Meet Our New Director of Education!
by Alissa Dollinger-Wagner
I’ve been a Temple Beth El member since I was in the first grade and went through Torah School till the 11th grade. TBE is a second home to me as I became bat mitzvah, confirmed, and shared my URJ Mitzvah Corps experiences with the congregation. It was also one of the first places I could drive to without the help of Siri! As someone who was a madrikhah, teaches art, and is majoring in elementary education at UCSD, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to interview our new Director of Education, Randi Sher.
Randi was born in New York, but moved to our beautiful California at a young age. She grew up in Palos Verdes and went to Congregation Ner Tamid. She became an anteater attending University of California, Irvine. She planned on going into medicine, but realized that she didn’t like the things done to rats and other animals, so didn’t think she “could do it to a person.” Her biology degree required her to take humanity courses and she was able to use that to her advantage to earn a degree in not only Biology, but also one in Humanities, Jewish Studies. She taught and did youth group work at CNT for 22 years. She later earned her MAEd from the University of Judaism and worked at Temple Menorah.
Because I often get asked what inspired me to want to become a teacher, I finally got to be the one to ask someone else! Randi shared, “I’ve always been interested in how people learn.” She talked about how she explains everything verbally to her blind son. I immediately asked if she watches the TV show This is Us because after watching it, I’m more aware of the challenges that come with blindness. She said she does watch it and gave her own example of how medical professionals don’t know that they should speak to make their presence known when they enter the room. She also discussed how she learned a lot when she had to adjust her teaching methods when she had a hearing impaired student in her class.
I told her how I hope to study abroad in Italy fall of 2021 because there’s an early education program I’d love to participate in; she asked if they teach the Montessori Method and I said, “Yes!” She proceeded to tell me about her experiences working with preschool and elementary age. “I realized I had to retrain some of the aides” who were paired with the special education students. For example, they’d “pick a toy and make it seem really exciting” to grab the attention of the other kids so they’d all play together. I then asked if she has a favorite grade she likes to work with. She responded with, “every age group has its own fun and its own challenge,” but if she had to choose, she’d say junior high. She shared a story that I absolutely love.
When she was in the seventh grade, she was in a selective science class. The teacher would continuously ask, “What is it to be a scientist?” and “What is it that they do?” She told me how she’d “take copious notes” and the first test was in “a little blue book.” The task was to follow a piece of food through your body from entry to exit. 75% of the class failed and the teacher asked, “What’s a scientist? Who does research? Did anyone look at a newspaper or go to the library?” He had fed them nonsense. Randi was so agitated and wanted her dad to talk to the principal. Her dad commended the principal on hiring a teacher like this “because you have to think about what you’re learning and doing.” This lesson has stuck with Randi and wants to “not only teach facts, but teach bigger concepts to help people think in bigger ways.”
With her vast experience in teaching, I asked if she has a teaching philosophy she likes to emphasize. “I like to meet students where they are instead of getting students to meet staff’s expectations. To get to know students. If a child isn’t learning and is acting out, then it’s the teacher’s responsibility to adapt.”
In terms of adapting, I thought we’d all be curious to know how Torah School will look this coming year. She said that “it’s fun to look for new things” and that she’s been talking to others and seeing new curriculum. There will be a different structure, for example Hebrew will be taught differently. Students will be “set up in dyads and triads according to similar levels and friendships to maintain the connections” and the teacher will meet with each weekly.
I loved being able to pick Randi’s brain as someone entering the education field and hearing her stories. I really enjoyed getting to know her, from talking about how amazing This Is Us is, to learning how she likes to read, bake, and travel.
Let’s all give Randi Sher a warm virtual welcome as she joins our Temple Beth El family!