Bible teachers in contemporary society confront serious problems related to the nature of the biblical text and the socio-cultural context of their teaching. This study, based on semi-structured interviews, examines the problems that five expert religious Israeli elementary school teachers encounter in their teaching and the solutions they employ. Our findings show two major domains of pedagogic issues: unfamiliar biblical linguistics and problematic content. Teachers reported student difficulties in understanding biblical Hebrew. Problematic content includes irrelevant topics, emotionally laden material, and age inappropriate issues.
Linguistic solutions relied on reading comprehension techniques and use of features specific to Bible reading such as diacritical marks. Regarding content issues, teachers were motivated by faith in the sanctity of the text to find effective solutions. These include selectivity, reinterpretation using homiletic tools, a holistic understanding and contextualising the narrative. Though teachers felt ill-prepared by their pre-service training in dealing with these challenges, they demonstrated resilience in their solution-oriented pedagogy. These findings suggest attention to mentoring and professional development, and to the creation of a community of practice to support teachers’ dealing with the ongoing challenges in their teaching.
Implications and conclusions
Our findings point to the heavy price paid by the Israeli educational system for inadequate support of Bible teachers in their daily struggle to deal with issues raised by the texts which they revere and are expected to teach. A rethinking of pre-service and in-service teaching frameworks is in order. Just as other professions such as medicine (Wood 2003 ) and law (Moskovitz 1992 ) have adapted a problem-based training curriculum for decades, so Bible teaching could benefit from a professional development focus on helping teachers think through the various problems that are likely to arise in particular texts. The honing of teacher’s reflective skills regarding these issues could empower them to adapt a more inquisitive approach to answering their students’ questions. By examining critically questions which arise from the texts, teachers could actually strengthen their students’ faith and beliefs. This approach conveys the understanding that Torah learning can effectively address ethical and intellectual concerns. An active enquiry approach could prove an exciting learning opportunity. The community of practice which includes both teachers and an outside expert would be an effective framework for achieving these professional development goals (Brody and Friedman 2012).
This research limited its field of data collection to third and fourth-grade teachers. By broadening the population of subjects, researchers could investigate different kinds of problems experienced at different grade levels. A further limitation is our choice to interview exemplary teachers, omitting mediocre and low functioning practitioners who may experience different problems. Future research could include comparisons between Israeli and diaspora educators revealing problems unique to each socio-cultural context within Jewish education.
In our study of problems faced by Israeli Bible teachers and solutions they reach, we have examined empirically what scholars of biblical pedagogy have long held to be commonplace truths. Our data analysis leads to an empathic regard for these teachers as active learners who deal with inherent pedagogic challenges. We show how faith frames their teaching and drives their practice to resolve issues using a solution-oriented pedagogy. Our findings suggest improvements in teachers’ professional development, an imperative for religious educational policy-makers who wish to strengthen the religious commitment of their students in a globalised intellectual environment in which all ideas are up for examination.