Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Who will teach Religious School?

Last Spring, I participated in a panel convened by JESNA to discuss its recently released study of Educators in Jewish Schools.

The report confirmed what we had all already suspected - that just as Religious Schools are finally being taken seriously by the Jewish world, and as we are starting to see increased investment in their success, we are facing a teacher shortage. This may not sound like new news: After all, since at least as far back as the 60s we have heard that there are not enough qualified teachers to go around. What has changed is that now its becoming harder to find people who even WANT to teach in a Religious School (or a Day School), qualified or otherwise. JESNA cited all the reasons you would expect - low salaries, a general lack of respect for the position, and so on. Another segment of the panel presentation is posted here, in which I express my concerns about competition between institutions for a shrinking number of qualified professionals and note the trend towards individuals working as "home tutors" rather than school teachers.

Here is my favorite section of the JESNA report:

Teen Labor. These are the 32% of Jews in Jewish work who first entered the sector through part time or summer jobs held during their high school and college years, and who have continued in Jewish sector work ever since. If we include those who left Jewish work for some period of time before returning, the majority (52%) of Jews working in our six Jewish communities started when they were in high school or college. Most of those who held jobs as teens were camp counselors (35% of all Jewish workers) and/or religious school teachers (27%) and/or youth group advisors (14%). Not many held internships (5%).

We regard this finding as especially significant. Camps, religious schools and youth groups are American Jewry’s primary gateway into Jewish sector work, providing Jewish communities with about half of their Jewish personnel. Although designed as educational venues to socialize children, these organizations have a substantial, perhaps unintended, consequence for American Jewish life through their role as employers of teenagers and young adults.

One idea that I'm increasingly hearing being floated is the creation of a Jewish "Teach For America," that would attract students just out of college to spend a year or two teaching in a Jewish school (Chabad, as usual, is ahead of the curve with their "roving rabbis" shlichut program, which places rabbinical students in various under served Jewish communities). While this idea is quite attractive, it would face a number of significant challenges (besides funding and organization) - most importantly, perhaps: Ensuring that the participants have not only a support network but also a peer network (teaching can be a lonely business, after all).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

With regard to your question, who will teach religious school, I'd like to suggest a new career development ladder for recruiting, developing and retaining our very best religious school teachers. This eight stage career development ladder begins in the elementary grades, and extends through undergraduate and graduate school. Here, in summary, is an explanation of the eight stages of the new career development ladder for Jewish educators.

The Eight Stage Career Development Ladder for Students and Teachers

Stage One: The tutor stage: The student tutor assists younger students who need additional assistance. High performing, knowledgeable, motivated, upper elementary school students with good interpersonal skills work with younger students to strengthen their general and Judaic academic skills (i.e. reciting the Hebrew alphabet, saying the prayers, practicing conversational Hebrew, etc.). These student tutors are trained and regularly monitored by the classroom teacher (moreh or morah) or supervisor to assess the performance and progress of the tutor and the student being served.

Stage Two: The madrich or madricha stage: The madrich or madricha is an 8th, 9th or 10th grader who is invited by a classroom teacher (i.e. the madrich teacher; refer to stage six ) to serve as a teaching assistant and role model in the madrich teacher’s classroom. The madrich teacher is expected to have received enhanced training on how to utilize the services of the madrich/madricha in order to maximize learning in the classroom.

During stage two the madrich/madricha will be mentored to perform these kinds of administrative responsibilities3: Setting up the classroom, taking attendance, collecting tzedaka; distributing supplies, books, and other materials, preparing snacks, correcting students' work; managing progress charts, preparing materials for upcoming activities, reorganizing the classroom at the end of the day; temporarily taking charge of the class if the teacher is indisposed, teaching a five minute mini-lesson to a small group or the entire class and participating in and leading portions of a prayer service.

As madrichim these teaching assistants and role models would assume these types of interactive responsibilities3: Greeting students as they enter the classroom, helping students with art projects and assisting students with class work, leading students in small-group activities, explaining transitions between activities; reading stories to the class, and mentoring students who have difficulty focusing during instruction.

The madrichim would also perform these examples of creative responsibilities3: Creating bulletin boards, making samples for upcoming art projects; developing costumes, scenery or puppets for class performances; editing student-centered newspapers and providing musical accompaniment to prayer services.

During the 11th grade selected madrichim would receive coursework in Judaics (i.e. Tanach, Jewish History, Tefilah, Hagim, Israel, Hebrew and the Middot, etc.) and Judaic-specific pedagogy (e.g. lesson planning, models of teaching, classroom management, student behavioral management, traditional and performance assessment, learning styles, multiple intelligences and reaching all students, etc.). This coursework could be taken within the regular school schedule as a service learning or mitzvah project, or be a component of a mentoring or independent study program. Alternatively, madrichim could receive this specialized instruction after school and earn college credit. For example, seniors at Barrack Hebrew Academy, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania can earn college credit through Gratz College, Melrose Park, Pennsylvania for receiving coursework in Judaics and Judaic instruction.

Stage Three: The student teacher stage: At the end of the 11th grade, a select group of madrichim who have successfully passed the coursework in Judaics and Judaic pedagogy, are invited to become student teachers during the twelfth grade. During the first semester of their high school senior year, in addition to performing the duties of the madrich/madricha, each student teacher will have an enhanced responsibility. He or she will now be observing, reflecting and doing some small group teaching in the classroom of a trained mentor teacher (see stage seven). This first semester student teaching experience is designed to prepare the teacher candidate to become a co-teacher during the second semester. Accordingly, the student teacher is beginning to acquire the knowledge base and skills to perform these kinds of teaching responsibilities: Planning lessons, determining content and curriculum (i.e. what should be taught); creating a positive classroom environment, developing multiple ways of delivering instruction and using traditional and performance assessments to determine what students have learned; managing student behavior, and collaborating with other members of the instructional staff (i.e. madrichim, co-teachers, teachers, and administrators).

Once again this student teaching experience can be folded within the service
learning, independent study, career exploration or mentoring programs all ready present at certain day schools.

Note: Selected undergraduate Jewish Study majors and Hillel students could also begin their training as Jewish educators at stage three.

Stage Four: The co-teacher stage During the second semester of
the 12th grade, if deemed successful, the student teacher is invited to
take on the role of a co-teacher; the co-teacher is a teaching intern who
will now gradually assume many of the responsibilities of the classroom teacher. Accordingly at the beginning of the second semester, the co-teacher and his/her mentor teacher will be engaged in co-planning. co-instructing and co- reflecting upon their learning activities. They may be engaged in team teaching where they alternate instructing the whole class, or may divide the class into small learning groups which each one directs. Upon successful completion of this stage, the co-teacher should receive a teaching certificate from the sponsoring institution indicating that he or she has met the requirements to teach at a supplemental school while attending college.

Again this co-teaching experience can be included within the service
learning, independent study, career exploration or mentoring programs all ready existing at certain day schools.

Stage Five: The beginning teacher stage: The undergraduate student is now serving as a moreh or morah at a supplemental school located near his or her college. Ideally he or she is being coached by a mentor teacher during this critical novice teaching period.

Stage Six: The madrich teacher stage: A skilled and seasoned moreh
or morah with at least three years of superior performance evaluations is
additionally compensated for inviting the madrich/madricha to serve as a teaching assistant, student leader and role model in his/her classroom. It is expected that the madrich teacher has received staff development training or coursework in how to mentor the madrich or madricha4.

Stage Seven: The mentor teacher stage : A madrich teacher with at least
five years of superior teaching performance evaluations will be compensated
additionally to invite and train the student and co-teacher to learn the art and
science of being a Jewish educator. The mentor teacher should have received
training in the core knowledge base of Judaics and Judaic instruction. In
addition, the mentor teacher needs to acquire the knowledge base and
repertoire in mentoring pre-service and in-service teachers (i.e. interpersonal
communication, observational techniques, clinical supervision, professional
reflection, the developmental stages of pre-service and in-service teachers,
adult learning principles, etc. ).

Stage Eight: The expert teacher stage : The expert teacher is a paid
professional who trains the moreh or morah to become a madrich teacher and
mentor teacher and coordinates a committee of madrich and mentor teachers
in the day school. The expert teacher should have extensive experience as a
teacher, administrator and/or staff developer with expertise in Judaics, and
the theory, research and best practices in instruction, curriculum
development, supervision and staff development for Jewish educators.

Those interested in more detail regarding this career development ladder, can check this web address:

Thank you,

Richard D. Solomon, Ph,D.