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Alumni Focus: Jenn (Adler) Laytin

Jenn Laytin (Cohort 7) is in her 6th year of teaching and also serves as the Jewish Studies Coordinator at the Rodeph Shalom School in New York, New York.

My name is Jenn Laytin, and having recently changed my name I am still getting used to hearing the students call me “Mrs. Laytin.” My students were thrilled when my husband Michael joined us for a lesson and they were able to meet the man behind the name change. I just started my sixth year teaching second, third and fourth grade and my third year as the Jewish Studies Coordinator at the Rodeph Sholom School in Manhattan. Being an experienced teacher, I now have the opportunity to mentor first and second year teachers who are just beginning their careers. I keep promising them that the first year is difficult for everyone, but it gets better! The opportunity to work with new teachers has allowed me to look deeply at my own teaching to see where I can continue to improve my own practice. 

This year I experienced that new teacher struggle on a different level as I began a new journey in my own teaching.  I am now working with first grade in addition to my regular schedule and responsibilities. Once a week I push into their classrooms to teach our first graders the stories of Bereshit. I was nervous to be working with a new team of teachers that I had never worked with before. Even though I have been at Rodeph a long time, it was still nerve-racking; suddenly I felt like a new teacher all over again.  Luckily the first grade team was extremely welcoming and I felt like a part of the team from day one! They helped me brainstorm my lesson plans and kept me informed as to what they were doing in general studies, allowing me to make connections wherever possible. 

Having never worked with students this young I did not know what to expect. I wasn’t even sure exactly how to talk to them. Would they understand the stories from the Torah? Could they think deeply about God? What type of Hebrew vocabulary do they have? Do I understand where they are developmentally? I had so many questions. I quickly learned that first grade students feel a deep connection to the Torah and to God.  They are very spiritual and they ask excellent questions pertaining to the text. They believe that God is a strong presence in their lives and that God has tremendous power to make the world a better place. It was beautiful to hear one student say, “We know that God is part of our lives because we can just feel him.”

At the beginning of the year, right before Simchat Torah, I took the first grade on a tour of the Main Sanctuary. I will never forget the look on their faces as they sat facing the giant aron kodesh. One of my students wisely described the ner tamid as God’s light.  He then went on to say that he believes the ner tamid is in the sanctuary to remind us that God’s light shines inside of all people. I was amazed by the incredible intelligence and sensitivity of my first grade students.  At first I was unsure of how to teach this new age group, but one lesson in and I was hooked. 

I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with a span of age groups at Rodeph Sholom.  In the morning I get to teach first graders who have no doubt that God exists.  In the afternoon I get to teach third graders who are just starting to figure out what God means to them. We have deep discussions as a class to help each other understand. I am fortunate that, as a veteran teacher, I still get the chance to try new things every year. I am constantly learning from my students and I am glad to say that I still love being in the classroom.