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Donna Rudolph Profile

Upon graduating from the Pardes Educators Program I was fortunate to have gotten a wonderful job. I was a 4th, 5th and 6th grade Judaic studies teacher in a small school in Washington, DC. I remember saying to my husband at some point that I actually looked forward to getting up in the morning and going to work every day. How many people can say that? I think part of what made the job so enjoyable was that I had a majority of motivated students; parents whom I felt were my partners in their children's education, and most importantly a supportive staff and a supportive principal. The faculty and parent body appreciated me as a teacher and as a person.

We moved back to Israel 2 years ago and understandably my greatest fear was not having job satisfaction.  My first job here was as a sort of liaison between the children of new olim or people who were in Israel on Sabbatical at a specific Mamlachti Dati (Public religious) school.  I would go into class with these kids and give support as needed- mostly in their Judaic studies/Hebrew classes. I had a very difficult experience in doing this, primarily on being an observer. I was used to kids behaving and being excited about school, I was used to kids having enough food for lunch, I was used to working at a school with a no bullying policy, not one that didn’t notice bullying going on. I was so used to the ‘luxury’ of making as many photocopies as I wanted (there wasn’t a laminating machine so we won't even go there☺).  All of these privileges were part of working in a private Jewish school in the US, and clearly I was ‘not in Kansas anymore’. If I am being honest with myself, the two parts that bothered me the most were the idea that my own children would eventually be exposed to and part of this system, and that I still can’t for sure say that the kids were not learning anything. I think they actually were!

The job came to an end when I had a baby and I decided that at least for the time being I needed to find something else to do, that could possibly accommodate my staying at home for a few years. As luck would have it, a Pardes teacher and someone that I work with at a GAP year program told me about the Lookstein Center’s virtual teacher program.  This is where teachers from Eretz Yisrael are hired by a day school in America to teach some kind of Judaic Studies or Hebrew class via video conferencing.  The class size ranges depending on the schools needs.  In more rural areas of the country the Lookstein Center’s teacher has a very strong presence, as they may be one of a handful of Judaic studies teachers, if not the only one, at the school. In the bigger cities there are more options- and so in choosing a Lookstein teacher they truly see the benefit of the students not only getting some extra skills but also having the Israel-America connection.

I was placed at a Modern Orthodox Day School in New Jersey. I have been teaching Mishnah and Ivrit to 5th graders in an enrichment class 4 nights a week.  The class is completely student run. There are 5 -7 kids per class. I assigned two students to be in email contact with me.  Every week I send the fifth graders the assignment to be distributed to the rest of the class, and we work from there.  One student is in charge of setting up the camera, the chairs and the headsets.  Another student is in charge of actually calling me, using the video conferencing system we use.  Once we establish a virtual connection, I take it from there.  I am able to share my screen, and I take full advantage of having the internet at my fingertips.  I have made and edited videos for them; they have also made and edited videos for me.  We have somewhat of an - "alternative" - and enriched class environment.  It almost brings in the -  "informal" -  into formal education. The vice principal is in regular contact with me in terms of how the students are doing and I am also in regular contact with their regular teachers.

I would love to say this system is AMAZING, but as you can imagine there are often kinks to iron out.  I don’t have someone sitting in the room so when a student is disruptive or forgets their homework I have very little leeway in terms of dealing with it in class. Nothing could replace a physical teacher in the classroom, that’s a given. However, I have to say that I have a very meaningful connection with the class. The Lookstein center sent me to meet them at their school in New Jersey towards the beginning of the school year, and our face to face meeting helped establish and forge our bond.  I found them to be motivated, respectful, thoughtful, kind and bright!

So while ideally I would love to physically be in a classroom and miss being able to dance around the classroom, as I call on students and just having a presence in general- I would take this job any day. It’s the best of both worlds to me.  I sincerely hope that with the advance of technology this will get easier and easier.