I have been working in the field of Jewish education for the past 28 years and as the director of a supplementary religious school for the last 14. Many people have asked me why I chose this time in my career to go back for my MAEd. I know that I am good at my job, but have also always known that something was missing. Experience has given me many of the tools that I need to succeed in my role, but I lacked the formal education that could make me a better educator. My knowledge was surface level. This program has shown me the depth that has been missing.
The best example of an area that I have been lacking depth is in the study of Torah. When our school meets in person, our weekly parsha discussions are a highlight for many of our students. We review the books of the Torah, hear a summary of the parsha and then discuss what we read. The discussions themselves are usually filled with insightful commentary from the students but never challenged students to think critically or differently about the text. Due to my lack of knowledge of Torah, I was never able to guide my students to look deeper into the material.
Last semester in Rabbi Pat Fenton’s “Teaching Bible and Commentary” class, I had the opportunity to study the Torah more profoundly. Through this learning, the commentaries, and class discussions, I saw the complexity of each of the parshiyot. Each story and each character contain many elements and so much nuance. This class not only inspired me to keep studying but will also allow me to add more content and variety to our future discussions in religious school. For example, in parshat Toldot, we typically focus on the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing. We have never discussed less-known narratives of Isaac digging the wells and what that means about his character. This story allows us to see Isaac in a different light and provides great material for meaningful discussion.
In that way, the class was a double-edged sword for me. I feel personally enriched by the Torah study that pushed and challenged me. I was blessed with a knowledgeable, passionate, caring instructors who inspired me to dive deeper into the material and create a personal relationship with the curriculum. I also know that, armed with this knowledge, I can bring positive change to our school. I can take what I have learned so far and find ways to add it to our school curriculum making it a richer experience for our students.
Michelle Starkman, M.A., MBA
Vice President, Communications