Anna Salomon (Brandeis Cohort 7)

What grades and content areas do you teach in?
I teach general studies for second and third grade at New Orleans Jewish Day School. In my general studies classroom, however, I manage to integrate Hebrew and Judaics whenever possible. Last year I taught in a third and fourth grade combined class. I try really hard to collaborate with each of the other teachers throughout the year as well.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of teaching?
For me, the most rewarding aspects vary depending on the point of reference. With students, the most rewarding aspects of teaching are when students can’t wait to come to school – or they’re so excited about something they’re learning that the parents know all about it before I send a note home.

Recently, I taught a third grade social studies unit on the Separatists (more commonly known as the Pilgrims). My students learned all about where the Separatists came from and what their life was like and followed that through to the First Harvest Celebration (that many people call the first Thanksgiving). A parent e-mailed me one night and said that her son had just given them an incredible history lesson over dinner! It sparked a wonderful conversation for the family over the entire length of the unit. Knowing how excited the student was made it an incredible experience for me. Personally, one of the most rewarding experiences is being able to do something I love every single day. At my school itself, one of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the support from the Head of School. The Head of School is truly willing to support the teachers and allow us the freedom to teach and change the curriculum to fit our students.

The most challenging?
As with the rewarding aspects, the challenges also depend. With the students the most challenging aspect is when I can’t find a way to reach a student. I had one student in particular that was challenging both behaviorally and academically. I kept trying different things and knew I was failing him. It was very hard for me both professionally and personally. Finding what works for each particular student is definitely challenging. That being said, it’s also incredibly rewarding when you succeed! Personally, a big challenge is separating work and family. When I’m in the middle of planning a unit or grading papers, it can be hard to stop. At the same time, my family is very important to me and I want to have time with them. And then within my school a challenge is the size/resources. Our school is very small, only 52 students this year in pre-K-5th grades. We don’t have a lot of money for professional development and we don’t have many opportunities locally. Our Head of School values professional development greatly and works hard to help us find ways to make it work, but it’s hard. Because of our location, we aren’t close to any larger cities/schools that we might be able to work with.

How do you see your role as a leader in your JDS?
I feel that every teacher is a leader in a large way. We work hard to manage our classrooms and implement curriculum. The choices we make, the things we do – that makes us a leader. Whether a teacher takes that step outside the classroom, discussing it with others and/or the Head of School to make improvements to a larger extent, that’s what I think of as leadership. I talk to my Head of School every day – as I do with my colleagues. I love and respect each and every one of them, and truly enjoy the opportunity to discuss what we all do and how we can improve things. Sometimes it’s informal and other times I make a concerted effort to change something or bring something new to the table. In the two years I’ve been at my school I hope I’ve written a formal curriculum, recommended a new math program for adoption, co-planned many school events (as we all do), changed Tefillah in my classroom and made many, many changes within my own classroom. I guess for me it’s not an option to sit back quietly. I like to share what I do with others and I love to hear what they’re doing. Even more, I love working with others within my school to make it an even better place. I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful group of colleagues to work with!

How does integration factor into your teaching?
Integration is very important to me. It’s also difficult at our school. The students have one whole period of Hebrew and another whole period of Judaics. In my classroom we do Hebrew calendar, celebrate Rosh Chodesh as an opportunity to set new goals for our learning and assess where we’ve been/what we’ve accomplished and make challah, observe and study all the holidays, use all the brachot in class and at lunch, study text throughout the year, do a Hebrew morning message (and since I don’t speak Hebrew, it’s always tons of fun!), say Mi Shebeirach for family/friends that are very ill, and incorporate other Jewish values into the life of our class. I also use Jewish history to study American history and compare/contrast the experiences. I lead and teach Tefillah for my class, so we discuss the prayers and Judaism as well; I also teach Siddur literacy in my class. Students leave my class able to locate and lead a basic morning service using an Orthodox, Conservative and Reform siddur and melodies. That being said, I am always looking for ways to do more. It’s hard for me to not teach Judaism; I always tell the students you’re not Jewish only during Hebrew & Judaics periods! It’s difficult to do; I have to ensure we achieve our secular curricular goals and I also have to keep in mind that they have two other teachers that do these things. I don’t want to take away from their experiences with the other teachers.