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July 19, 2016

By Zvi Hirschfield, Ayeka Educator

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of accompanying Aryeh Ben David to two schools in Los Angeles, Shalhevet High School and Milken Community Schools, and support him in delivering the Ayeka vision to eight teachers at each school. While the sessions were terrific, that is not the only thing that left me both inspired and excited. I have seen Aryeh deliver and explain the Ayeka approach many times. I am already a believer. Unlike me, Aryeh is a planner. The examples, stories, and even the jokes are all planned and they all emerge every time Aryeh lays out the Ayeka methodology. So, no surprises there. For me, the excitement came from meeting the teachers. Many of us assume that most teachers are frustrated, burnt out, bitter, and a little lost. We assume that the students are indifferent to the material, focused only on grades, obsessed with getting into university, and do not find their Judaics classes relevant or meaningful.

The actual picture is much brighter and more optimistic.

First, I cannot emphasize enough how inspired I was by the commitment and passion these educators bring to their work. All of them believe both in what they are teaching and that their classes can potentially transform the lives of their students and inspire them to a lifetime of finding a home in the Jewish community. While they all expressed frustrations, none sounded despairing. All of them want to improve and grow, both as individuals and as professionals.

Second, they love their students, even the ones that are hard to love. Every teacher we met was not satisfied with transmitting only skills, knowledge, and academic performance. They all want their students to grow and develop as people. They all expressed concern about students’ inner lives, emotional development, creative drive, and ability to express themselves and feel heard.

Third, all the teachers expressed a strong belief in the power of the material they teach and the classroom environment they create. They trust their material. They are hungry to explore and develop new tools for making the material personally relevant and transformative.

There are many challenges ahead. Teachers are busy and overworked. They do not have a lot of time to collaborate, share, and support each other. Many of them are thinking so much about their students and professional responsibilities that they lack the time and energy to reflect on their subjects from a personal perspective and re-discover the passion and excitement that led them to become masters of their areas of expertise.

I am personally excited by the opportunity to partner with these teachers and help them “Ayekacize” their classes. I am hoping that as Ayeka helps them re-connect with their own passion and bring more of themselves to their classrooms, I will be inspired and motivated to bring more of Ayeka to my own classroom at Pardes.