“I really couldn’t say if I would have remained a teacher without a mentor,” said Rabbi Simcha Schaum, now starting his sixth year teaching middle-schoolers in Yavneh Academy. During his first two years, his mentor through the Jewish New Teacher Project was Fayge Safran, former assistant principal at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls.
“Her mentoring was absolutely invaluable,” said Schaum. “She came each week to observe a class, and we met for an hour to discuss what was going right with my classes, what was going wrong, and what I could do to improve. She also introduced a professional development curriculum, which we discussed and implemented. She helped me notice the positive aspects of my teaching and pushed me to constantly improve my teaching and to treat each setback as an experience to be learned from.”
Schaum, who lives in Teaneck with his wife and two daughters, said he also appreciated hearing from senior staff members about their rough novice days.
“It can be extremely difficult to be a new teacher,” he admitted. “Many first-time teachers have a hard time with classroom management and that can greatly harm his or her teaching, as well as psyche, and really raise his or her stress level. Planning lessons for the first time, without any experience or old lessons to rely upon, increases the workload. Also, since it’s hard for a new teacher to gauge how the lessons will go, it’s especially difficult to work so hard on a lesson that you’re not even sure is going to work! All this can also make the entire experience of being a ‘newbie’ very isolating; one can feel that he or she is all alone amidst an entire staff of teachers who all seem competent and fulfilled.”