HomeAugust 2012Thanking a Teacher

Thanking a Teacher

There are many things to love about being a teacher, but the pay and prestige that come with the job have never been among them.  Teachers have always played a direct role in shaping the minds of our children, something not to be taken lightly, yet theirs is a usually thankless job.
Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to paying homage to the educators of America.  The Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards honor Orange County’s finest Jewish educators in a ceremony first established by the Grinspoon Foundation in 2000 and joined by the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life in 2002 to recognize teachers across North America who have made significant commitments to the field of Jewish education.  The Jewish Educators Association (JEA), comprising a dozen congregational educators in Orange County, has chosen to fund and participate in the awards this year in order to be a part of recognizing the role that synagogue teachers play in the future of Judaism.
“As a small community, it’s important that we help bridge these connections between our teachers and make them feel that their work is appreciated and significant,” said April Akiva, the director of congregational learning at Temple Beth Sholom and JEA president.
This year’s winner of the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award is Shuly Maor, a Hebrew Bet (second-year introductory Hebrew) teacher at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach.  All of the synagogue educators in the JEA submitted their nominations of educators they believed deserved to win the award this year.  Maor was nominated by Temple Bat Yahm Principal Barry Koff, who wrote that, “Shuly consistently instills the ethics and values of Judaism within students while focusing on the core curriculum and creative activities in our arts and learning program… She always seeks to combine her efforts with her colleagues, such as having the social action class bring food cooked by her students to the local shelter.”
The requirements to become eligible for the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award are by no means simple.  The JEA’s website states that nominees must “demonstrate exceptional achievement and serve as a role model in Jewish education… Have a minimum of 3 years experience in the field… And teach at least 6 hours per week in Jewish education with a minimum of 4 hours per week in a Jewish day school or other formal Jewish educational settings and 2 hours in another Jewish educational capacity.  (Educators can fulfill the hour requirement in more than one institution).”
“I strive to show the students that the ancient Hebrew language is still relevant to them today, and I make my classroom an example of living in Israel,” Maor said.
Maor, whose background is in special education, is a native Israeli and has been teaching in Orange County for more than 22 years.  She became a Hebrew and Sunday school teacher with an OC congregation as soon as she moved to the area.  As Koff’s nomination suggests, Maor has a tendency to go above and beyond the school curriculum.
“One of the subjects I love teaching the most is Torah,” Maor explained.  “I have the students interpret the Torah through art by creating many large murals and mosaic pictures relating to Eretz Israel.  The students have created micography pictures of Jewish objects, illustrated various Siddur prayers and created collages about Biblical events and Jewish holidays.  I love watching the students work together to share magazines, supplies and thoughts.  The PirkeAvot 2.2 excerpt says ‘Excellence is the study of the Torah together with respect.’  I have this posted in my classroom and we practice this whenever we meet.”
Temple Bat Yahm has also instituted a new religious curriculum called the Jewish Center for Arts and Learning.  In addition to teaching Hebrew, Maor also teaches the Arts & Crafts and Cooking elective to the third through seventh grades.
As excited as Maor is about winning the Grinspoon-Steinhardt award, she is no stranger to having her work as an educator officially recognized.  For one, she has been the recipient of several Outstanding Arts & Crafts awards.  Her class entered a mosaic Chanukiah into an art contest; in recognition of their work, Maor and the class received a plaque, and the artwork was displayed in South Coast Plaza.  Maor’s devotion to what Koff calls “tikkun olam” also earned her class the national “Chesed Across America” award from Babaganewz magazine after her students sent gift packs to IDF soldiers.
“I am so honored to have been nominated and thrilled to be the recipient of this award,” Maor said about her feelings on winning the Grinspoon-Steinhardt award.  “Mr. Koff came into my Hebrew class one afternoon and announced to the class that I had won the annual Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award.  My class erupted in cheer.  I was on the verge of tears as my 4th graders yelled ‘way to go Mrs. M.’”
“I love coming to the temple and sharing my ideas and talent,” Maor continued.  “I am truly honored to be recognized for my talent and contribution to Temple Bat Yahm’s Religious School.”  She thanked Director Barry Koff and Past Director Joanne Mercer “for letting me contribute to the TBY school curriculum and Jewish community.  I also want to acknowledge all the students who I have had the privilege of teaching.  And much appreciation to my biggest fans, my family.”
The JEA will formally present the award to Maor at Temple Beth Sholom’s annual Teacher’s Conference on Sunday, November 11, 2012.  Readers interested in further information or the ceremony may contact Temple Beth Sholom at (714) 628-4600.

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