Posted on August 10th, 2016

In a State of Getting Ready

August arrived! Many of us are swamped with “getting-ready-for-the-year.” Looking for teachers to fill those few remaining teaching slots. Writing curricula. Thinking about teacher meetings and parent orientations. Tying up the last weeks of summer camp and beginning to think toward next summer, before the last camper is even on the bus home. As an adjunct faculty member at the Jack H. Skirball campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, I find myself in a similar state of “getting ready.”

This time of “getting ready” has brought back childhood memories of wanting to grow up and be a teacher, just like my mother. I played a lot of “school” when I was a little girl. Ultimately, teaching was my motivation to become a Jewish educator and a rabbi.

I’ve spent the last couple weeks planning syllabi, reading and re-reading the articles and books for my courses, and, of course, writing lesson plans. It is not what I imagined my teaching would look like back when I was ten – teaching full time in an elementary school setting. It is even better! After many years of not having a regular, ongoing teaching role, I am in the classroom for the second year in a row, teaching adults in the process of themselves becoming Jewish educators and rabbis.

As I “get ready”, I find myself also reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned, or am still coming to learn as a teacher at HUC-JIR.

• Ultimately, I have to model excellent teaching for the students, as they learn through not only my words but my actions and behaviors as well. As I teach teaching (it’s very meta!) my lessons have to reflect the types of lessons that I would want my students to plan and use. This is a very high bar that I have set for myself, and one I strive to meet each and every class setting.
• The technologies necessary for learning may be different for students today. Some still come to class with a pen and a notebook for taking handwritten notes. (Yes, pen and paper are forms of technology!) All come to class with a laptop or tablet. Few print out the articles we discuss; instead they read them on their screens. This forces me to think about how I use technologies in the classroom, both old and new. Do I print out handouts or should we work collaboratively in a Google doc? Should I use prepared slides or write out important items on the whiteboard? I force myself to ask, which technology is the most appropriate one for achieving the goals of each lesson?
• My assumptions about Judaism and Jewish life are not the same as the students’. The assumptions I used to make about what Jewish life should look like in North America or which Jewish values should be most salient for our community today are not necessarily shared by the students. This is not a critical critique of the College-Institute or of emerging Jewish professionals. It is the opposite! Our world is changing, and the way we live our lives as Jews is changing along with it. My students push me to challenge my assumptions, to re-eVALUE-ate what is important for our communities today.

Teaching at HUC-JIR is a tremendous honor and blessing for me. Smart, thoughtful, and committed professional colleagues surround me. I meet passionate, wide-eyed, and inquisitive students who are eager to learn. They all help me to grow as a Jewish educator. What more could a teacher ask for?