These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Developing Myself

Posted on May 21, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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Robyn (Year '08, PEP '10) is a third-year teacher.
She teaches High School Judaics at the Emory/Wiener School
in Houston, where she will continue in the fall.

EWSbcf436My name is Robyn Miller. Typically, May is not a good time to ask me about my life as a teacher. I’m about to finish my third year of teaching, although in many ways it’s been like my first (as I moved from elementary to high school teaching after year two). In May of my second “first year” of teaching, my primary goal is to make it to the finish line without permanently scarring anybody. However, with three weeks left to completing my Pardes commitment, it’s a great time to reflect on my experience as I start to think about what’s next.

Three years ago, I was terrified to have my own classroom. I didn’t feel I had the stamina or the knowledge to produce a year’s worth of lessons. Still, I had a commitment to fulfill, so I had to make the best of it. There were a few things I knew for sure: 1. Absolutely no middle school, 2. High school would be a heck of a lot of work, and 3. I wanted to live somewhere warm. So I started my search for a job teaching at an elementary community school in southern cities.

I managed to find the perfect job. A historically Orthodox-leaning community school hired me to teach in the Pluralistic Track, a new initiative to appeal to a larger population. I was excited about this idea of two tracks learning in one school where they could interact with one other and engage in dialogue about each other’s beliefs. How exciting: a community day school that would truly serve the community!

The reality was wrought with challenges. It turned out the Dual Track program was a last ditch effort to save a failing school. Little had been done to develop the curriculum before my arrival. The Jewish Studies Principal was a Chabad Rabbi who had very little interest in making this new track a success. Left with virtually no guidance, support, or experience, parents and community rabbis were looking toward me to make this program successful.

Given the circumstances, I am extremely proud of the work I did there, particularly the Egalitarian Tefillah program I developed, getting siddurim donated, training middle school students to be Shlichei Tzibur, and helping students learn Torah readings and write Divrei Torah, among other things. I gave it my best effort, but after two years, it became clear that the Pluralistic Track was not going to save the school, and they announced it would close. With one year left on my Pardes commitment, I had no choice but to move to a new city and start all over again. The elementary jobs were limited and my commitment to living in warm weather meant I had to broaden my search to other age groups. I eventually landed a job teaching high school.

It was an upgrade in every way imaginable, but as I mentioned, it was like having a second “first year” of teaching. Not only did I have to plan lessons for 3 brand new classes, but I also had to learn about the behavior and development of a brand new age group. I had to learn how to write exams and grade writing. I was concerned about the possibility of having a student who was more knowledgeable than me, something I didn’t worry about with 2nd graders. Of course, the list goes on.

It’s been a tough three years, but I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to do. My confidence as an educator has grown tremendously and my teaching philosophy is becoming really solid. Developing myself as an educator has revealed much about who I am as a person, which only makes me a better teacher. I still don’t know if this is my life-long calling, but I’m proud to have fulfilled my commitment and truly appreciate the value of this experience as I think about what’s next.