Today I retired from my job as the founding Director/Teacher at Gan Shalom Cooperative Preschool in Washington, DC – the latest in my career as a Jewish educator and/or administrator at several Jewish institutions in the greater Washington DC area.
I fell into Jewish education almost as an accident.
Over twenty years ago, after thoughtful consideration and a great deal of angst, we made the decision to remove our children from the religious school they were enrolled in. I would homeschool them in Judaism while we searched for a school that would be a better fit for all of us. It was springtime, right after Purim, and I scrambled to pull materials together for the rest of the academic year. I discovered the Teacher Resource Center at what was then called the Board of Jewish Education and began my week each Monday morning by looking through their files and planning my lessons.
We discovered, my children and I, that some kids learn best by doing, some by seeing, and some by hearing. But the most important thing we learned is that learning has to be relevant.
The Director of the Library/Resource Center was helpful and encouraging and I was grateful for both. As a convert to Judaism, I was all too aware of my limitations.
A couple of months after our homeschool venture began, she offered me a job as a teacher in the religious school she was directing. Ultimately I decided to accept the challenge.
Thus, my journey as a formal Jewish educator began.
Many of the published materials then available were extremely dated in focus and content. I began to generate my own materials for my classes – keeping in mind always those critical lessons my children taught me: not all kids learn the same and learning has to be relevant.
Fast-forward twenty-three years: I've taught all ages from preschoolers to adults, directed two religious schools, founded a preschool, written curriculum, and presented staff development workshops locally, regionally, and nationally. I established my own Jewish educational consulting business. I've planned, coordinated, and facilitated several regional programs for students and for teachers.
My journey as a Jewish educator may have been an accident – or it may have been b’shert (meant to be). I still haven’t decided!
As I turned sixty in January, I began to take stock. My commute had become more onerous in the last couple of years. I could get down on the floor to play with my students, but found it increasingly difficult to get back up again! The prospect of expanding the school filled me with fatigue instead of excitement and creativity. I began wonder if “it was time:” time to step aside; to focus on personal goals instead of professional ones.
When I thought about it, I realized I've been working since I was sixteen: fast food, food service, clerical worker, administrative assistant, social worker, preschool teacher, religious school teacher, administrator, and consultant. As many of us do, I've juggled those responsibilities along with my roles as full-time mom, and community volunteer.
I began to wonder what it would be like to slow down. It was frightening: so much of who we are is often defined by what we do.
I talked with people whose opinions I value; I read books on transitions and self-definition; and I began to look at alternative ways of self-definition.
And so, today I retired. I will no longer have the day-in, day-out responsibility for running a Jewish educational institution, with all that is entailed.
Monday, a new journey begins.