Being a teacher is not only about teaching others, but about continuously learning yourself. This, above all, is what I have come to realize as a participant in TCK’s Legacy Teaching Fellowship.

This is the first year that TCK has run this incredible program for students in grades 11 and 12. The program consists of weekly in-class workshops run by Ms. Socken, an inspiring English and drama teacher at TCK, as well as placements in Beit Rayim Synagogue’s supplementary Hebrew school. The Fellowship curriculum aims to educate aspiring teachers and give us a sense of the mysterious lesson-planning-essay-marking world that is a teacher’s reality.

The workshops with Ms. Socken have quickly become a highlight of my week. The set-up is much the same every Monday: the eight of us congregate in the Perlis boardroom, seated around a big table in comfy swivel chairs that make us feel exceptionally professional.  We begin our meetings with a snack (always a hit!) and chat about interesting classroom observations we made over the course of the week. We then move onto the topic of the day, which can range from classroom management to learning styles to promoting a positive mindset in students. We receive handouts and activities, but the sessions are primarily conversation-based, with interesting anecdotes from Ms. Socken’s experiences and a chance for us to share ideas as well. We always have such interesting discussions, and ninety minutes later we are still totally immersed, laughing and polishing off the last chocolate chip cookies.

The placement component of the program puts all that we learn in class into action as we join grades 4 to 7 Hebrew school classes at Beit Rayim. We mainly observe, keeping in mind all that we have learned in our sessions, and help out the students with classwork. We are also working towards teaching a lesson ourselves in the spring term! It has been such an interesting experience, seeing the workings of a classroom from a new perspective and applying what we are learning to a real life situation.

The best thing about the program overall, aside from all that we learn, of course, is the positive, collegial atmosphere. The eight of us have quickly become a community in which we are encouraged to share our thoughts and are made to feel that our ideas are just as important in the learning process as those of our teacher. This program has not only taught me so many practical skills of being a teacher, but it has also opened my eyes to the power of ongoing participatory learning. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this invaluable program and to have created such wonderful memories with my Fellowship Family.

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I know it might sound strange to say this–not just because it may seem early to be thinking about summer camp–but working at a summer camp is good for your resume.  It’s strange to make this assertion because it’s counter-intuitive and because I truly value camp for its own sake.

Camp is a good break from school.  It’s a time to let your brain re-charge.  It’s a time to get out of the resume race.  Jewish camps teach you things that you don’t learn any place else even at the finest Jewish day schools:  shira, rikud, birkat hamazon (by heart).  Day school is, after all, school whereas camp is pure fun.  Camp transforms not just campers but counselors.  In fact, counselors often gain more from camp than the campers do.  When you have to teach something to someone else, you learn the material better.  When you have to be a role model, you act with greater intentionality.  When you’re put in a position to lead, you become more aware of your choices and conscious of your decisions.

That’s the case for the inherent value of camp.

Now, I want to make the case for camp’s instrumental value.  I want to make the case because there are high school students who say they can’t go to camp as a counselor because they need to get “a real job.”

I asked Ron Polster, director of Camp Ramah, what he thought of that.  He said:  “One of the most important skills staff learn at overnight camp is how to communicate face-to-face. At Ramah, where the youngest campers are part of our Gan (nursery) program and the oldest are graduating Gr. 10, and where we have a Tikvah program for children with a variety of special needs, staff learn to communicate with quite a diverse community. In fact, I often hear from Ramah alumni about how, in today’s world of technology, the development of these face-to-face communication skills at camp became so important to them later in life. Both personally and professionally.

Simon Wolle, the director at Camp Northland, added that camp staff positions “provide the skills today’s employers are looking for in their workers.  ‘Twenty-first century skills,’ the skills frequently sought after today’s employers, include Learning Skills (critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating) as well as Life Skills (flexibility, initiative, social skills, productivity and leadership).

Risa Epstein, national executive director of Young Judaea, echoes this insight:  “Camp gives a young adult the opportunity to develop skills that will help them on any path they take in the future.  Where else will students 18-22 have the ability to manage staff, speak in front of an audience, develop programs and care for children if it were not in the summer camp setting.”

I encourage all our students to work at camp; and if you’re already planning on doing so, don’t let anyone tell you that you need a real job.  Being a counselor is about as real as it gets.

JU

Jeremy Urbach attends Camp Ramah and is currently in grade 10 at TanenbaumCHAT.

This week we had the privilege of hosting on both campuses Shachar Chanan, the CEO of an Israeli non-profit organization called “My Truth” (http://mytruth.org.il/team_member/).  “My Truth” is made up of IDF reserve soldiers who seek to share the values, moral dilemmas, and experiences of Israeli soldiers.

What should be the IDF’s plan of action, for example, in the following circumstance?  The home and location of a known terrorist has just been discovered in a neighborhood in Gaza.  From his home, this man has been planning bombings, meeting with accomplices, supplying belts for suicide bombers, and storing up weapons.  However, the residence is also occupied 24 hours a day by the man’s wife and children.  What type of attack is permitted in a situation where the terrorist uses his own family as a human shield?

These are the kinds of complicated dilemmas that IDF soldiers face.  The vast majority of soldiers strive to meet the highest ethical standards of any army in the world.  Most meet these standards; some fail.  The recent decision by the military court finding an Israeli soldier guilty of manslaughter for killing a neutralized terrorist is a case in point (http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.762927).

I appreciate the fact that at TanenbaumCHAT, we don’t hide the flaws, foibles, or failings of Israel or its citizens or soldiers.  In our Grade 12 Arab-Israeli conflict courses, for example, teachers will present a series of events that took place in Israel’s past or present and then ask students to look up how five different newspapers portray those events.  The political left or right, the anti-Zionists, the settlers, the religious, and the secular community all look upon the same events but interpret them differently.  We want our students to see the nuance and complexity.  This is how we ensure that our students don’t feel that we present only one side of the very complicated issues Israel deals with on a daily basis.

In my experience, our students don’t benefit from being shielded from the complexities of Israel’s history or contemporary reality.  We won’t succeed in helping them develop a deep connection with Israel if we stifle debate, suppress doubt, or deny Israel’s failures. Israel is a country filled with the best a nation has to offer (high tech, individual freedoms, infinite opportunities) and with problems that all other countries possess (illegal immigration, religious conflicts, racial tension.)

As a Zionist myself, I view every imperfection as an invitation to get involved in building this phenomenal Jewish enterprise called Israel.  The American Jewish author Cynthia Ozick put it well: “Israel is imperfect…Because she is imperfect, she is always building.  Because she is always building, she is eternal.”  This is the attitude I hope our students cultivate as well.

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