At the end of my first year teaching (many years ago), Ms. M. (z”l), a master Jewish Day School teacher, asked me to come to her house so she can give me all of her teaching treasures as she was retiring that year.
It was a visit that felt like a passing of the baton, or the fire from one torch to the other — from one teacher to the next generation of Jewish educators. She gave me so many materials, ideas, strategies and advice, some I still use to this day.
It is time to share this knowledge and pay it forward….
Here are some secrets for every Jewish Day School teacher:
1. Establish a set routine in you lessons or daily plan. קבע is a familiar Jewish practice…. Use it in your classroom! Prepare a scheme and plug your lessons into it.
For example: my 2nd grade Hebrew class start with the TORAN תורן doing his/her job- leading the class with reciting the date, weather, season and doing some housekeeping chores like exchanging library books, getting the computer ready, setting up the pencils containers on the tables and preparing the daily activities. Then we go into our 10 minutes of small group activities. When the timer rings, we clean up, get on the carpet and get an instructional lesson for about 10 -15 minutes and the rest of the time we spend working in our pods, in our books or work pages.
I make sure at the end each class to verify learning by asking a closing question and have an exit routine as well.
To this plan I insert the activities I choose in order to achieve the purpose of my lesson.
The students love it, because they know what to expect and I love it because my students feel safety and stability which results in productive learning that will stay with them for life.
2. When you have a discipline or behavior issues with students, always refer to Jewish characters as an example for correction (“if you where king Solomon what would you do now?”) and use Jewish phrases like ואהבת לרעך כמוך for inspiration.
Make your lesson so interesting and fun that sitting out because of misbehaving will be the last thing a student wants.
Your low and calm voice level is the secret to get results with discipline.
When students really get you frustrated, imagine the students grandparents standing there, loving this student regardless of what they did, amused by their presence and kvelling because their grandchild is the most amazing person in the world. After feeling that, talk to the child. You will be surprised how well your efforts turn out when your starting point is love and unconditional acceptance.
3. Visit other teachers classes and learn from them.
I can tell you for certain, that I have learned the most about being an affective teacher from other teachers. I look for master teachers that has a lot of experience and that students love and ask to come and observe. I set it up as a compliment for the visited teacher and a learning opportunity for me, with the Jewish value of הכנסת אורחים , rather then a critique.
Of course, I reciprocate often and with pleasure because my best “teacher tricks” are “borrowed” from other educators.
4. Be organized and well prepared for each class. SEDER סדר literally means order…. It is not just for Passover, it’s for every school day.
Have a detailed lesson plan, prepare all the items you need and save your notes from year to year. This secret will make your life easier and will free more time for you to get even more creative year after year.
Each year I find myself using last years plan as a base and adding and improving upon it…. Professional growth that benefits your students and your institution.
5. Learn from your students! As it says in תלמוד בבלי
“הרבה למדתי מרבותי, ומחבירי – יותר מרבותי, ומתלמידי – יותר מכולן”
From my teachers I learned a bunch, more so from my peers, but most I have learned from my students.
This final secret is super important: develop an awareness to listen, learn from, and notice your students. Find meaning and humor in your interactions. Ask lots of questions…. The answers will give you great clues as to how to teach your group and will make you the best Jewish teacher you were meant to be.
Shira’s series was created using this secret…. It takes teaching to the “next level”– creating out of a calling.
I am working on reminding myself what my students are teaching me this year: to pause and take photos, record anecdotes, tweet, share, breath, smile and celebrate!
TODA תודה Ms. M!
May your legacy live on!