Are Jewish Teachers Becoming Extinct?
KESSER TORAH ROY STEINMAN
After more than 38 years in Jewish Education (25 of them as Principal of four Jewish Day Schools, in Australia and in South Africa) I can say with confidence that the most important factor in determining the successful education of our children, is the classroom teacher. And today, more than ever before, the teacher is an “endangered species” - along with the panda bear and the white rhino. It is the teacher who can and will impact the students in our schools in ways that will reverberate into each child’s future, well into adulthood - indeed, in many cases for the rest of that child’s life. For Jewish education to be successful - even transformational - more than state - of - the - art buildings, resources and “smart” technology, we need to ensure that those who teach our children, both in General Studies and even more so, in Jewish Studies, are passionate, highly skilled and intensely dedicated educators. It was Henry Adams who said that “a teacher affects eternity. You never know where his/her influence really stops”. When I stand in front of a class of Jewish children, whether at assembly, or in my English class, I don’t just see them – I see their grandchildren. We teach, not just for the present, but for the future. Certainly, when I reflect on the very successful results of our Jewish Day School graduates, I am more touched by the inspirational letters and cards that Year 12 students write to their teachers, thanking them, not only for helping and motivating them to achieve the excellent
results they did in the HSC, but thanking them for those life lessons they were taught that transcended the classroom. Inspiring teachers don’t just motivate – they transform. They guide and nurture their students out of their comfort zones by helping them discover greater dimensions of themselves. The greatest challenge to Jewish education, I believe, is not “affordability issues” even though this is certainly something that as a community we need to address in a proactive, creative and bold manner. While the cost of Jewish education needs to be very much on the communal agenda if we are serious about issues like continuity; Jewish identity and assimilation, the crisis in recruiting Jewish teachers (and not just anybody - but passionate, knowledgeable and inspired Jewish teachers) is the single most critical factor in our ability to provide the kind of education needed to transcend the present and impact the future. While each school needs to clarify for itself those specific “Jewish outcomes” that need to be achieved, in order to produce a certain minimum standard of “Jewish literacy, knowledge, skills and experience”, however, as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once said: “There is a critical body of knowledge that needs to be learnt. If less than that is taught, it is as if nothing has been taught.” Moreover, we need to find creative and innovative solutions, to improve both our recruitment and our retention of Jewish teachers who will “make the difference” to our children both inside and beyond the classroom.
One never stops learning THE NORTH SHORE SYNAGOGUE We have a choice in life, we have goals and ambition. We hold expectations for ourselves and our family members. What paths will we follow from formal education to informal learning? At many points in our life we reaffirm the decision to live as Jews. We hope that as our children grow their Jewish identity will develop and that they will share our values. First come the brit or naming ceremony as the child is welcomed home into an environment surrounded by Jewish symbolism, home practices and rituals. Jewish holidays are celebrated. As the child approaches Bar and Bat Mitzvah this is a significant learning phase. A study program set by the Rabbi provides an understanding of religious practices and synagogue protocols. One becomes a
member of a community. As the years roll by, formal learning leads to a career until a prospective marriage partner appears on the scene. Then under Rabbi’s guidance the responsibilities towards the partner is discussed as are the traditional wedding practices. The opportunities to expand our knowledge, learning for pleasure is ongoing. The Rev. Katz Library holds a large selection of wonderful books which cater for many tastes and interests, from Jewish religious topics to culinary interests or fiction by Jewish writers. Weekly shiurim lead to interesting discussions. Equally guest speakers are invited. They may appear as sole presenters who may address a wide range of topics or may participate as a member of a panel. One never stops learning.
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