Posted on April 27, 2022 by Jack Snyder
It was a typical Tuesday morning in my middle school history classroom, and I was ready with my class plans and coffee, anticipating the day’s lesson. The students’ task for the day was to try and define “religion.” Simple, huh? The classroom environment was teeming with thoughts brought from home, synagogue, and past years at school, and I couldn’t wait to hear what my sixth graders would have to say.
I needed to support students to meaningfully make use of quotes from Kant Durkheim, Rumi, and Huxley. By the end of the unit, I hoped students could walk through the streets of New York and see lived religion – true meaning-making – happening all around them in parks, homes, and restaurants, not just in mosques, churches, and synagogues.
Rather than panic in the face of such a daunting task, I launched into a lesson I had thoughtfully put together with my Pardes mentor, knowing that the scaffolding and methods were age-appropriate. While my students felt challenged, I knew that the struggle would be a productive struggle that led to meaningful learning.
This confidence, this pedagogical toolbox, came from my time at Pardes. I had known Pardes to be a place for students, but during my time studying at the Jewish Studies In-Service Teacher Training program (JSITT), I learned it’s a place that prioritizes teachers, too. I was paired with an incredible mentor with whom I was able to craft a unit that felt true to my own beliefs and values, true to the students’ backgrounds, and one that fits within the values of the school I teach at.
Pardes equipped me to teach the whole student, including their religious or spiritual parts that might be left at the door in other “secular” subjects. Pardes’ programming has made me a better Jewish educator whether I’m teaching explicitly Jewish content or any content to Jewish students.
Jack Snyder is a History and Jewish Studies teacher in New York City. He lives in Brooklyn, and in the summers, Jack is a summer camp chef.
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