Photo Credit: 123rf.com

Shifra* started teaching in what she calls “a simpler time.” She says she feels invigorated imparting knowledge to her students, and her enthusiasm for teaching is evident in her voice. She explains that much has changed in the education industry over the last few years, much of which has allowed teachers and educational staff to better connect with parents and students.

Except for a short stint in high school for a year, Shifra has been teaching elementary-aged students for the better part of 15 years. She tells me that most of her teaching aids were homemade in her early years of teaching. She wrote lesson plans by hand in a thick spiral teacher’s plan book. She mainly communicated with parents by phone. Technology didn’t play a large role, or any role, in her classroom.

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These days, Shifra relies on a whiteboard for nearly every lesson. Many of her teaching aids involve interactive online presentations or short videos. Laptops sit in the back of her classroom. Students who are advanced or lagging behind class level have one-on-one computer time using apps that have been carefully selected to keep them interested or help them catch up. The administration at her school recently purchased a program enabling teachers to easily communicate with parents. Teachers input report card marks online.

Despite its many positives, Shifra acknowledges there is a learning curve, especially for older teachers.

“Teachers want to teach children in a way children want to be taught,” she explains. “Older teachers are bending over backwards to create lesson plans using aids they may not be as familiar with, because they want to keep students engaged and teach them in a manner they will enjoy and because they know they’re competing with outside forces for their students’ attention.”

It’s not only teaching methods that have evolved. Shifra tells me she is in touch with parents more than ever before.

“It’s partially the new generation of parents,” she concedes. “But it’s also that expectations changed since communication is so easy. Don’t get me wrong. I like talking to parents! I love taking pictures of my students and sending them. I want to make them a part of their child’s education.”

Still, picture-taking and excessive communication has its downside. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m a teacher, not a photographer,” she laughs. “And I have to set boundaries outside of work. Although for the most part, messaging parents nachas notes makes me happy, and I really try to make myself available to them whenever possible.”

Then there are the class WhatsApp groups. Shifra admits that some class WhatsApp groups have become spaces where parents air frustrations, sometimes without knowing the complete story, and it can turn pretty negative.

“As a professional, I can’t share confidential information about another child or a specific incident,” she says. “Sometimes emotions run rampant in the group, and a mob mentality ensues. Suddenly everyone is angry about something that didn’t occur, at least not in the way they’re purporting it to have occurred, or they’re venting about some policy which has been misconstrued or has been put in place for a very specific reason. These groups sometimes make a big deal out of nothing, when a call to the administration would have cleared everything up, and at times I wonder if they do more harm than good.”

Despite the changes in the industry, Shifra is quick to emphasize that chinuch doesn’t change. Building a personal relationship with students and imparting lifelong lessons occurs regardless of lesson aids and methodologies used. Technology is just a means to an end, and the best teachers are the ones who connect with the children and lead by example.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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Bracha Halperin is a business consultant based in new York City. To comment on her Jewish Press-exclusive tech columns -- or to reach her for any other purpose -- e-mail her at brachahalperin@hotmail.com. You can also follow her on Instagram or Twitter at: @brachahalperin.