Adapting, pivoting, evolving, changing: The time has come
In order to meet the evolving needs of those entering the workforce as Jewish studies teachers, we at Pardes evolved as well. Participants in our rebranded program — the Pardes Teacher Fellowship — will gain the same high-level beit midrash Torah skills and acumen, teacher training and graduate degree, in a new refreshed and improved format.
Despite what my children might tell you, I am not old. I am 47. And yet, when I was in my senior year of high school, less than 30 years ago, I still wrote and submitted my papers and essays long-hand. By that time my family had a home computer but I certainly didn’t know how to type, and neither did any of my classmates. I went to the public library for research purposes; when, inevitably, a book I needed was not among those on the shelves at our local branch, I had to wait for it to be sent from another one.
Fast forward to 2018, when I was finishing my masters degree. I didn’t need to travel to the Vatican to study the alternate manuscripts of Genesis Rabba held there, nor did I need to step foot into the National Library of Israel to do my research. I just spent time in my home office — aka my bed — exploring the minute yet crucial differences between the midrashic variants I had right in front of me — in breathtakingly beautiful closeups — on my computer screen. Conducting my research online was more accessible, easier and – honestly? – objectively better for me than needing to travel to an archive somewhere else in the world.
While we all know the world has changed immensely these past three decades, we are only sometimes willing to acknowledge this. I no longer write anything long-hand. My mind works too quickly for that and my hand too slowly. I not only touch type in English but also in Hebrew. The world has changed, so I have changed. And if I have changed, whoa, al achat kama v’chama — how much more so have our children and students changed. In so many ways.
The Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, a branch of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, has offered an excellent training program for North American Jewish day school teachers for more than two decades. As part of the Pardes Day School Educators Program, our participants spent two years in Jerusalem in our beit midrash, accruing a deep knowledge of Jewish text content and skills, while simultaneously being trained as first-rate pedagogues. Of those two years, they spent one month each spring in student teaching roles in the United States or Canada. They then went off to teach for a minimum of three years at day schools across North America. Our alumni include six heads of school, five principals, 12 Jewish studies department chairs and six directors of Jewish life. Our graduates are consistently sought after and consistently rate very highly in their schools as knowledgeable meaning-makers and role models for their students. And yet.
The world has changed. Fewer and fewer young people want to make a life as a teacher these days, let alone as a Jewish studies teacher. The cost of living is too high for someone to aspire to a job in which they will only earn $50,000, even with a masters degree. And the level of respect and appreciation for Jewish studies teachers is not nearly high enough within our communities to warrant young adults’ aspirations to enter the profession.
Furthermore, those who do decide to enter the field of day school education are antsy, like most young people these days, about completing pre-service training and the time it takes to earn a qualification. They want more on-the-job, practical training, and less theory. They expect to be able to earn an advanced degree faster, and do not necessarily want to uproot their lives and move to Israel for two years in order to do so.
As such, in order to meet the evolving needs of those entering the workforce as Jewish studies teachers, we at Pardes evolved as well.
Participants in our rebranded program — the Pardes Teacher Fellowship — will gain the same high-level beit midrash Torah skills and acumen, teacher training and graduate degree, in a new refreshed and improved format.
They will spend two summers and an academic year at Pardes in Jerusalem, including intensive Torah study, Hebrew language ulpan and pedagogic training. Then they’ll spend one academic year teaching Jewish studies at a day school in North America, scaffolded by rigorous pedagogic training and one-on-one coaching. A final summer will then be back at Pardes in Jerusalem for a curriculum-building workshop and graduation.
They will benefit from accelerated pre-service training and from deepened in-service training. They will enter the field more quickly, begin to earn a salary faster, all while cultivating their teaching craft under the guidance of master mentors and supervisors. What remains the same is full tuition funding at Pardes; generous living stipends for year one; and subsidized MAEd courses.
Our new program reflects many changes in society and in individuals over the last three decades. We hope that sharing this change process and rationale also is a call for local funders to help us reward those who seek to join and stay in the field. For example, local funders can provide salary bonuses for Pardes Teacher Fellows after they have taught for two, three and four years. In this way, Detroit-area foundations can boost and invigorate the Jewish day school pipeline in their own Detroit community; Denver foundations in their region; Seattle foundations in their city and so on. It is with their collaboration and partnership that we at the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators will continue to do our part in generating well-trained, deeply knowledgeable and highly committed Jewish studies teachers for today’s — and tomorrow’s — world.
Aviva Lauer directs the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.