Sep 11, 2016
I recently led a discussion about race in modern American Yiddish poetry for adult learners at a Jewish Community Center. We began the conversation with a simple question that many teachers open with on the first day of class: who are you, and why are you here? Often, for me, the primary importance of this exercise is to take attendance, learn names, and get students into the habit of participating. But in this instance, learning the knowledge and interests of the group grounded and fueled the conversation: about a third of them came to the discussion because they were Yiddish libhobers who wanted to engage with mame-loshn in all of its varieties. Another third were lovers of literature or poetry. And a third of the participants in the room had no grounding or particular interest in either the language or the genre of the works we were discussing, but they had some personal interest in the question of Jews and race in America: they had family members whose racial identification differed from their own, they had participated politically to fight racial injustice, or they were concerned consumers of the news who wanted to see how Jews had engaged with questions of race in America’s past. Knowing the varied backgrounds and proclivities of the students, it became my challenge, in the brief time we had together, to engage with each of them where they were, not assuming knowledge they didn’t have or boring them with information that seemed too introductory. I had to address, with my students, the language, literature, and politics of the poems in equal measure. But more than that, it became my task to facilitate discussion in a way that would allow individuals with different motivations, who came to the material with different goals and desires and interests, to learn from one another, teach one another, and achieve their own learning objectives.
Our Reader Survey gave us the chance to learn a little bit about who In geveb readers are and why you are here. You are lovers of literature and history, keners, learners, and libhobers of Yiddish language. You are politically-minded and academically-minded. Many of you are teachers, but only a minority of you turn to In geveb for your teaching purposes. So it is our role in the Pedagogy section, and my role as the new editor of this section, to try to solicit and present material that will help you to achieve all of your varied objectives as teachers in your communities and classrooms, and to help you to learn from and teach one another.
Thus far, our pedagogy section has focused on the teaching of Yiddish language—and we will continue to serve language instructors at every level. But in addition (and we have already been moving in this direction) we want to serve those who teach literature and history courses using material from or about Yiddish sources. 1 1 See for example Sarah Ponichtera’s piece, “Evaluate What You Don’t Understand: Teaching Practical Skills in the Archives” and Anna Torres’ “Notes on Teaching Yiddish Literature and Critical Theory.” We want to serve educators outside of college classrooms—for example, those working in K-12 environments, in informal environments, and with adult learners. And we want to help you figure out what you can learn from each other, and from your various areas of expertise, and how to apply what you learn to your own teaching. We also want to help you use the content already available in other sections of our site in your language instruction, history and literature lectures and discussions, sermons, and lesson plans.
Which brings me to the question, who am I, and why am I here?
I am thrilled to be the new editor of the Pedagogy section of In geveb. I come to the section as someone with experience teaching Yiddish language and literature in university settings, in religious schools, and in adult education contexts. I am hoping to help teachers of all stripes to gain a richer and deeper knowledge of historical, literary, linguistic and pedagogical contexts in order to teach Yiddish, teach with Yiddish, and teach about Yiddish.
As the new Pedagogy Editor at In geveb, I have a lot of plans and ambitions. But I am going to need your help and your participation to make them real:
- One of my major goals for the year is to create and compile reading guides to supplement texts in our Texts and Translations section. These reading guides will aid instructors in incorporating our translations in their classrooms. They will include a roundup of articles that provide historic, literary, and critical context for the pieces, questions for discussion, and suggestions for writing prompts, activities, and further learning. I invite you to share your thoughts about what kinds of material it would be useful to have in these guides and what resources you think would be helpful for you as you use these texts in your teaching. Once we have published the first several exemplars, I will also be looking for instructors who are interested in submitting their own reading guides. Please write to me if you are interested in taking part in this project.
- I plan on continuing our Loyt di Lerers series, and I would love to hear what questions you would like to read about or respond to. I hope the questions I pose will open up our conversation about Yiddish teaching beyond language instructors, while still retaining relevance for their work. Some questions I have are: How do Holocaust educators make use of material from Yiddish and present and discuss the Yiddish language? How do rabbis use and discuss Yiddish language and culture in their sermons and teaching? What works of Yiddish literature are being taught in comparative literature contexts, and how do instructors introduce and contextualize these works? I invite you to share your thoughts about further questions we should ask, who we should pose them to, and what kinds of responses would be useful to you.
- We continue to seek contributions from educators on a range of topics, including but not limited to: syllabi from teachers who use sources in/from Yiddish, worksheets and lesson plans for using Yiddish materials, ideas for teaching Yiddish songs and using games in the Yiddish classroom, reports from the field, student reflections about how they have interacted with Yiddish materials, reviews of textbooks and other educational materials, advice for and descriptions of how you use In geveb as a teacher.
The Pedagogy section is here to serve you. I hope to foster a network of educators working with Yiddish materials who can contribute to one another’s work and promote the study of Yiddish language and culture at all levels. I want to know more about who you are, why you are reading In geveb and what you hope to gain from it, what resources you feel you need more of in order to do your best and most innovative teaching, what you are proud of and want to share. Send me your half-baked ideas, your pitches, your worksheets, your selfies with accomplished students. Write to me at [email protected]. I can’t wait to hear from you.