Field Notebook: Intern year at JCDS-RI

Investigation 1: Part One

A. Mentor Teacher Interview

1. Vision, values, goals:
  • What is your connection to Judaism?
    • Growing up in a conservative home, Jamie went to Jewish day school in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her mother sent her there partly because the public school kindergarten teacher had a reputation for coming down hard on talkative little girls, and Jamie's mother feared for her verbose child's wellbeing. After completing through 6th grade in Jewish day school, Jamie went back to public education and felt awkward whenever she took the Jewish holidays off while other kids stayed in school. Although she did participate in youth group, her involvment was negligible compared to her sister--who was intimately involved in the Jewish community. "I didn't like being made to say the prayers," she recalls, which may have spaked an aversion to organized Judaism. Among her non-Jewish friends, however (which were many), she emerged as the authority on all things Jewish, especially during college in Washington state. In college, she found many aspects of Judaism appealing, such as making connections to the other religions she was studying. When she moved to New York, she not only discovered that everyone was taking the Jewish holidays off, but she also found out that people would pay her good money to teach Hebrew to children. She attributes this as her entrance point into Jewish education.

2. Learning about students:
  • What are students in this grade usually like?
    • Fifth grade is the best grade, she explains. Children at this age-- 10 and 11-- have the ability to talk about big issues, she says. "The depth and quality of our talks are amazing. They build on eachothers ideas, for example, when we held a discussion on creating the norms for the class, they led their own conversation," she explains. "They came up with a plan and implemented it. It was 50 times better than anything I could've ever come up with," she says, noting that she was planning on writing some rules on a poster board, whereas the students came up with a class flag and credo that they felt proud of.
    • Fifth graders can become anxious and hormonally changed around the spring, she notes. There's an attitude change. She adds that because the middle school was dissolved this year, the fifth graders will be the seniors of the school, which could lead to a sense of entitlement. Sometimes they feel like they should be allowed to be more independent, but can't always handle it.

4. Launching a classroom learning community:
  • How do you infuse your classroom with Jewish rituals, values, and experiences?
    • During the first days of school, Jamie presented her new fifth-grade students with a Maimodades text about risk taking. It purports that a student must never say he or she understands if it is not true--and underlines the value of asking questions and taking risks. "I'm really gung-ho about encouraging them to ask questions," Jamie says. "That's how I want them to be as learners--in a comfortable safe space to question things."
    • Jamie is a believer in connections. "Connections to everything--not just Jewish themes," she says, "but way beyond. Making connections is the most important thing because that's how people naturally think." This ties into the underlying question about what kind of people do we want to cultivate. "These are the citizens I want to run the world," she avers. "Fifth graders can be very transparent about making these connections, seeing them as connections, and seeing their importance," she explains.
  • How is the classroom set up? How many students are there?
    • The classroom is located in an isolated wing on the thrid floor, along with the art room, music and language specialist on same floor. It is the only grade on the floor. There will be 16 students, which will be great for group work (four groups of four, especially). The room is somewhat spacious, and the desks will be arranged in a U-shape with floor space in the middle.
  • What are the first days of school like?
    • A lot of the beginning of the year is about building community, but they don't talk about it until the second or third week. "I want to first expose them to a new style of teaching," she says, referring to a heavily inquiry based style, with connections between everything and anything. The first week is focused on activities that show these connections (for example, the Maimodades text was used to get them to start thinking about ...). She mentions a Senectics activity in which the students draw connections between things they thought weren't alike. Another activity is compiling their "hopes and dreams" for the year. Jamie herself participates, she says. Last year, her hope was to practice focusing on listening, which allows for student conversations such as the class flag discussion, which the students led on their own for more than an hour.
  • What is the curriculum like?
    • They had a curriculum coach for years, who created a "scope and sequence" for every grade and every subject that gives a guide on the specific topics to teach. Sometimes you can make decisions on changing the curriculum around a bit, leaving the teachers with a bit of give and take. Even tough Jamie was a bit nervous about teaching science at first, she discovered some great techniques and curriculum such as Quest for Lessfrom the EPA.
5. Ongoing development of practice:
  • What is something that you're working on in your teaching?
    • Alongside the students, Jamie developed her own "hopes and dreams." Hers was to be a more active listener. She wants to spend less time talking, and more time listening so that students can do the talking. She said she chose this so that the students could take the helm and launch into democratic classroom discussions, such as the one that resulted in a class flag and credo.

Extra: What is the school schedule?
    • August 31, classroom setup
    • September 2 -- 3, 9 am to 3 pm, staff days
    • September 8, 7:30 am -- 3:30 pm, first day of school
    • September 21 -- 24, leave Monday morning, come back Thursday afternoon, TEVA trip
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