Along with its increasing popularity come some significant challenges, such as finding qualified educators to run classes and programs.
BY FAYGIE HOLT
In Faygie Holt’s article we are encouraged by news of the growth in the number of students studying Hebrew in public and charter schools. And while the article submits that it is “hip” to learn Hebrew, it clearly may not be so cool to be teaching Hebrew.
Holt explains that which we at Hebrew at the Center (HATC) have been grappling with for years: Many Hebrew teachers come to the profession without formal training in teaching Hebrew as a second language and settle upon teaching Hebrew because they are native speakers living in the United States, not because they are educators seeking to teach. Additionally, although many teachers enjoy the classroom and the profession, they have not had the professional preparation that teachers traditionally enjoy before joining the profession. As a further challenge, Israelis who were trained as educators in Israel need to be acculturated to the North American classroom and exposed to the current state of the field of second language pedagogy.
At Hebrew at the Center, we firmly believe that teachers are at the core of a quality Hebrew education and that their talents must be properly nurtured and supported. For Hebrew to continue to grow and thrive as a language outside of Israel, we must invest in the ongoing training of our teachers so that they are equipped with the skills, structures, and approaches to supervision that make for engaging, confident, and student-centered learning. Through mentorship and coaching programs, whole-school culture change, ongoing professional development, and strategic partnerships with other education professionals, HATC is supporting the success of Hebrew teachers. We have received countless testimonials from veteran teachers who experience a profound shift in their professional lives after taking part in HATC offerings. HATC’s early work provided foundational training for many of the charter and public schools. While much of our recent work has focused on Jewish day school professionals, these same teachers have become resources for other Hebrew-related programs locally and nationally, illustrating how our work has a ripple effect that can impact entire communities.
We believe that the field of Hebrew study will be significantly elevated when the community invests in opportunities for Hebrew teachers to gain the ongoing professional development that they seek and need. Elementary, middle and high school students create the base for higher-level Hebrew education in college—and are pivotal to ending the declining numbers of students studying Hebrew at the university level, a fact recently reported in the fall in The Tablet and The Forward.
Holt’s article bodes well for the future of Hebrew study as long as we commit to nurturing the ongoing professional development of our Hebrew teachers—within both the public and Jewish educational systems—so that by making Hebrew language “hip” we revitalize Hebrew as a cultural force and connection to Israel.
CEO and President, Hebrew at the Center Inc. and
Vice President, Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America