Mentoring program improves Jewish education


A great education requires the best teachers. That is as true for Jewish schools as it is for any other type of educational institution. The Jewish New Teacher Project aims to grow environments that produce those teachers by training experienced teachers as mentors and support networks for newer teachers, boosting skills and enthusiasm for teaching in ways that directly improve students’ experiences.

Parents send their children to Jewish schools for all kinds of reasons, but all of them want their children to get the best possible education, and the JNTP seeks to provide just that.

“We train seasoned teachers to mentor newer teachers,” said Nina Bruder, the director of the JNTP.

The experts from the JNTP, who work with a school for two years a time, teach the educators about how to help newer teachers that may be struggling or becoming frustrated. Designing programs for personal mentorship along with specific help in lesson planning and classroom management are all part of what the JNTP brings to the schools their staff works with and all with the angle of Jewish education.

The JNTP is a division of the New Teacher Center, a program with the same goals and methods that works with public schools.

“We’re a privately funded division of the NTC,” Bruder said. “We all do the same thing but we have a specialty applying to Jewish schools.”

Started a decade ago in New York with funding by the Avi Chai Foundation, the program has worked with close to 100 schools. With the aid of the Jim Joseph Foundation, it came to the Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore area in 2008. Locally, the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital (JPDS-NC), Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy (MJBHA), Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and the Torah School all have been or are currently part of the program.

“We tailor the program for local schools,” said Judy Rosenblatt, who leads the program for the Baltimore and D.C. region. “What we bring to it is our own backgrounds, our own sensitivities.”

Rosenblatt said that, combined with the five Baltimore schools, nearly 50 teachers in the region will have been part of the program by the end of the upcoming school year. And the schools represent nearly every kind of Jewish education, a point she is particularly proud of.

“The beauty of the program is the wonderful participation of the full spectrum of Jewish schools,” Rosenblatt said.

Bruder said that the wide-ranging nature of the schools the JNTP works with regionally also applies to the program as a whole, with many flavors of Jewish education incorporating the ideas of the JNTP.

The results so far have been impressive. Locally, several teachers engaged with the JNTP program have won awards. Laura (Caplan) Cohen of JPDS-NC earned the 2012 Beryl and Norman Meyer z”l Outstanding Educator Award from the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning while MJBHA teachers Rachel Kosowsky and Rabbi Joshua Blaustein, who have participated in the program, have won Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education.

In particular, new teacher retention, which can be an area of concern, is looked at as a valuable metric, but Bruder and Rosenblatt both said that individual mentoring has helped in keeping new teachers. In the region, two-thirds of new teachers said that their mentor played a role in their choosing to stay in their 2012 survey.

“Principals have reported it has changed the cultures at schools for the better,” Rosenblatt said.

Along with adding to and improving the educational tools of new teachers, all of the Baltimore and D.C. mentors said in the same survey that the program broadened their own understanding of how to teach.

“The mentor teachers grow as well,” Rosenblatt said.

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