Ilana Elson (Cohort 6)

Q: What year did you graduate DeLeT/What cohort and campus are you from?

I was at Brandeis in cohort 6 and I graduated in 2008.

Q: What is your current position?

I have been teaching fourth grade at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Manhattan for the last two years. I had wanted to make a move to NYC and this teaching opportunity came up quickly as a suggestion from a former JDS colleague who had made a switch there; she both helped me secure this opportunity and I was able to continue our teaching relationship. The school gave me the opportunity to try a different model of co-teaching. Currently, I fully co-teach and co-plan with a partner all day. My school is an independent school and I mostly teach language arts and social studies. For six years after DeLeT, I taught in Jewish Day Schools in Connecticut and South Jersey. It’s been really interesting working in a secular school, but I really miss being part of a Jewish educational community.

There are conversations that we don’t get to have that I had with my former JDS students. Sometimes I want to call someone a mensch and I know that wouldn’t mean anything. I miss being in a place where my colleagues and my students and I are actively involved in daily rituals and milestones events. For a while I really missed hearing birkat hamazon after lunch--it was always a sign after the summer break that “I’m back.”

Q: Are you doing anything extra outside of your teaching responsibilities?

I love living in NYC as I like walking everywhere (I even walk to work, which is amazing) and doing interesting things around the city. I’m trying to explore different neighborhoods. I’ve met many visiting children’s authors such as Brian Selznick and R.J. Polacio. I’ve been entering a lot of ticket lotteries to score seats at long-running Broadway shows, such as The Lion King and newer ones such as Falsettos. If you’re wondering, I have yet to win the Hamilton Lottery.

Q: We hear you are working as a curriculum developer for Goalbook. Can you tell us more about this exciting endeavor?

Teachers and school districts subscribe to Goalbook, and they can sign on and look for what they need. The Goalbook resources support teachers that need more practice materials aligned to the Common Core and real-life projects to support their students. Some former colleagues of mine are working for the Goalbook company in California.

As they were seeking new members for their team, they asked if I’d be interested. Curriculum writers and editors all around the country collaborate and the work is all done remotely. I’m working on math standards for grades 3-5. The projects I have been working on create differentiated assessments and practice work around these standards.

Each time I produce something new, it feels like a little victory. The first phase is coming up with the content. I really like this part. Since I’m not currently teaching math, this helps me to continue thinking as math teacher and exercise this part of my brain. The second part of the process is formatting. After trial and error to get it just right, I feel like I’ve triumphed over technology. The final product includes five pieces including a pre-assessment, post-assessment and three levels of practice work.

I really like being a respected educator whose curriculum creations benefit other educators and I am recognized as someone competent enough to be compensated for my work and passion.

My advice for those interested in this type of work is that this process helps one think about deeper ways of helping students show their understanding. Developing curriculum sharpens how you think about what you create. Additionally, I’m learning so much about using Word and how to lay text and images--creating documents that look professional. My current students benefit from this work as I apply the same strategies to differentiate my teaching subjects.

Q: What are you listening to/reading these days?

Last year, my co-teacher gave me a subscription to the “Book of the Month Club,” a great way to always have something to read. One favorite from this subscription includes When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working at your school?

The people I work with! I love that I am one of ten other fourth grade teachers. Not only do we have fun and we’re friends, we got to collaborate on curriculum.

Q: What are some lessons you learned in DeLeT that have served you well in your teaching career?

Oh my gosh. There are so many! I think being a reflective practitioner is one of the most important things as a teacher. The “L” (leadership) in DeLeT has made me want to be in a school where I can be a leader. At my former school, I was president of the Sunshine Club (Teacher’s social club), making holidays, birthdays and fun and community orientated social gatherings. I also was a teacher liaison for the school’s fundraiser, bridging between lay leaders and the teachers.

DeLeT made me hold myself to a very high standard. So much of who I am as a successful teacher is an outgrowth from my DeLeT year. Having a full-time internship with hands-on mentors and frequent observations with feedback from many people made it easy for me to be someone open to feedback, collaboration and observation now.

Thirdly, I had a student teacher a few years ago. Working with her highlighted many differences between my supportive and well thought out graduate program and hers. I had saved almost all the templates from my DeLeT mentor meetings and I was able to pull from these resources to support our work together. Mentoring helped me solidify what I was doing as I was able to share the reasons behind my teaching moves.

Q: What makes you proud to be a DeLeT alum?

I think DeLeT made me become a really good teacher. I left with all the tools I needed to continue learning and growing as an educator. It gave me such as strong connection to being part of a Jewish community and an appreciation for what happens in Jewish day. schools and the importance of educating our Jewish future. I imagine someday returning to the Jewish day school world. The work is so important and valuable.