The Impact of Tefilla Role Models in Tefilla education

By Daniel Rose

In the first two articles in this four-part series on tefilla education, possible goals for a program of tefilla education were identified. These were tefilla literacy, tefilla inspiration (meaning-making and connection building), and tefilla community building. The siddur as an educational resource to achieve these goals was then considered. But the siddur is a mere resource in the hands of the educator. Without the creativity and passion of the Tefilla Educator, these goals will be unachievable, especially second and third goals. In this third article in the series, the impact and role of the Tefilla Educator will be explored.

We have argued that if we are to create meaningful tefilla experiences, focusing on tefilla inspiration as much as tefilla literacy, serious thought and creativity must be invested in the tefilla education program. We must provide opportunities for connecting to the teffilot and to God, and opportunities for spiritual growth during tefilla time. This can only be achieved by the innovative and passionate Tefilla Educator, whether during formal instruction in the classroom or informal instruction during tefillah services.

However, there is an additional unique opportunity found during tefilla services, for the Tefilla Educator to have an impact not possible in the rest of the formal Judaics curriculum. In all other areas of formal instruction, the educational process is cognitive rather than experiential. However, tefilla is often the only time in the curriculum that students are exposed to ritual Judaism in an experiential form. If the Tefilla Educator prays with the students (not a given in all programs of tefilla education), this provides the students with a unique opportunity to view the Tefilla Educator as a role model. This intensifies the impact of the educator as a role model, giving the student the opportunity to watch and absorb the actions of the educator in real time as they live their Judaism.

The power of role modeling is familiar to all educators and has been eloquently described by many illustrious philosophers and educational thinkers. Buber spoke of the teacher “with his whole being” affecting the “whole being” of the pupil, by “communicating himself directly” (Buber 1947). Palmer writes about teaching with one’s identity (Palmer 1997). Heschel calls for textpeople rather than text books in education; that is, teachers from whose very being students can learn no less than from the literary materials they bring into their classrooms (Heschel 1972).

When it comes to tefilla education and the Tefilla Educator, we have to give great thought to the modeling that we are exposing our students to. There was a time, early in my career as a Tefilla Educator, I would proudly (passively) model my own engagement with tefilla, which often involves for me an efficient and functional prayer experience with an additional Torah study component (redeeming the often plentiful “dead time” during a tefilla service). When the head of school noticed that I was learning parashat hashavua during the middle school tefilla, he later called me out on it (privately). For him, tefillah in school was like any other classroom period from the perspective of the teacher. It was not a time when the teacher went from active educator to passive role model. He felt that tefilla, like any other formal instructional period in the school time table, demanded the teacher to be an active educator, including preparation time, creative educational thought, and the focus of the class period to be the students.

Undoubtedly this approach is correct, and this is critical to the approach to tefilla education presented in these articles. However, Tefilla Educators can and do have a powerful impact on their students when they “passively” model their tefilla engagement, and to avoid this (for example by praying beforehand) is a missed educational opportunity. If we are serious about providing opportunities for spiritual experience and connection during tefilla services, and creating possibilities for relationship building with God, then we need to be serious about modeling what that means for us as Tefilla Educators in our lives and during our tefilla.

But this needs a balanced approach, to remain a tefilla role model and a Tefilla Educator at the same time is a skill that needs thought and practice. As Goldmintz notices “too often there are teachers who are simply preoccupied with their own tefillahand their own spiritual well-being; after all, unlike the case with our teaching in the classroom, we are also in shul as equal participants who wish to fulfill our own obligations and our own needs.” I would like to argue that one can both model one’s own tefilla engagement, while at the same time being an active and prepared educator.

Conclusion

 The role and impact of the Tefilla Educator in an impactful and powerful program of tefilla education is critical and central. It is an opportunity to enthuse the tefilla service with passion and creativity, and most importantly to open ourselves up to our students to connect to us as tefilla role models.

In the final article in the series we will explore how a program of tefilla education can take the prayer experience beyond the student-centered tefilla that we have been arguing for, where the student’s own needs and relationship with God are central, and move students towards communal relationships and belonging. This is possible and appropriate by creating a strong social action component to tefilla education.

References

Buber, M. (1947b). The education of character. In Between Man and Man (pp.132-147). Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Goldmintz, J. (2010). Helping students find their own voice in tefillah: A conceptual framework for teachers. Retrieved from https://www.lookstein.org/professional-dev/helping-students-find-voice-tefillahh-conceptual-framework-teachers/

Heschel, A. J. (1972). The Insecurity of Freedom. New York: Schoken.

Palmer, P. J. (1997). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dr. Daniel Rose was the Director of Educational Projects at Koren Publishers, where he edited and contributed to the Koren Magerman Educational Siddur Series.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Did this Head of School who claimed that “tefillah in school was like any other classroom period from the perspective of the teacher”, follow through and PAY for Tefila time as he paid for a class period? In other words, was the Tefila time counted as one of the teacher’s “preps” for the purpose of remuneration? If this Head did not do so, then his claim that Tefila was like any other classroom period rings (sadly and unsurprisingly) hollow.
    Furthermore, note that a teacher may pray beforehand specifically because she or he wishes to be an active educator during the Tefila, and knows that it is not always possible to fulfill one’s Tefila obligation while being focused on one’s students.

    • Yes he did walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and Tefilla was considered part of a teacher’s teaching hours and not prep, or even a duty, if I recall correctly.

      I agree with you that praying beforehand would allow a teacher to function in a more deliberate and invested manner as a tefilla educator. However, I believe this would be a lost opportunity to function as a tefilla role model as well. The questions I would like to pose are which of these roles (tefilla educator and tefilla role model) are more powerful and impactful in tefilla education, and is it possible for a teacher to function in both roles at one time?

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