Learning from the best

Learning from the best

Israeli agency mentors day school teachers as they begin their careers

Laetitia Sebbag is in a classroom at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. It’s the week before Purim, so it’s crazy hat day.
Laetitia Sebbag is in a classroom at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. It’s the week before Purim, so it’s crazy hat day.

Laetitia Sebbag, a young elementary Jewish educator, is working this year as a full-time rotating substitute for teachers on maternity leave from Yeshivat Noam in Paramus.

When the Dallas native was finishing her master’s degree at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration in Manhattan last year, a classmate told her about TalentEducators. This joint project of Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Jewish Agency was founded in 2019 to address the growing challenge of recruiting and retaining high-quality educators in Jewish education.

Ms. Sebbag applied and was accepted into the program’s first cohort, made up of about 40 Jewish educators in 22 cities in the United States and England. “TalentEducators helped me find my position and made sure it’s a good fit,” Ms. Sebbag said. “As a new educator, I didn’t feel I was going into this alone.”

TalentEducators Regional Director for North America Rabbi Aharon Assaraf helped her clarify her career direction; she’d been home in Dallas during the pandemic and by the time she was able to return to New York it was very close to the beginning of the school year and few positions were available. She therefore took the permanent sub job. “I’m really grateful that this is a great school and it worked out.”

And when she started her job, TalentEducators matched her with an experienced mentor from Yeshivat Noam’s staff, Arwen Kuttner. In-house mentoring is an important part of fellowship package.

“I meet with Arwen every single week, and she is really incredible,” Ms. Sebbag said. “That’s one of the biggest benefits of TalentEducators. As a long-term substitute, I’m stepping into the students’ classrooms and not into my own classroom, and I’m also working with a co-teacher. Having a mentor who is familiar with the school really helped me go through that transition.”

Another helpful aspect, she said, “is that you’re part of a network of fellows across the country, from different grades and backgrounds, who meet once or twice a month over Zoom and are in touch on WhatsApp regularly to exchange resources. This is a network I’ll always have access to, even after the year’s fellowship is over.”

TalentEducators works with formal and experiential educational institutions including preschools, day schools, Jewish community centers, Hillels, supplemental schools, synagogues, charities, nonprofit organizations, youth movements, and adult education.

Ms. Sebbag works with children at Yeshivat Noam.

“TalentEducators’ purpose is to help educators — both those who are already in the classroom and those who aren’t yet — realize their full potential while impacting the lives of their students, their colleagues and their communities,” its CEO, Aharoni Carmel, said.

“When we launched our first cohort last year it was with the goal of supporting and empowering educators on their journey to success as well as to help Jewish educational institutions overcome significant staffing challenges. Looking at the first year of the program, the achievements to date have far surpassed our expectations and we are excited to increase the strategic impact of TalentEducators and grow its reach.”

The organization has opened applications for its second cohort, aiming to double the number of fellows for the 2021-22 school year. And it is expanding to Jewish educational institutions in Canada and Scotland.

Prospective participants can apply through the TalentEducators’ website, indicating preferences for formal or informal education, location, and student ages.

Following a vetting process and interview, TalentEducators’s staff will match the accepted educators to an appropriate position within one of the program’s partner educational institutions. The candidate then goes through that institution’s internal hiring process.

Once an offer is accepted, TalentEducators provides support through ongoing training and funding for professional development and mentorship. It also provides a community of support through regular programming and interaction with the other members of the cohort.

“It’s a great way for new people to segue into their career,” Ms. Sebbag said. “I came into it at a prime time, when I was looking for a job and they were a tremendous resource in helping me find one. The biggest help is that knowing I have someone I can speak to every week for day-to-day lesson planning, insights, and practical tools. I never feel alone.”

The process is appreciated from the schools’ side as well, said Rabbi Chaim Hagler, Yeshivat Noam’s head of school. “Yeshivat Noam is pleased to be partnering with Talent Educators,” he said. “We view this as a mutually beneficial partnership.

“Yeshivat Noam benefits from having an outstanding young educator join our faculty and we are equally pleased to offer a young educator the opportunity for classroom experience, mentorship, and growth.”

The search for teaching talent is particularly challenging in smaller communities.

Liat Walker, the Jewish studies coordinator at Martin J Gottlieb Jewish Day School in Jacksonville, Florida, said, “We are a small school, in a small Jewish community, without a lot of resources to search for candidates outside our area. TalentEducators matched us with a perfect candidate, which we would have never found on our own.”

The cities TalentEducators serve include two in England — London and Leeds. The U.S. cities are Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Fairfax Virginia; Framingham, Massachusetts; Irvine , California; Jacksonville; Los Angeles; Manhattan Beach, California; Miami; New York; Oakland; Paramus; Philadelphia; Seattle; Sharon, Pennsylvania; Voorhees, New Jersey; and Washington.

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