“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” – Virginia Woolf
In her novel The Waves, Virginia Woolf writes about identity – and the ability of the people around her to continually change that identity. In a sense we all experience this on a daily basis: we wear our different hats around the different people and contexts in our lives. At times we are parents, spouses, old, young, students, teachers, colleagues, bosses, foodies, or bookworms.
Like Woolf, developmental psychologist Erik Erikson argued that our identity is never fully formed; however, it is during adolescence that the bulk of our identity is solidified. It is for this reason that educators are among the primary change agents in identity formation. As students spend most of their waking hours with their teachers and classmates, their teachers act as role models or alternatively cautionary tales in identity formation.
And when it comes to Jewish identity, the Shema, a central text and prayer in Jewish tradition, contains an important reminder of the role of the educator. V’shinantam l’vanecha, “you shall diligently teach your children [the words and ways of the Torah].” Our homes are often the first place that we imbue this teaching and connection. Outside of the home, teachers are perhaps the primary change identity in developing Jewish identity. According to a 2013 Avichai Israel Foundation report, “Teachers hold the greatest responsibility for students’ experience of Jewish life and studies in school.”
TalentEd was born of the logic that if educators are among the key change agents in Jewish identity formation during childhood and adolescence, we must invest in teachers so they can teach Tanach, Talmud, Hebrew, Jewish History and Jewish Philosophy, Israel Studies, and other Judaic subjects with breadth, depth, and passion. Our investment begins with understanding who the educators are, where promising new educators might be, where the need lies in educational institutions, and then matching between those educators and institutions. The investment continues with tailored educator training programs, cohorts, and first-year on-the-job mentoring.
As Woolf points out, we are constantly being made and remade. In that vein, our goal is to enable future generations to frequently and fondly put on their Jewish hat, inspired by early positive educational experiences.