By Dr. Gil Graff
Recognizing that any read of such a paper is colored by personal experience, I open with the disclosure that I have, over the years, worked at supplementary schools, day schools, camps, and a community agency for Jewish education as an educator and in senior leadership positions. In each setting, and within particular institutions, the vision of professional leaders drives the profile of educators sought. A diversity of visions and settings, and geographic differences (both the demand and supply sides of the market look quite different, for example, if one compares Sacramento, California, and Los Angeles) contribute to an extremely variegated marketplace for Jewish educators.
As a teacher at a supplementary school—an educational setting long characterized by high turnover and an eclectic faculty—the first professional development session I attended was sponsored by the local BJE. Decades later, CASJE's Mapping the Market finds that several educational agencies in the locales surveyed, formerly operating as Bureaus of Jewish Education, "are among the most active providers of professional development in the country—in the form of consultancies, workshop series, and special events for educators." As rebranded, under a variety of names, BJEs coast to coast access and often tailor professional development opportunities in partnership with multiple providers—some well-established and others more-recent entrants to the field—to meet the needs of local educators and, by extension, the learners with whom those educators engage.
Though there is great value in national organizations and national strategies, CASJE's mapping points to the local dimension of the educator marketplace in several of the sectors explored. This extends as well to many aspects of professional development. When it comes to educators at day schools, early childhood education centers, supplementary schools (the term for part-time Jewish education used in the study), and youth-serving organizations, BJEs serve as network weavers, supporting communities of practice and affinity groups of educators on a sustained basis, well beyond the "run" of particular PD programs. The importance of local support systems in strengthening both pedagogic and relational skills of educators cannot be over-stated.
In connection with professional development, it is interesting to note the estimate of 70 students graduating academic programs in Jewish education pre-service and 155 graduating in-service, each year. Entry to the field, as reflected in the study, is by no means limited to those matriculating from degree-granting institutions, let alone twelve particular such institutions. Educators already in the field who enroll in degree-granting programs are very likely to remain in the field for an extended period. The impact of their "mid-career" studies extends to students as well as professional colleagues, with long-term benefit on multiple levels.
With a focus on the learner in contemporary Jewish education, the role of the educator looms large as a model and facilitator of Jewish learning. Pedagogic and relational skills as well as content knowledge can all contribute to educator effectiveness. CASJE's look at the employment marketplace offers much to consider in charting paths toward deepening and expanding educators' growth in each of these domains, in alignment with diverse roles and needs -- both professional and personal. The vitality of Jewish life in the United States depends in no small measure on the success of this project.
Dr. Gil Graff serves as Executive Director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, Los Angeles. In addition to his work with a broad array of Jewish educational institutions and the educators associated with them, Gil's research interests include the history of Jewish education in the United States, and he has published widely on this and related subjects.