Samara Hendin (Cohort 7)

I am privileged to have joined the faculty at the Jewish Community Day School in August 2009 after graduating from DeLeT. I teach fifth grade English, history, math, in addition to being the fifth grade Advisor. English and history are taught as a combined Humanities class where the content areas are intertwined and skills for both are combined.

Integration is an area of my teaching I have been thinking about more and more about as I’ve gotten more familiar with my curriculum. Perhaps the most prominent example of integration in my teaching is through my Humanities classes. Students write paragraphs about the maps they create during our geography unit, a research paper about the artifacts they create on Ancient Greece and an essay on Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry during our Civil Rights unit.

One of my favorite writing assignments we do is one that integrates Judaic content with writing skills. I ask students to choose one of the seven days of Creation and write a midrash that fills in all the details of what that day may have looked like. Students use the text from the Tanakh to see what is already given and then build upon it; they must pair their knowledge and familiarity of the text with their developing descriptive writing skills. Additionally, my co-teacher and I are currently working on a short unit that will highlight the influence of the Ancient Greek symposium on the Pesach seder.

I find the most rewarding aspect of teaching to be witnessing students’ successes, particularly when they did not think they would be successful. I demand a lot from my students while aiming to cater toward each of their needs, so when a student makes an achievement they did not anticipate – big or small – I feel like I’ve done something right. Catering to each student’s needs is a double-edged sword, however; I find that balancing individual attention with the needs of the group as a whole can be a challenge. I sometimes find it hard to choose which is more important for the particular situation.

Being able to collaborate and reflect with the fifth grade team is a large part of my work as a teacher-leader. The partnership I have with my colleagues is not only a staple practice in our school, but is also an element of “Best Practices” that I feel strongly about supporting and furthering in schools.

Last year I had the honor of presenting some of my work to my colleagues during a “Teacher Share” meeting. Due to the other commitments that come with being a Jewish Day School, we have only had a few Teacher Share meetings since I’ve been at the school. Presenting my work and receiving feedback from my colleagues was a tremendously fulfilling experience, however, and I hope to work with my school to bring this opportunity back to the table.

I am fortunate that JCDS agrees with the philosophies we learn in DeLeT surrounding collaboration and reflection. DeLeT shaped the way I view teaching and teacher-leadership, however, in that I began to understand that teachers do not necessarily need to be in administrative roles in order to be leaders in their schools.

For now, I’m focusing on working through challenges and continuing to improve my curriculum and practice. I am continually impressed by the work that Learning Specialists do to help students with learning difficulties reach their potential and more, so being part of that work is a route I would be interested in pursuing in the future.

I also feel passionate about excellence and “Best Practices” in teaching, so I would love to continue to work with the DeLeT program and DeLeT Alumni Network and focus on the craft of teaching. Specifically, I hope to work with new and veteran teachers alike to help them form peer networks for discussion and collaboration, and/or work with schools to look at supervision and evaluation.