Teaching Teacha! An Exploration of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Jewish Education

May. 02, 2014

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 80, Issue 2, pages 82 – 98  


This case study examines the contours of culturally relevant pedagogy in an undergraduate preservice teacher education program for Jewish women. The case describes how the assigned reading of Albarelli’s (2000) narrative of teaching in a Hasidic Jewish school, Teacha! Stories from a Yeshiva, disrupts the classroom community, diminishes student engagement with the course, and undermines student confidence in the instructor. This research explores what happens when “respect for” challenges “reflection about.” The study finds that differential cultural understandings surrounding the concept of “respect” mediate the discourse. The author raises questions about the ethics of social justice in religious teacher education, probes the poverty of educational reform in a landscape of nondiscussables, and offers strategies for navigating this tender terrain.


This case offers subtle and substantial insight into culturally responsive pedagogy in preservice teacher education. It addresses the generative role of culturally relevant curricula, the resistant nature of culturally determined assumptions, and the orders of magnitude that sit between people who may seem culturally homogenous. This study also depicts the fine grained details that may divide students and teachers within the same broader religious or cultural background. Classrooms simultaneously honor diversity and build community, but this case displays how a single text can rupture bonds of instructional relationships and marginalize sensitive and caring individuals. Culturally responsive pedagogy must be responsive to both the individual as well as the group and teachers who think they share common cultural bonds with their students may still be surprised to find palpable moments of frustration, resistance, and anger at their pedagogic choices and omissions. However, these may be especially ripe and teachable moments.


This case study examines the intersection of culturally relevant pedagogy and critical inquiry in a particular teacher education context. Specifically, what happens when “respect for” blocks “reflection about?” The theory of culturally relevant teaching portends that academic achievement will improve when students “are taught through their own cultural and experiential filters,” (Gay, 2002, p. 106). This research concurs but provides specific contours of Jewish culture, such as traditional perspectives on respect for Jewish educators, that may significantly contextualize culturally relevant pedagogy in Jewish education. The inquiry also raises questions about the poverty of school reform and teacher education in a religious schooling environment bordered and latticed with nondiscussables (Barth, 2004). However, it augurs that a strategy of transparency, dialogue, framing, listening, questioning, communicating, and stretching a very large swath of respect may be effective in navigating this sensitive landscape.

Updated: May. 26, 2014