- Down the Up Staircase: Tales of Teaching in Jewish Day Schools
In 2003, The Jewish Theological Seminary published Barry Holtz's Textual Knowledge: Teaching the Bible in Theory and in Practice, the first volume of "The Jewish Education Series," which was established to bring serious works about Jewish education to print. The second volume followed in 2004, a collaboration of Grant, Tickton Schuster, Woocher, and Cohen about Jewish adult education. The third volume (the topic of this review) emerged in 2006 and focuses upon teachers in Jewish day schools.
The recent boom in the Jewish day school world includes both an increase in the number of schools (the Avi Chai Foundation reports the establishment of at least 80 schools in the 1990s) and an increase in overall enrollment (a separate Avi Chai sponsored study reports a population increase of 12-15% in the non-ultra-Orthodox sector during the same time period). As a result, there is an increased demand for teachers in the day school system. Those closely involved with Jewish education know that well-trained, Jewishly literate, and committed teachers are hard to find.
If our schools are to be well staffed, not only are strong pre-service programs needed, but schools need to develop in-service training to support and develop new teachers. Furthermore, schools need to implement programs that will ensure the retention of those who are most talented. [End Page 87]
Carol Ingall's Down the Up Staircase: Tales of Teaching in Jewish Day Schools traces the development of three new teachers as they emerge from a graduate program at the Jewish Theological Seminary and assume their initial positions in Jewish day schools.* Given the promise of her subjects, whom she selected from her seminar for student teachers, Ingall hoped to develop a portrait of the struggles and successes of new teachers during their initial years in Jewish education and to provide rich qualitative data about their journey from novice to expert in the classroom.
At the outset of her study, Ingall "anticipated that . . . the three would have their ups and downs [and that] their passion would wax and wane," but she did not imagine that "[w]ithin four years of their graduation, all three [would have] left teaching in Jewish day schools." Given the unanticipated outcome of her study, the subject matter of her research shifted:
I wanted to know why they, with so much to offer, took the down staircase past the mezuzah and out the schoolhouse door, while others, albeit too few, manage to climb up from the ranks of beginners to become master teachers.
Her account is written:
(for) teacher educators . . . who might want to examine the pre-service programs that we offer our students; for administrators who hire novice teachers and fail to keep them; and for policy makers who fund Jewish day schools as the mainstay of a flourishing American Jewish community.
Ingall's portraits are rich and insightful. Within, she weaves together reflective comments and concept maps that she collected in annual interviews with her subjects. As each chapter begins, the reader is introduced to a bright, articulate, and passionate beginning Jewish educator who, after the turn of a few pages, has become alienated from her chosen profession and, as a result, chooses to leave the school setting. The pain that accompanies this harsh reality is expressed by both subject and researcher and leaves its mark on the reader as well.
The portraits are bookended by a survey of the literature regarding the transition of teachers from novice to expert and the essential components of teacher induction. Ingall's bibliography is extensive and current. It alone makes the work a useful resource for those who supervise and train new teachers and for those who wish to know more about the subject.
Although the study focuses on Jewish [End Page 88] day schools, its implications are equally relevant for synagogue-based supplementary schools, which are also in need of strong teacher training, development, and retention programs.
If the Jewish community is...