New Minor Serves Jewish Community’s Need for Qualified Educators

Professor Corinne Smith says for as long as she has been on the Syracuse University School of Education faculty (43 years), synagogues and other organizations have contacted the school to request teachers for their Jewish education programs. Now, the School of Education has established a new minor, Jewish Education Studies, to prepare any student at Syracuse University to have the content knowledge and fundamental pedagogy to be an effective teacher of this material.

Smith says that it is common for students to enter into Jewish teaching positions with only some of the necessary skills. She says, synagogues and Hebrew day schools “may get people who know a lot about the Jewish content but do not know how to organize, motivate, teach and visualize in a classroom. Then, they have others who know a great deal about teaching because they’re earning teaching degrees, but they don’t know a lot about the Jewish content that they’re teaching and therefore can’t teach it very richly.”

One of the ways this minor addresses concerns is with a methods course for non-majors, “Fundamentals of Teaching for Non-Majors.” This was designed to attract more people to teaching without the dense commitment of an education major, as well as appeal to those who might use teaching skills part-time for activities such as tutoring, mentoring or volunteering. Smith cautions that methods courses in the Jewish Education Studies minor are in no way a substitution for coursework and field experience that an education major would receive, but it “addresses the community’s need for a more qualified workforce” in this particular content area.

“The person who might be attracted to this program is somebody who cares a lot about conveying knowledge about Jewish history, literature, customs, the religion, and at the same time know enough about how to teach in order to promote success in the classroom,” Smith says.

This success means creating a comfortable climate within the classroom, where students feel motivated and compelled to participate. It is necessary for a teacher to differentiate between different learning styles and teach to all children. Smith makes it clear that this includes children with disabilities.

At Syracuse University, the Jewish Education Studies minor is 22-24 credit hours, including a Hebrew course, several pedagogy courses and basic Bible studies courses.

The breadth and depth of the content can be explored further by participating in the School of Education’s Holocaust and Genocide workshops. These free lectures, workshops and seminars are held several times a semester on various topics and address how to teach and learn form the Holocaust and modern-day genocides through primary sources, the arts and interactive lesson plans.

Learn more about the Jewish Education minor