Coming full circle

JDS alumni who rejoin the school as teachers experience the classroom in a new way

Ari Kittrie, Reporter

When alumnus English teacher Dr. Dory Fox (‘09) told her friends from CESJDS that she was returning as an English teacher, they asked two questions: whether Dean of Students Roslyn Landy was still there, and if it meant that she could become friends with math department chair Reuben Silberman.

Since her time at JDS as a student in 2009, the school has changed significantly. The change has been both physical and social in how JDS works and how it has adapted to the modern day.

Fox recently received a PhD from the University of Michigan with specialties in Jewish Literature and Yiddish, and started teaching English at JDS at the beginning of this school year.

Fox’s love for teaching high school students stems from her time at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she spent four summers teaching students Yiddish. When a teaching job opened up at her alma mater, she applied.

“I never thought that this would happen, because when you’re a student, you can’t imagine it won’t be just you and your friends there as the students,” Fox said.

When Fox returned to JDS, she noticed how much the school had changed. For example, JDS now holds weekly Kabbalat Shabbat and has stopped giving students “Lion Planners.” When Fox was a student, these planners were used for doodling in.

As a teacher, Fox’s perspective has drastically changed on how much hard work teachers put in to help students and cater to their needs.  Fox used to think that teachers didn’t necessarily care or notice what was going on. 

 “Once I started teaching, I realized I was so nervous about whether my students were going to do well,” she said.

Like Fox, sixth grade humanities teacher Tamar Gasko (‘12) never imagined she’d be back at JDS.

“It never really crossed my mind after I left JDS because I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher,” Gasko said.

She graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in theater, but knew she didn’t want to be a professional actor, so she started to look for other jobs. 

“After a lot of thinking and exploring, I realized that all the different things I had enjoyed over the course of my life involved aspects of teaching,” Gasko said.

One of the many things she likes about teaching at a Jewish school is having the Jewish holidays off, unlike at a public school. She was excited to teach at her alma mater because she knew she would be welcomed there. Gasko also enjoys the close community at JDS.

“There’s a culture of students and teachers being very friendly with each other,” Gasko said.

Some of Gasko’s current colleagues are the same ones that taught her almost a decade ago. For example, Assistant Dean and math teacher Tori Ball was her teacher for pre-calculus.

“It was weird at first learning to call them by their first names, but now I feel very comfortable and like an equal,”Gasko said.

Like Fox, Gasko’s perspective on teachers also changed  regarding how much work teachers put in. She noticed that as a teacher, a lot of care goes into helping students and each of their specific needs. 

“I had no idea as a student how much work teachers do behind the scenes to create a lesson plan and also support those students,” Gasko said. “We are constantly asking each other about details about you guys in order to better support you or constantly emailing and making calls.”

Both Gasko and Fox found that even though JDS changed physically, its warm environment stayed the same from when they were a student to when they were a teacher.

Dean of Students Roslyn Landy has seen a number of graduates transition into teachers. One of the funniest things from her perspective is how hard it is for them to get used to addressing her as “Roz.”  

“They forever called me Mrs. Landy because that is what they were used to when they were here,” Landy said.

It’s hard to predict which students will come back to teach at JDS.  There are some who express a desire to teach while they are at JDS, and others, are those Landy refers to as “late bloomers.” There is nothing Landy loves more than seeing alumni come back to JDS because she believes “teaching is the greatest profession there is.”

Alumni come back to JDS to teach for different reasons, but there does seem to be one unifying theme: JDS is an educational community where the love of learning is a shared value.  Teachers who are also alumni are grateful for the collective attitude towards the value of Lomed MiKol Adam, learn from everyone, and want to transmit that same love of learning to the next generation of students.

“I’m really happy to be back at JDS and to be the kind of teacher that those teachers were to me,” Gasko said. “It feels really rewarding to sort of come full circle and be the kind of adult that I loved being around as a kid.”