These and Those

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

Turkey 2016: Learning to Teach

Posted on January 19, 2016 by Johanna Press

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On Friday we visited Ulus Jewish School in Ortakoy, where we presented interactive educational programs about Tu B’Shevat for elementary- and high-school students. Since I am a Torah lishma student and not part of the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, I felt a bit nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone and teaching in the school. However, our team had done a great job planning the activities, and over the past few months I have also observed model pedagogy from my Pardes teachers, so I prepared myself to jump into my new role as a Jewish educator.

Our first session with the sixth-graders was trial-by-fire! At first it was challenging to clearly communicate our message: each of us can find a unique way to instill the Jewish holidays with personal meaning. After the first class, we discussed what had worked and what we needed to improve to reach our students. With these improvements in the following iterations, I was thrilled by the connection and learning we initiated. I was surprised how much fun I had singing, dancing, and drawing with the kids, and how exciting it was to help a student come up with an idea for a new Tu B’Shevat tradition. Each breakthrough moment – when a student suddenly became engaged with and enthusiastic about Jewish holiday ritual – was particularly gratifying, especially for a kid who was withdrawn or uncomfortable speaking with us in English.

Our session with the high school students presented a different set of challenges. In a very loud and chaotic auditorium, I found myself improvising ways to pull students into our small-group activity. I discovered that conversations in pairs followed by sharing with the group held the students’ attention better than a large discussion circle and also enabled me to personally interact with each pair. I was really impressed with the depth of their ideas; even the teenagers trying to act too cool for school shared interesting and original thoughts about how we can learn from nature in our communal and personal lives.

By repeating the process of reflection and modification after each of the elementary- and high-school sessions, both as a whole group and on my own, I learned an amazing amount about my strengths as an educator. I realized that I excel at storytelling and that I am able to quickly understand what a student needs in order to engage with the material and improvise a way to bring her in to the group activity. I left the school proud of the education experience our team had created and the lessons we had imparted to the Turkish students, and also feeling inspired to take advantage of more teaching opportunities in the future.