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Siach BaSadeh: Its Purpose and Goals

Dr. Gillian Steinberg
September 14, 2023

As avid readers of The Jewish Link may have noticed, this biweekly column is now beginning its third year. The Siach BaSadeh column, part of Machon Siach at SAR High School, enables SAR high school teachers to develop a public voice beyond their classrooms. In this column, they can articulate and share their teaching practices and philosophies as well as their broader cultural and educational visions. As experts in the field, teachers have a unique perspective on education today, and Machon Siach uses this forum and many others to create space for these essential voices.

Machon Siach’s work takes many forms, including Faculty Beit Midrash groups where 6-8 teachers convene to study and discuss pressing issues like Gemara education and students’ spirituality; conferences on Zionism and Israel education; our Guiding Good Choices program, which trains teachers and parents to lead teens through healthy decision making; our robust Makom B’Siach adult education programming; the Siach Graduate Fellowship, enabling high school and college alumni to continue discussing big topics in Modern Orthodox life; and many others. All of these projects promote Machon Siach’s larger purpose of highlighting the Jewish day school as a thinking institution and its teachers as public intellectuals. This column has become, over the past two years, one more step in fulfilling that vision.

Every column allows our teachers to share their insights and also gives our readers a sense of what’s happening on the ground with our Jewish teens today. You’ll see in our 2023-2024 columns that high school teachers are thinking constantly about what’s best for our students and how Jewish education can address some of modernity’s most pressing issues.

While universities are often regarded as the locus of knowledge creation, where research takes place at the highest levels among scholars heralded as experts in their fields, Machon Siach aims to demonstrate that high schools are another necessary site of such scholarship. High school teachers are at the forefront of knowing what topics feel most important to teens and are deeply involved in recognizing and responding to how various events, technologies, discussions, and ideas are affecting young people. Those of us with longer tenures in the high school classroom witness how dialogue among students changes over the years: how have students’ concerns evolved? How have topics that once seemed especially pressing become less so as new ideas emerge to take their place? And what issues remain consistent in teens’ minds even as our world changes?

At Machon Siach, we recognize that teachers have much to share with the broader world and that keeping these ideas only within the realm of the high school deprives us all of potentially beneficial knowledge. This column is one small effort in the direction of reminding the greater New York Jewish community how much teachers observe and that their knowledge – their scholarship – is deeply valuable.

As the editor of this column, I have another motivation as well.  Writing can be really tough, even for people who’ve reached the very highest levels of the profession. Writing highlights our vulnerabilities and elicits our harshest self-judgments. Forcing ourselves to write, therefore, makes us better teachers: more empathic, more understanding, and more in touch with our students’ regular classroom experiences and sensitivities. Writing also makes us better teachers because it requires clarity of thought: we must clarify what we want to say for ourselves so we can say it well to others.

When I edit these columns, I keep in mind that my colleagues – however accomplished they are, and they are all very accomplished indeed – often feel insecure about their writing because writing is the intellectual equivalent of a spotlighted solo performance, alone in the center of a stage. Sitting with that feeling of profound exposure can be deeply emotional, even painful. Our students feel it all the time. But conquering that feeling, seeing our words and ideas successfully shared in print or even hearing someone say, “That meant something to me. Thank you for saying that” is among the most satisfying feelings one can have.

Our students, producing written work at a relatively rapid pace, frequently have that opportunity, and I’m pleased that this column provides teachers the same powerful moment of seeing their written words enter the world and create dialogue. The difficulty of writing, especially if we’re a bit out of practice, is an experience of humility that aligns us with our students and helps us to understand and appreciate how hard it is to make oneself vulnerable in that way, but completing the process successfully is a unique delight.

I hope you will enjoy this year’s columns. I hope they remind you that teachers at our community’s schools hold the Jewish future in their hands, and they do not take that responsibility lightly. On the contrary, they think deeply and constantly about how to do their jobs well; they bring their passion to school every day, and they put not only time and effort but philosophy, research, content knowledge, pedagogical insight, love for their students, and a constant willingness to rethink and remake their plans into everything they do.

Each column does not share the vision of SAR as a whole except so far as SAR trusts its teachers to have an educational vision, to be scholars and thought leaders, and to remind us all that high schools, not only universities, are thinking institutions. If you enjoy these columns or want to participate in conversations like these, we would love for you to join the Machon Siach mailing list and learn about ways to get involved and learn with our faculty.

We also have a brand new Machon Siach website at machonsiach.org, where you can read more of our teachers’ writing, listen to podcasts, watch their teaching, and hear about upcoming events and programs. Wishing you a shana tova and a year filled with the joy of learning.

Dr. Gillian Steinberg

Dr. Gillian Steinberg

Dr. Gillian Steinberg teaches in the English Department at SAR High School and co-directs SAR's Professional Development program. She is the creator of teachingwritingbetter.com.

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