"The Azrieli Papers: Dimensions of Orthodox Day School Education"

"The Azrieli Papers: Dimensions of Orthodox Day School Education"

David J. Schnall, Moshe Sokolow, eds. YU Press/Ktav (2011) $29.50

Jewish educators fall into several categories:

“¢ Excellent teachers who can reach and teach students through a combined mastery of subject material, pedagogic theory, and an understanding of children.

“¢ Dull, lackluster, non-creative teachers who just teach the text year after year.

“¢ Principals who are in the classrooms as educational leaders and innovators.

“¢ Principals who are primarily involved with administrivia.

“¢ Professors of Jewish education.

“¢ Novice teachers looking to be mentored.

“¢ Consultants – e.g., UJA’s Jewish Educational Services, JESNA, PEJE, etc.

In an ideal world, every Judaica teacher in every day school would be trained and licensed; cheery, creative, and competent; and beloved by parents and students. In reality, too many teachers do not fit this description.

There are many wonderful Jewish educators in our day schools. Some possess all the requisite skills. Some may know content but not pedagogy; some native speakers may know Hebrew but not the content to go beyond fourth grade. Few classroom teachers have the time or motivation to pursue educational philosophy and theory.

Principals and parents should read this book. Teachers would also find that it broadens their horizons. “The Azrieli Papers” is a collection of articles (some previously published) by outstanding professors of Jewish education. It is not realistic to expect teachers to do all the heavy lifting. That’s the job of principals and day school administrators.

If Jewish education is a profession, then teachers must be certified as competent and must stay current. Again, reality intrudes for a variety of reasons, and the burden of mentoring and ongoing professional development (not one-day seminars) falls on the principals.

The articles include discussions of expulsion and bullying, at-risk adolescents, problematic behavior, the dearth of trained personnel, developing a positive peer culture, and summaries of research in various fields. There is an excellent article about differentiated learning for religious growth, i.e. “teaching students, not texts,” fluctuating levels of observance, and affective, cognitive, and gender differences.

The article on models of instruction is quite philosophical, and although quite interesting, the article on incorporating archaeology into the study of Tanach is somewhat unrealistic, given the background of most day school teachers. In a similar vein, teaching t’filah based on the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik is an admirable goal, especially since there is widespread devotional deficit disorder in our schools. The best article, in this reader’s opinion, concerns the need for inclusiveness as regards students’ backgrounds and abilities.

“The Azrieli Papers” provides serious, thought-provoking, and research-based data and practical suggestions for our day schools. Every principal should read it. Many of the articles can be downloaded from the Azrieli Graduate School of Education (YU) website for teachers. Boards of education should discuss some of the articles. We need the theorists, and we need the teachers in the classrooms. Volumes such as this can bridge the gap.

Rabbi Wallace Greene was the director of JFNNJ’s Jewish Educational Services for over a decade. He was also a day school principal and served as chairman of The National Board of License For Teachers and Principals in Jewish Schools in North America.

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