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Dovber Chaiton

Robust Ideas for Jewish Day Schools- Part I

The Specialist Teacher in the Elementary School Classroom

A specialist teacher is beneficial to the students and teacher alike.

Picture a classroom full of eager young minds, ready to absorb the knowledge of the world. They sit at their desks, wide-eyed and attentive, waiting for their teacher to impart wisdom upon them. Now imagine that teacher is a jack-of-all-trades, someone who dabbles in every subject but doesn’t specialize in any one field. The teacher is overwhelmed by attempting to cover many subjects with thorough proficiency and the students are underwhelmed by a teacher who is pulled in multiple directions. 

It doesn’t seem to be effective to have a teacher teach a variety of subjects and it is indeed rare in Middle Schools and High Schools but when it comes to elementary schools for Torah Study subjects we demand of teachers to be jacks-of-all-trades. 

It is time for Jewish Day Schools to consider specialists for every subject  in Torah/Judaic Studies. Chumash, Halacha, Ivrit and any other subject at the core of a Jewish Day School’s Curriculum should be taught across all grades by a single specialist teacher. And the benefit goes far beyond merely having a highly proficient teacher.

Accountability 

Accountability is easier to evaluate and streamline when a single teacher is responsible for a designated subject vs. for a designated grade. 

Let’s use Chumash as an example. Jewish Day Schools have been quite eager to pursue scope, sequence and benchmarks for Chumash and yet are falling short of being able to implement. A specialized teacher could be a key component in rectifying this issue.  

When a teacher specializes in Chumash, they are uniquely positioned to be more accountable to both the curriculum and their students. This is because specialization allows the teacher to focus their attention on the specific scope, sequence, and benchmarks that are required in their subject area.

Scope refers to the breadth of content that is covered in a particular subject. A specialized teacher is able to thoroughly understand the scope of their subject area and ensure that they are covering all of the necessary content. They are able to delve deeply into the material, explore it in detail, and ensure that they are providing a comprehensive education to their students.

Sequence refers to the order in which the material is taught. A specialized teacher is able to understand the logical progression of their subject area and teach it in a way that makes sense to their students. They are able to sequence the material in a way that is logical and coherent, building on the foundational knowledge that their students have acquired in previous lessons.

Finally, benchmarks refer to the specific learning objectives and standards that students are expected to meet. A specialized teacher is able to understand these benchmarks in detail, ensuring that they are teaching towards them and that their students are making progress towards meeting them. They are able to monitor their students’ progress, provide feedback on their work, and adjust their teaching as necessary to ensure that all students are meeting the necessary standards.

All of these elements are crucial for ensuring that students receive a high-quality education in their specialized subject area. By focusing on scope, sequence, and benchmarks, a specialized teacher is able to provide a comprehensive and coherent education that is tailored to the needs of their students. They are able to be more accountable to the curriculum and their students, ensuring that they are meeting the necessary standards and providing a rigorous and engaging education to all.

Continuity

A single teacher teaching Chumash across grades is able to carry over students from year-to-year with little time wasted on re-evaluation and recalibrating with rapport building. This also allows the teacher to begin teaching with less initial troubleshooting. 

Teaching a single subject to multiple grades may seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be highly effective in ensuring continuity in the curriculum and understanding the needs of each student.

From the perspective of following through on the curriculum, teaching the same subject to multiple grades allows for a seamless transition from one year to the next. The teacher is able to build on the foundational knowledge that students have acquired in previous years, gradually introducing more advanced concepts and skills as they progress through the grades. This avoids having to spend time figuring out what a previous year teacher ac

This approach also allows the teacher to ensure that all students are receiving the same level of instruction, regardless of which grade they are in. They can plan their lessons to accommodate the different learning styles and abilities of each student, while still maintaining a consistent level of rigor in the curriculum. 

In terms of understanding the level of each student, teaching the same subject to multiple grades provides a unique opportunity for the teacher to develop a deep understanding of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. As the teacher works with students year after year, they are able to track their progress and identify areas where they may need additional support or challenge.

This continuity in instruction also allows the teacher to develop strong relationships with their students, which can be highly beneficial in helping students feel comfortable and confident in their learning. The teacher can use their knowledge of each student’s learning style and personality to tailor their instruction and provide personalized support as needed.

Of course, there are challenges that come with teaching the same subject to multiple grades. The teacher must be skilled in managing a diverse classroom with varying needs and abilities, and must be able to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of each student. They must also be highly organized and skilled in curriculum planning, to ensure that all students are making progress and meeting the necessary standards. But the same is true for every subject and this enables the teacher to be more focused.

Variety and Stability- The Social Emotional Benefit

This method would also allow students in elementary school to have a variety of teachers. Having a variety of teachers in elementary school can be highly beneficial for students in a number of ways. One of the most significant benefits is that it allows students to experience a range of different teaching styles and personalities, which can help them develop a love of learning and a sense of curiosity about the world around them.

Each teacher has their own unique approach to teaching, which can be highly engaging for students. For example, some teachers may be very enthusiastic and energetic, while others may be more reserved and focused on creating a calm and orderly classroom environment. Some teachers may use lots of hands-on activities and experiments to help students learn, while others may rely more on lectures and discussion. By experiencing a variety of teaching styles, students are able to find the approaches that work best for them, and may even be inspired to pursue certain subjects or careers based on the teaching styles they encounter.

In addition to the benefits of experiencing different teaching styles, having a variety of teachers can also help students develop a sense of empathy and understanding for different personalities. By interacting with teachers who have different strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles, students can learn to appreciate the unique qualities of each person they encounter. They can also learn to work effectively with people who have different personalities and communication styles, which is a valuable skill for success in all areas of life.

Finally, having a variety of teachers can also help students develop a sense of independence and self-reliance. When students encounter different teaching styles, they are forced to adapt and adjust to new environments and expectations. This can help them build confidence in their own abilities to navigate new situations, solve problems, and learn on their own.

Overall, while having a single teacher who specializes in a particular subject can be beneficial in some ways, experiencing a variety of teachers in elementary school can provide a range of benefits that can help students develop into well-rounded, curious, and empathetic individuals. By encountering different teaching styles and personalities, students can find the approaches that work best for them, develop an appreciation for different types of people, and build independence and self-reliance.

Indeed this is a very novel idea for elementary schools but the benefits outweigh the foreseeable issues that may arise. 

About the Author
Dovber Chaiton was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. After matriculating, he went on to study for a further 3 years at Yeshivat Beis Dovid in Qiryat Gat, Israel. After receiving smicha from the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey, he settled in Los Angeles with his wife and children, he is a teacher at the Emek Hebrew Academy and offers insight on Jewish education with a unique brand of humor.