They say that nothing prepares you for teaching as much as actual teaching. Until the day of your first class, everything is only theoretical. I didn’t believe this was true until my first day on the job. I walked in imagining that I had already mastered the art of teaching. I was confident that I would have twenty two eager pairs of eyes, looking up at me, excited and prepared to learn. I realized very quickly that I had a lot to learn. As challenging as that first year was, it was also very rewarding. Each subsequent year seemed to improve on the last. Soon I was able to look back at some of those theories and ideas that I had learned previously and try to see if they would fit into my classroom.
In the world of education today, there is a lot of talk about Authentic Education. People learn better when they are actively involved in the learning. Through a real life experiences they learn to do things better. The idea is that I could give you instructions how to drive a car, but you won’t be able to actually apply it and come to a real understanding until you actually experience it. A teacher might try to teach the proper way to write a business letter by actually having the students writing real business letters to companies that interest them.
This idea makes a lot of sense to me. It seems like it has value… until I try to apply it to my class. I teach second grade Judaic Studies. I spend a lot of time teaching Chumash. Chumash goes from Possuk Aleph to Possuk Beis. From Perek Aleph to Perek Beis. I am not convinced that the proper way of teaching it is to take a big picture question and use a real life example to let the students try to problem solve their way into an understanding of the Chumash. I definitely think there is value in giving them the tools to try to learn the Chumash by themselves. That I do every day. However, trying to use the Chumash as a tool to solve real life problems, in order to make it real for the students, doesn’t seem to fit right for me.
I am not saying that it is not possible to do. Over Shabbos, someone was explaining to be that it is possible to figure out how much the Teivah weighed. After all, we know its measurements. We know how much water it displaced. It is just a mathematical equation. I thought, “Brilliant! Authentic Education in Chumash.” I told it to this person and his astute seventeen year old son says, “Authentic education…if you want to teach math.” He is one hundred percent correct. Displacement is a side issue to the understanding of the Chumash. Sure, we have found a way that you can use math to figure out something in the Torah. It is an important thing to teach, but not what I am looking to spend a large amount of class time on. When I am teaching my Chumash lesson, I need to focus on the words themselves, on the storyline, on the hashkafos and on the Chumash skills for my boys. I am not convinced that Authentic Education is the proper way to teach Chumash. I ran this question by a friend is who is older, wiser and more experienced than me and he suggested that perhaps my thoughts have some validity in the younger grades, but in the older grades it was more practical to put it into practice. I am not convinced that this is the case. I would argue that when you need to teach a specific Perek, you still need to learn the Chumash in the order of the Perek. There is not much room in the tochain to try to find an outside point and use the Chumash to answer it. I could imagine a person trying to teach a sugya in the Gemara in that manner. If the class was learning the Perek of Eilu Metzios, the Rebbi could start off with a real example of a lost object and from there try to apply it to the Gemara. However, even that might just be an effective anticipatory set as opposed to authentic education.
I am just stating my thoughts and observation. Have you had a different experience? Please let me know your thoughts on the Authentic Education and Chumash. Can it be done successfully?