teaching position. This experience may reinforce every negative memory they themselves have had in a similar environment. In addition, the overriding message to the wider community is that there are no “real” requirements beyond personal experience to enter the field of Jewish education.
JESNA’S recently released Educators in Jewish Schools Study (EJSS) empirically demonstrates what Jewish school administrators have known for quite awhile, namely that
there is currently a shortage of fully qualified educators in Jewish day and complementary schools in North America. If current trends continue, we may face a critical teacher shortage (in terms of absolute/actual number of teachers) in the next 10 to 20 years… [W]ithout a sufficient pool of qualified educators it will be impossible to create and deliver the effective, innovative Jewish education that Jewish community leaders and parents are demanding and that the Jewish community needs to develop and thrive.
The recent upsurge in communal recommendations and initiatives to improve recruitment and retention of professionals to enter the field of Jewish education responds to this issue. In particular, pre-service programs which encourage young people to enter the field offer a practical response to the issues mentioned earlier. While most of these initiatives are relatively recent, Gratz College, as the first trans-denominational Jewish college in the United States, boasts a long history of preparing high school students for careers in Jewish education and other positions of Jewish communal leadership.
Since the inception of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College (JCHS) over 20 years ago, JCHS has offered a Teaching Certificate Program which has graduated well over 1000 students. These students must fulfill core requirements in Hebrew and Judaica, as well as a college-level Introduction to Jewish Education course. Since JCHS is a division of Gratz College, academic credit is offered for all courses, and Community Teaching Certificates have the integrity of being part of a serious program of academic studies.
We consistently receive feedback that our Teaching Certificate recipients have been tremendous assets as teachers in religious schools nationwide. It is not surprising that a good number of these undergraduate students have ultimately chosen career paths in Jewish education and communal service.
Of particular interest to readers of HaYidion is JCHS’s 20+ year relationship with the Barrack Hebrew Academy (formally Akiba) in suburban Philadelphia. These students have received a stellar Jewish education at Barrack and as such have fulfilled the Judaica and Hebrew requirements for the Community Teaching Certificate. At Barrack, the yearlong Introduction to Education course is offered to seniors as an extracurricular course under the auspices of JCHS. While the students take the course on-site at Barrack, they connect with local synagogues for the course practicum. By the end of the year, these students have a sufficient familiarity with educational methodology to prepare them as entry-level teachers in Jewish supplementary schools.
The advantages of this are manifold: Students
- participate in a college-level course of study which provides a pedagogic foundation for their work.
- gain practical experience in a synagogue school setting, providing real application to their classroom studies.
- report their experiences in a supportive classroom setting, and gain crucial feedback in improving their work.
- network and share with other teens, expanding their knowledge of other synagogue environments.
- connect with Education Directors at the host synagogue, who may then provide guidance and recommendations for work in the future.
- strengthen their pluralistic outlook, since the synagogues in which they are working represent several Judaic movements, and the students gain knowledge about how this plays out in a classroom setting as well.
- may be paid for their work in the synagogue, depending upon the custom of the community.
- are role models. By taking the education class leading to a Teaching Certificate, we make the statement that one needs to study in order to teach.
- earn a JCHS Community Teaching Certificate which is an asset for the students’ college resumé.
- may transfer the course credits earned for college credit. Colleges and universities that accept these credits are listed at www.gratz.edu/jchs.
Though the Introduction to Education course practicum, as well as the teaching experience while in college, will be in a supplementary school setting, we are setting the stage for these young people to have more meaningful and successful educational experiences which may well lead them to careers in a Jewish day school. To paraphrase the The Lion King, this can be the Jewish educational circle of life for your day school graduate! ♦
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