A blog by Amanda Behen
General Studies Teacher at Ner Tamid Community Day School
Five months ago I was at a fork in the road and was faced with the challenge of choosing which path to take. Both paths were unknown, however one was smooth and safe while the other was rocky and dangerous. Despite advice from friends and family, I was drawn to the dangerous rocky path. As a teacher I have a desire to challenge myself and continue to learn and the rocky path provided that. So, instead of taking the job at an established school, I wandered down that rocky path to help create Ner Tamid, a new multi-age Jewish Day School. Since then I have often been asked why I made that choice, why I took that risk. It is hard to explain, but the simple answer is I had a feeling that by taking that risk, I would have the opportunity to create something magical. By taking the rocky path, I was given the opportunity to continue my work in multi-age personalized learning.
Multi-age learning is not a new concept in and of itself, for decades children learned in one room schoolhouses, but it is a model that has been shied away from in recent years. In today’s education model, people question how 6th graders and 1st graders can learn in the same classroom. At Ner Tamid, each child has a personalized education plan guided by their academic levels in each subject, social- emotional readiness, and personal learning styles and passions. This allows a 6th grader to work on content at their personalized level while the first grader works at their level. All the while, the 6th grader is setting an example for some of the younger students. The amazing thing is, it’s often the case that the younger students will step up and be the role model for the older students. This helps to foster a sense of empowerment and responsibility in all students.
It is magical to stand in my classroom and see children spanning 6 years in age sitting next to each other talking, laughing and working together. It is rare that a 12 year old has the opportunity to work with a first grader, and even rarer that they are willing to learn from that first grader. At Ner Tamid, we have fostered a community where each child has the opportunity to be a teacher, a community where students are willing to ask questions, to make mistakes, to learn in a way that is best for them, and to advocate for themselves both socially and academically. This is why I took the rockier path, to have the opportunity to develop a school based around multi-age classrooms that fosters confidence both academically and socially. I can’t wait to continue to share our journey over the coming months.