Over the past 15 years, JNTP has trained over 1,000 beginning teachers and mentors in Jewish day schools across North America to be more effective in their roles. Most remain classroom teachers; others have moved on to day school administration, positions at other educational institutions and even careers outside of education. In celebration of our 15th year, we felt it would be interesting and instructive to ask some of our alumni how their JNTP training has impacted their careers long-term.
For Shifra Chelst, a Fifth and Sixth Grade Judaic Studies teacher at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, D.C., the JNTP mentoring she received during her first two years at the school was truly transformative. Shifra had come to her current job after a year of teaching at another school where she received no support and much criticism. Upon arriving at MILTON, through her JNTP mentor, Shifra received the support and guidance she needed: “We worked on everything that was difficult for me as a new teacher – classroom environment, classroom management, understanding the curriculum and making it my own, etc. Sometimes we just talked about something that had come up in a flexible way; sometimes my mentor observed me and filled out complex and precise forms recording everything she saw. One time we even made a huge chart of everything in the entire 5th grade curriculum and exactly when and how I would teach each unit and lesson for the rest of the year.”
Toward the end of Shifra’s second year of being mentored, a group of people from the first school she taught in came to observe her new school. In the course of their observations, they saw Shifra teach a lesson in which the students did complex work eagerly and with good behavior. Afterwards, one of her former colleagues said to Shifra, “I thought for sure after that first year you were going to leave classroom teaching and I can’t believe you’re the same teacher they talked about back there – none of those things people said are true about the class I saw!” Shifra attributes much of the dramatic improvement and her continued commitment to teaching to the mentoring, help and trust she experienced from her JNTP mentor.
Shifra’s colleague Jen Margolis is a Second Grade General Studies teacher at MILTON, where she was mentored as a beginning teacher from 2013-2015. In describing how her JNTP experience helped her grow into the classroom teacher she is today, Jen shares that, “The most important thing I learned as part of the JNTP mentoring program is the importance of being a reflective practitioner. JNTP helped solidify the skills and habits I need to evaluate my students’ growth and the knowledge and skills they acquire, and also my own practice and how I can continue to improve and make the most of our instructional time.”
In her classroom, Jen still uses the reflection tools and rubrics from her mentee days, in addition to a number of other teaching techniques and skills she learned through JNTP. She points specifically to the enhanced vocabulary she gained through mentoring; Jen’s mentor taught her to reframe what she is experiencing in ways that meaningfully change the way she relates to her students and what she is teaching. This, in turn, changes the way students relate to that content. “For example,” Jen says, ”since the middle of my first year in JNTP I have never called an assignment ‘hard’ or ‘tricky.’ That is not a label that I give the work for a student. Rather, I will say things like, ‘Wow, it is really making you think differently.’” Jen also continues to use a tip from her mentor that helps guarantee she is truly seeing and acknowledging the contributions of each of her students. Every month Jen writes down a list of her students in the order that she thinks of them. Then, for the upcoming weeks, she focuses on the students whose names appear at the bottom of the list, ensuring that they receive the attention they deserve.
Similarly, Tamar Appel, Assistant Principal and History teacher at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ, regularly uses what she learned from JNTP, both as a new teacher being mentored in 2004-2006 and as a trained JNTP mentor for the past six years. One approach Tamar learned that she still uses is thinking about the larger educational goals and then tailoring lesson plans, assessments and classroom management from there. Tamar explains, “New teachers are so overwhelmed just getting through the day; they are almost breathless from the pace and from learning new content and from doing what is demanded of them. And so the larger goals can get lost. I learned – and I help new teachers learn – to look at the end goal, to think ‘What am I looking for at the end of the lesson, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the semester?’ and then to work backwards from there. I’ve found that this approach reduces the pressure of the minute-to-minute planning and makes long-term planning more efficient.”
Being trained as a JNTP mentor has given Tamar another set of skills that she uses as an administrator. Because mentor training focuses entirely on being in a supportive role, rather than supervisory or prescriptive, Tamar says that she has become more empathetic as an administrator. She has become much more aware of how much work is involved and how overwhelmed a beginning teacher can feel. And that has led her to be mindful in creating manageable schedules for beginning teachers that include prep time and breaks and time for mentoring. Tamar believes that, “At the end of the day, a manageable schedule will make teachers successful and happy, which of course makes it better for the students. In general, when you work in a school, the ultimate accountability is to the students, to ensuring their growth. Being a mentor made me attuned to employee satisfaction being an inherent value, in addition to how it serves “customer” satisfaction. My mentor experience translates into how I think of teachers as an administrator.”
As for JNTP’s ultimate impact: Tamar made her decision to remain teaching at the high school level — which for her first two years of teaching was not the plan — because it became a love and a passion that she discovered through her work with JNTP.
JNTP new teacher alum Davidi Jonas took a different path. Davidi began his career as a Judaic Studies teacher at SAR High School in Riverdale, NY, where he taught and was mentored through JNTP for two years. Davidi had known that he wanted to teach since his first year in yeshiva in Israel, when he had to prepare a shiur and present it to his class. What Davidi loves most about teaching is seeing something that he is sharing — about Torah, Jewish history, Jewish values, Jewish traditions — become relevant to someone and come alive to that person. While ultimately Davidi left high school teaching, he feels that the mentoring he received was invaluable. “To have someone who has been a teacher for decades pinpoint what works, what doesn’t work, to have an extra set of eyes in the classroom, I found that to be extremely instructive.” As for the impact mentoring had on his teaching, he feels that there was a clear but subtle impact: “ I have the sense that through the process, I became a more thoughtful person. I feel that if I hadn’t had a great whisperer helping me focus on the journey and keep moving ahead, I wouldn’t have been as likely to have as much of an impact on my students as I did.”
Now the CEO and President of Straight Path Communications, Davidi says that he laughs when asked how he deals with investors, who “can be cantankerous, offensive, probing, asking questions that make you uncomfortable, trying to get you to share information you don’t want to.” He responds to people: “Are you kidding? I dealt with high school students for two years! High school students really teach you how to respect boundaries!” Joking aside, Davidi shares that, at the end of the day, everything is about relationships, whether in teaching or in business. And, many of the critical skills he learned as a teacher were “really about how to connect with people, how to convey an idea that makes it palatable and understandable, how to anticipate what questions could arise and have answers.“ Davidi believes that these very skills have helped him in business.
It would be impossible to interview all 1,000+ participants and alumni from the past 15 years, to collect their personal stories about the long-term impact of JNTP mentoring on their careers. As a sample, these profiles represent the type of impact JNTP hopes for: for the mentoring experience to be transformative; for the skills, techniques and approaches learned to continue in the classroom long after the two years of active mentoring are finished; and for those skills to be transferable outside of the classroom, whether to roles that impact the whole school or even other professions. We are honored to have been part of shaping the career paths of these talented individuals and look forward to helping other educators achieve professional excellence for many more years to come.