By Julie Tigay, first and second grade general studies co-teacher
In the summer of 2012, I was an exhausted public school teacher. I had 30 kids in my class, not enough space and the pressure of the Common Core curriculum. Districts across Michigan were slashing funds, depriving students of opportunities they deserved. Educators were becoming scapegoats for statewide systemic problems. My passion for teaching was fading; I was contemplating taking time off to stay home and raise my family.
Then the phone rang with an invitation from the principal of Hillel Day School. It was just a conversation, but I was resistant. Hillel is a Jewish Day School; I wasn’t sure I was a private school teacher, let alone a private Jewish school teacher. I was a twice-a-year Jew – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Would I want to be in an environment where prayer was part of the everyday routine?
I had reservations about the meeting; and, could Hillel reignite my passion? How would I operate in a more observant environment? What would being a teacher at Hillel make me? I came out of the meeting excited. I saw the possibilities that Hillel would afford. I had the opportunity to become a better teacher, my children could be educated in a world class environment, and my family could have greater exposure to Jewish life.
Hillel did blow me away, both in terms of curriculum and the physical structure itself. Hillel leads a paradigm shift in the way we educate our 21st-century students. Students’ passions and interests enrich, and even drive, the curriculum. Our co-teaching model inspires me to grow and maintain best practices alongside my partner. With my co-teacher, I am able to meet with and interact in a meaningful way with each student every day; something that was unheard of in my public school classroom. The renovated building is filled with collaborative spaces, facilitating curricular integration among grade levels.
After a year of being on staff, I had “bought into” the Hillel mindset fully. When the time came for my eldest son to begin Kindergarten, it was a no-brainer. Where else could he go? I now have two sons at Hillel, they are developing a strong sense of character, receiving a world class education, and connecting to Judaism in ways that are unique to Hillel.
Our family has evolved. Judaism is more than shul on the High Holidays. Judaism helps our family to understand who are ancestors were, it helps to define my husband’s and my identity as Mother & Father, Friends & Mensches, and it provides a vision for who our children can become.
Five years after making the switch, I couldn’t be more thankful to be here. Student-centered learning and community truly are better together.