Yael Bendat-Appell is an alumna of The Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class XV.  She works at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook, IL where she teaches and supports students who struggle to succeed in a dual curricular setting while also collaborating with other teachers to support their work with students with diverse learning needs.  She lives in Highland Park, IL with her husband Jordan and their son, Adin.  Yael can be reached at: ybendat@gmail.com.

The instruction for this section of the newsletter is to choose a defining leadership moment.  Yet, it always strikes me as interesting that the word leadership feels like a foreign term in the realm of my professional career: teaching at a Jewish Day School.  The term leadership and its accompanying status and sense of value is simply not typically applied to teachers or their work.  There is nothing sensational about going to school every day, teaching kids, being part of a large cohort of professionals—each of whom is doing a similar task of facilitating learning.  But despite the workaday nature of teaching, effective teaching requires ample characteristics of leadership and skill.  Good teachers strive to truly see and know their students; they understand their job as not only imparting knowledge, but imparting self-worth and the ability to think creatively and critically.  Good teachers strive to establish appropriately high and individualized expectations for each student and then help with the realization of those goals; they are able to communicate effectively, in myriad ways for the sake of helping children achieve understanding; they are organized, creative, self-reflective, and constantly striving to improve. 

And yet, perhaps because it is not a sensational job, or perhaps because teachers seem like cogs in an institutional machine, or perhaps because of the general societal downgrade in the perception of the role of the teacher, teachers are under-appreciated.

Here is what we can do to improve the situation: 

As a community of parents: Instead of buying your children’s teachers modest presents for Chanukah, write them a note expressing gratitude for the work that they do with your child.  A written expression of gratitude and validation is truly the greatest gift a teacher can receive and serves to boost the teacher’s motivation to do their best work. 

As a community of administrators/board members/Federation members:  Let’s look at ways to increase a teacher’s sense that he/she is truly valued by our schools and communities.  Let’s look at inadequate systems of compensation, let’s strive for comprehensive benefits that reflect the Jewish values that we espouse, and/or let’s at least strive to communicate through our words and actions that we haven’t lost sight of the preciousness of this sacred work.