Making Choices: Teachers' Beliefs and Teachers' Reasons

Jul. 26, 2009

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 75, Issue 3 , pages 304 - 309


Edward Greenstein's article (JJE 75:3) reminds us of the important contributions that academic scholars of subject matter can make to the discourse of Jewish education. This response highlights some of Greenstein's argument and explores an area that his article does not examine in depth: the role of teachers' beliefs in the pedagogic decisions that they make. Greenstein's article might suggest that teachers' educational choices are determined by their training and by rational decision making. This response suggests that such a view underestimates the important role that beliefs—of various sorts—play in the teaching that we see in classrooms.


 The author agrees with Greenstein that "as teachers presenting a range of approaches to the biblical text, we are also implicitly responding to the fact that some students will never be excited by a particular reading, but may be energized by a different reading or approach to the same text. We can't always anticipate what our students are going to find meaningful, and offering alternatives can be a way of being responsive to students, with results that we may find surprising. Ultimately, we should always be aware that we have a variety of students in our classrooms and we are not always able to predict what will strike them most powerfully."

The article supplements Greenstein's description of how teachers make cognitive choices about which "orientations" to adopt when teaching material to students. The author discusses the different beliefs teachers have about how students learn, about the nature of subject matter and even about the nature and authority of Torah, the authorship of the Bible, and the nature of revelation.

He concludes that "becoming more aware of the powerful influence of beliefs in our own teaching and in that of others will help us take fullest advantage of the approach to interpretive and pedagogic strategies that Greenstein has laid out for us."

Updated: Oct. 19, 2009