A New Model For Jewish Teacher Training: Bridging the Worlds of Jewish and Public Education

Reference: The Jewish Educator

‘NewCAJE’s Online Journal’

December 12, 2011

By Rebecca Shargel and Hana Bor

As professors of Jewish education, we knew that we had an enormous opportunity at Towson, the largest teachers college in Maryland, which has a faculty of over 100 professors. Not only would we enjoy the multiple resources of a large state university while preparing students for careers in the Jewish world, we knew that we could also find ways to create bridges between our students and those students preparing to work in public schools. These bridges would broaden the context of our students’ learning and give them an appreciation of how Jewish and general education could mutually benefit each other.

In our new home, we knew that some of our courses would remain relevant only to Masters of Jewish Education students, such as those relating to the pedagogy of teaching Bible or Jewish holidays. Yet we also seized a golden opportunity. We could reinvigorate our existing model by broadening the scope of some classes to appeal to both Jewish educators and public educators. We asked ourselves this question: Which courses would appeal to both Masters of Jewish Education students and public education students? Which content areas could produce the most fruitful dialogue between the two populations?

We realized that there were at least three areas of mutual interest: ethics, the Holocaust, and Israel. Given these common interests, we could introduce a new model of Jewish education courses that included the nexus of Jewish and secular educational approaches. While other universities could provide occasional intercultural dialogue by hosting occasional programs to bridge two different schools, at Towson we could facilitate these dialogues consistently within the walls of our College of Education.

With this in mind, Hana developed a course on the pedagogy of the Holocaust, which includes tools for teachers from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds and equally meets the needs of both Jewish and public school educators. This course emphasizes the importance and personal relevance of the Holocaust in terms of culture, civic organization, and personal behavior. It calls upon the students to explore resources available to teachers and administrators to develop curricula and less on plans, while addressing the challenges in both studying and teaching the Holocaust. The course engages both public school and Jewish teachers with hands-on experiences, such as meeting survivors; guest speakers; a trip to the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC; and online dialogues. It also enables teachers to customize their teaching methods to translate statistics into personal stories, analyze history through a cross-curricular approach, and explore concepts of Holocaust studies, including anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination that confront multiple populations.

In addition, Rebecca developed a course on ethics in education, Moral Questions in the Classroom (named after Katherine Simon’s book). This course appealed to both students of Jewish and general education, who understood how competing approaches, inculcating children with traditional values or fostering moral decision-making, could work within either setting. Moreover, students enjoyed debating the veracity of competing theories of moral development, i.e., Kohlberg vs. Gilligan and considering how gender plays a factor in children’s interactions. To apply theories to practice, students presented mini-lessons to each other to receive critical feedback. Last semester bore a particularly fruitful dialogue as students taught each other stories, some of which represented their respective faith traditions. A Reform student engaged her classmates in a debate over how the laws of property damages in the Bible relate to today’s situations; an Orthodox student told a Hasidic story; and a Lutheran student story shared a story of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament. Students enjoyed hearing the richness of each other’s traditions and comparing the didactic values of each story. They appreciated the wide range of beliefs undergirding these stories and understood where their ideologies converged and diverged.


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