Tag Archives: supplementary school teachers

Four Simple Steps Teachers Need to Engage with Jewish Teens

See on Scoop.itJudaism, Jewish Teens, and Today’s World

This is for teachers in supplementary schools, particularly those who work with Jewish teens.  I’ve been invited to observe classes where teachers really feel that they’re doing a great job.

They feel that students are attentive, absorbing material, and advancing their learning.  I’ve seen some of the best, yet….there are so many that just seem to miss the mark.

How do I know?

They’re talking, and often teens are texting (under the desk or in pockets or defiantly, right out there).

There’s no excitement or signs of life in the class, save for the teacher talking, talking, talking in front of the room; center stage.

Their students’ faces belie boredom (why don’t the teachers see this?)

Here are four simple steps to take that I believe have the power to transform how you work with students.

1. Back off. Yes, sounds a bit harsh I know, but I need to make the point. Try ‘retreating’ from the space in front of the room. There’s no podium in the front of the class, so no need to stand there.

Test yourself. See what happens when you move around and view things from the back of the room—from their perspective.

Even more important, make sure that you’re listening for a greater percentage time than when you’re talking. That will do wonders by itself.   Get rid of the frontal dynamic by making sure students work in groups.

2. Ask questions. Good ones. Ones that don’t need a yes or no answer. If you haven’t mastered the art of inquiry, read up. There are tons of materials out there. Make sure you’re not just asking to ask…really pay attention to the responses and respond back. Every student needs to feel valued.

3. Get familiar with social/emotional learning and reaching students down deep. It makes for more impactful lessons. Focusing on making that emotional connection will help you make sure that you’re reaching all students, not just the ones who are either the most vocal or the most problematic.

4. This is so obvious, it’s embarrassing to say. But here goes. Know every single student by name. This is an absolute must and tells your students how important they are to you.  If you have a bad memory, ask them to make name placards and bring them with you. No excuse. Every student needs to be valued in this way.


Doing a 360 on Attendance in a Part-Time School

Cover of "Class Clown"

Class Clowns: Not That Funny

Recently, I participated in a webinar, sponsored by JESNA, on issues related to complementary (supplementary, part-time) schools.

This was an unusual experience. I was asked to facilitate a group of about ten online participants and discuss the topic of declining attendance. Aside from one familiar name, I didn’t know any one. We examined the issue from the point of view of these stakeholders; Education Director, Parent, and Teacher, and we brainstormed a list of issues surrounding the topic.

It was interesting that this online group of educators and school directors, representing schools from all over the country, mentioned a familiar list: conflicting activities, less parental engagement, too few class expectations, too much school homework, class management issues, social pressures, plus other reasons that were sound and thoughtful.

I’m sure many of us approached this issue of declining attendance in a variety of contexts and perhaps came up with similar but expanded lists of reasons and issues. So, what’s the news here?

I’m not sure what anyone else took away from this online discussion, but for me, there was a particular enlightening moment.

When I suggested we view this issue from the vantage point of the student, I was literally overwhelmed with all of the emotional baggage that our students have to deal with when they attend erratically.

To be clear, these are not going to be things that haven’t come up in conversations before.

It’s just that listed all together, I felt such compassion for that poor kid having to attend any program in this way.

Would any adult be able to handle such a thing? “Kind of” attending a program? Participating “now and then”?

Really, just think about this for a minute. How comfortable would you be in this situation? Think about the social and academic implications.

Now, think of how you might experience this as an adolescent:

You are lost most of the time. Most likely, you haven’t kept up with the work. You don’t really know everything the teacher is referencing, but you pretend because you don’t want to ask questions or ‘stick out’. You may be out of things socially. You may cover up this inadequacy with acting out behavior. You need some sort of role in the class, and class academic is out. So the other roles available that unconsciously suit you may be class clown, troublemaker, blocker, etc. Other kids may resent the fact that you’re not there regularly, as they are. You  haven’t really formed a connection with the teacher.

Though you’ve been absent often, it actually becomes harder to attend.  So you think of reasons not to go. Like complaining a lot. Finding excuses to do other things. Begging your parents not to send you to that ‘awful’ place.

No surprise then, that declining attendance begets a further attendance drop.

I was totally overwhelmed with what students like this experience when they don’t attend Jewish education programs on a regular basis and the challenges they probably face as a result.

How can we use this information?

I know that as a teacher, I’ve often expressed frustration/guilt when my students did not attend regularly. It’s not that I was ever harsh, I just wanted them to know that I missed them and wanted them to be part of the class.

I’d change that now and say something a little different.

I’d make a real effort to show much more compassion for what they’re coping with, maybe privately even get a reference check about the unique challenges they must feel, and help ease their transition into the classroom world any way I could.

They’re dealing with enough.


Catching Catfish: Real and Unreal Life for Jewish Teens

trust

Just when you think you can keep pace with the bizarre events of the everyday, you find yourself having a discussion with Jewish teens that blows the dust off your brain just a bit.

This is necessary.

It keeps the distance between the generations and confirms for teens why they’re glad they’re not as old as you are.

Last week I sat with a group of teens taking a Current Events class.

After chatting about the Israeli Knesset and the elections, the conversation veered way weird when they got to talking about the Manti Te’o business.

That was not news. What was news to me was the term Catfish, the MTV show “Catfish”  and the verb “catfishing.” I was fascinated, but in a sad way. Just listening to these teens talk about the real, the fake, and the in-between relationships they have to negotiate between real life and online personas, I was overwhelmed with the amount of distrust they experience on a daily basis.

How do they begin to navigate through these murky waters? When shows like “Catfish” keep their interest (most watch the show), how do we counter the values of the day with Jewish values that build character, strong identities, and a commitment to honesty?

There is now, more than ever, a compelling reason for instilling in our teens a strong sense of self.  A way to know who they are and what they stand for.

Plus, we have to always be current. Always on the look-out for the next challenge.–so we aren’t caught acting like a catfish, slinking along on the bottom of the river.


“After My Bar Mitzvah, My Dad Decided to Convert. Is He Still Considered Jewish?”

Some labels might be useful. Others, not so much.

Some labels might be useful. Others, not so much.

I wasn’t prepared for such a troubling question by this slight yet earnest 8th grader. He had been so patient; holding his hand up until the discussion left an opening.

This evening, the teens were very talkative once they got going about the topic: Intermarried Families. His question arose during a workshop on sensitizing Jewish high school students to the many issues intermarried families face.

They had personal experiences about the issue, since about one-third of them were from intermarried families themselves.  The conversation had relevance for them and  they shared personal stories peppered with jokes, hurt feelings, and sometimes defiance.

The program was specifically designed for teens and consisted of film clips to trigger conversation and raise awareness.

His question came after I shared an experience I had when I was a teenager myself, while attending a large suburban Conservative synagogue in my town. I have a very clear memory of asking a congregant who someone was. He pointed to him and then lightly said: “Oh, this is Mr. So and So, who converted to Judaism….” I couldn’t figure out why I needed to know that. This man was forever labeled in my mind as ‘the one who converted.’

I’ve experienced this practice even as an adult. Why must we use labels?

Let’s come back to the boy sitting in front of me. He was obviously very concerned and wanted an answer. Yet, in the format of the program, with a full agenda and little time, I could not engage him in a full discussion of all the questions I wanted to ask him.

For example, why does he feel a need to ask this question? Does this first question represent other, more pressing questions about the choices his father made? What does he think about how the Jewish community responded to his father? Is it what he expected? Did he feel his Dad was welcomed? Rejected? Did he sense a total acceptance of the choice by his father’s family? Is he still wondering about his father’s reasons for conversion? Was it only for the ceremony or was there some deeper reason that his father made the choice he did? What impact did the father’s conversion have on him? Did it make him doubt his own choices going forward or feel more secure in them?

How would you respond to this student when there is so much more to discuss?

What I said next created some comedy, but my intention was to offer a really concrete example for this student: “Here’s how I see it. You know when someone gets his/her nose fixed? Or some cosmetic work done? Once it’s done, we no longer say, “You know, this is Ms. So and So…she recently got a nose job. We accept that the person has a new nose, and we move on. No need to reference it. We don’t need to go back to past history and label that person any differently than anyone else. Similarly, Your father’s Jewish. He’ll always be considered Jewish.”

He seemed to be reassured and we continued on with the discussion.

The students had a lot to say, and more questions to ask as the evening progressed.

The question above demonstrates just how much work we have to do to create more understanding among all of us about those who ‘choose Jewish’. Here are some tips to consider when a family member converts:

  1. Have a family discussion about the decision. Teens are at the stage when they are actively questioning many things. Especially about religion, the meaning of life, their place among their peers, and more. They will appreciate knowing your reasons for the decision, and being included in some thoughts you’ve had.
  2. This is an opportunity to connect with your teen about spiritual journeys. We often reserve conversations with our kids to the mundane. These conversations about religion and faith are of an entirely different level. Personal yes, but it opens so many doors.
  3. You might schedule a meeting with the family and the Rabbi together, so all parties are aware of any new roles and  responsibilities.

Photo credit: BazzaDaRambler, flickr. Creative commons license.


Writings about Jewish Teens: 2012 in review

The WordPress.com team sends me a summary e-mail at the end of the year (complete with fireworks!) that lets me know my progress (I’ve been blogging for two years) and more about what you, the readers of this blog, find interesting to read about Jewish teens.

There is a list of the most viewed blogs–can you think of a better motivator?  Even in my very, very small niche world, this list gets compared (ready?) to the number of climbers of Mount Everest! See below.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

See what I mean? Here’s the list:

A Few Top Posts from 2012

1. From Jewish Camp to Synagogue: Five No Brainers

This post talks about the chasm experienced by many campers when they return home after a summer injection of Judaism, and what synagogues can do to bridge the gap.

2. Judging Jewish Education by Fun

What are the trade-offs between programs that offer fun and those that offer content?

3. Five Things Parents Should Know

I know what you may be thinking. People seem to like the number five. (See number 1.) Interesting, no? These are things that parents should know about Jewish education for their teens.

4. Hiring Teen Aides? (Full disclosure: this title had the number five in it too, but on my end, it’s just how many tips I wrote at the time).

Synagogues use/hire teen aides in the classroom for all sorts of reasons. Here are some reasons to think about the intentions of these efforts.

5. One minute, three reasons why Jewish education helps teens focus on what’s important.

The title pretty much says it.

6.”Please feel free to contact me….”Advice for #Jteens and others

I wrote this in response to an e-mail I received from a job applicant, and found the comment an ironic one from a person wanting to make a favorable impression.

7. “Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

I wrote this post after hearing a student tell this to another student in a Jewish values class. It’s interesting to see the students’ take on just how “Jewish” things are.

One more thing, a 2011 post made the list, and you can read that here:

What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish community high school 

You might have missed some of the ones above, or want to read more about Jewish teens. Hit the subscribe button, and you won’t miss a thing!


Israeli teens use cell phones in class: What we can learn

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.

Cell phones: not an opt-out tool for most teeens

According to a recent University of Haifa poll, over 94% of Israeli High School students use social networks in class (via cell phones). Mostly, they’re not checking facts, but Facebook profiles.

This came to my inbox today, a day after I wrote a blog from a cell phone’s point of view.

In that blog, I mentioned that Jewish teens may not be aware of the rich Jewish resources available for the taking from such a small device.  I also referred to the fact that teachers sometimes take away cell phones all together.

I was once a proponent of this.

I thought that (much like the practice at summer camps of instituting a ‘cell phone fast’ for campers to increase the ‘here and now’ opportunities) keeping phones out of the class increased class connections between students and teacher.

I don’t think in those black and white terms any more.

What I believe now, is that like any good educational tool, media needs to be mediated.

In this light, it’s particularly interesting to examine the findings of the poll, which states that the more permissive a teacher is, the less that cell phones will be used in class.

Interesting, no?

Conversely, the study results also showed that the more authoritarian the teacher–those with a more rigid approach, the more students will use cell phones in class.

So, what are the boundaries that teachers should put in place? What are the school’s policies that should not be broken, but bent to advance the curriculum? These are things that need to be thought through before the school year. From a student’s point of view.

So, this what I learned, none of which strikes me as so illuminating, but for me, the benefits were a game changer:

1. It is very difficult to separate teens from their phones, as some teens see it as their lifeline.

2. Teachers need to figure out ways of using the phones as tools, to expand teen’s horizons about the subject area.

3. The way in which this is handled, can be crucial when building community in the class, and respect from students.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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A Q & A : with a Jewish teen’s cell phone

There's an app for that?

There’s an app for that?

I recently followed a WordPress blog that offers a daily dollop of inspiration to bloggers.

What a gift, right?

Today’s challenge: “Write a Q & A style interview with an inanimate object.”

So, with a nod of thanks to WordPress, here goes:

Reporter (R): So, I see that you’re a smart phone, right?

Teen’s Cell Phone (C): Duh, you can see the apps, can’t you? (Did I mention that this cell phone has an attitude and a particularly expensive-looking case?)

R: Okay, point well taken. So, I do see that you have tons of apps. Impressive.

Any Jewish ones?

C: Wha? Jewish apps? Never heard of that. Anywhere. You’re kiddin’ right?

R: Nope. (trying to sound cool). Know what the Hebrew date is? There’s an app for that.

R: Feel like whipping up some latkes? Matzo balls? Check out the Jewish cooking app.

(Gaining traction here). Mood strike you to see when Passover is? There’s an app for that too.

(All of a sudden, C ‘s index finger finds the App store, and the keyboard starts buzzing when C starts to search for Jewish apps.)

C: No way!!!! Jewish rock music? Free??? Jewish Quotes? From the Bible? Cool!!! Live streaming radio from ISRAEL? No way!

R: Yes, way.

C: There should be a class on this! Well, maybe not a class….that’s going, like, way too far. But some way for me and my owner to find out.

(Getting a little sad….) Like in Hebrew school I have to keep out of sight. In my owner’s backpack. Or pocket. Or worse….on the teacher’s desk where I know my owner feels the lifeline is gone.

(Feeling guilty here…) My owner once got in real bad trouble, so I’m off-limits.

But, someone should tell someone there’s all this cool stuff….

R: So  noted.

Photo credit: Patrick Gage


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