Fellow Profile: Shelly Freedenthal

ShellyShelly Freedenthal is a member of DeLeT Cohort 12 at HUC-JIR. She is completing her internship in 3rd grade at Wise School in Los Angeles, CA. 

Shelly worked as an employment lawyer in a large Los Angeles law firm for almost 23 years. She and her husband sent their children to a Jewish day school, and she has served as a board member for that school for over 12 years. As a board member, Shelly attended a conference hosted by the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) where she first heard about DeLeT. She realized that she had wanted to teach for a long time, and that DeLeT might offer her an opportunity to change career paths. When Shelly entered the program, she had quite an array of relevant experience; her work in law helped her be flexible and manage the workload of DeLeT, while her experience as a day school parent and board member helped give her a unique perspective.

Once Shelly decided that she wanted to become a teacher, DeLet was the only program that she seriously considered. She wanted to be placed at a Jewish day school, and she loved the idea of teaching and going to school at the same time. Also, Shelly really appreciated the Jewish studies aspects of the DeLeT curricula— fellows learn how to organize a parsha discussion, lead tefillah sessions, and infuse Jewish values into general studies.

Before DeLeT, Shelly knew that more went into teaching than met the eye, but she had not fully appreciated how many different roles a teacher plays at one time or how many decisions a teacher makes throughout the day. Now she has seen firsthand the many ways in which teachers not only teach academics, but also help students through social and emotional difficulties and work with parents and other colleagues to help each student succeed. The importance of this is often understated.

One course in DeLeT that really resonated with Shelly was the Day School and Society (DSS) class. It showed Shelly that each day school has its own culture and personality. Many observable features of schools are statements about the school’s values, from the way the classrooms are set up, to how they incorporate technology, to how they integrate general and Judaic studies, and so on.

One of Shelly’s favorite parts of DeLeT has been the Kallot, where the fellows gather at each other’s site schools to tour the schools, meet the administration, and learn about each individual school’s culture. The fellows are able to compare how different schools do things — e.g., how they commemorate the Holocaust, incorporate technology, and design their space for prayer. For Shelly, it was very interesting to see the differences and similarities among the day schools. While it gives her ideas of what to look for in a school at which she would consider teaching, it also helps her gather ideas about what features she could help bring to a school that it may not already have.

Ultimately, Shelly thinks that she would like to be a Head of School at a Jewish day school when the time is right. She feels very passionate about Jewish education and wants to help ensure that students in a Jewish day school receive a high caliber of education. Thanks to DeLeT, Shelly will have been able to see the issues that teachers deal with on a daily basis. DeLeT will give Shelly another framework for thinking about decisions—she will be able to think about the big picture and the individual teachers at the same time. We are very excited to watch Shelly’s career trajectory, and for the impact that we know she will have in the world of Jewish education.

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