A Spiritual Approach to Jewish Education

“Who is the self that teaches?” asks the Quaker educator Parker J.Palmer in his book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.

As a rabbi and teacher, I teach many different subjects with students from preschool toddlers to lifelong learning adults. Admittedly, I am concerned with what I know and what I need to learn to present a coherent and well-formed lesson. I focus on curriculum and on values clarification. I am committed to sharpening my skills and techniques, my presentations and my mode of communication. I convey joy and passion. Yet, according to our ultimate educator, Dr. Palmer, I have only just begun the teacher’s journey.

The public discourse about Jewish education reform has given birth to many innovative and often highly creative solutions to the Hebrew afternoon school of the twenty first century. We have been rewriting curriculum, revising textbooks, and restructuring the very foundation of synagogue learning.

However, the Jewish community of educators and administrators have paid little attention to the heart and soul of good teaching: the teacher!

A teacher needs the support of educational institutions who can provide the environment
for spiritual growth that teachers need to develop the self that teaches.

Teachers need mentors who are dedicated to that teacher’s soul and spiritual development. Teachers need partners in the dance of teaching who will not only lead but will guide the young dancer in the movement towards their authentic self.

We in the Jewish community have been focused on “performance” and how we look
in the classroom, rather than creating a living classroom of integrity where teacher and
student are connected to the truth of their Jewish identity, where the personal and the
public come together and a new role model is revealed.

Are we creating the kind of community that is centered on the capacity for connectedness
among the students and the teachers and their parents? Are we creating relationships
that are truthful and whole, caring and candid?

“All real living is meeting,” said Martin Buber, and teaching is an endless meeting of the self
in every classroom we enter.

Perhaps it is time we had the courage to create communities of learning with teachers who are themselves creating an inner landscape of hope, heart and wholeness.

Posted on January 4, 2012

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