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Student Attachment in a Jewish Day School: the Role of the Teacher

Shateara Hall[1], School of Education, Health, and Human Performance, College of Charleston, South Carolina

 

Abstract

This case study uses student perceptions to gain insight into a teacher's role in fostering attachment to school for a high-achieving population. A Jewish day school in the southern United States was selected, and information about what qualities students most value in teachers was sought from the population. Observations, teacher interviews, student writing prompts and student surveys were used to ascertain the qualities students valued and what influenced their attachment to school. Students in this school most value motivation, respect, eagerness to see them succeed, and knowing what they say matters. Results from the students' writing prompts suggest that the actions of the teacher are more influential than their personality traits and the emotions they generate and that knowledge of the students' culture and religion was not a key factor for academic teachers. Findings furthermore highlight that school communities and models may shape the role of academic teachers in fostering student attachment to school.

Keywords: Educational attainment, attachment to school, school achievement, teacher-student relationships, Jewish education.

 

Introduction

The purpose of the case study was to examine a group of middle-school students in a Jewish day school to observe the qualities they most value in their teachers and the elements in their teacher-student relationships that influence an attachment to school. Middle-school students and their teachers were observed since this is a crucial period during schooling where students decide how they feel about school (Wentzel, 1998: 202). Observations, writing prompts, a student survey, and teacher interviews were used to find the key factors in teacher-student relationships that influence a positive view towards school for this particular segment of a high-achieving population.

This attachment research is unique in that it focuses on the school attachment of a high-achieving population in an effort to see how individualised school attachment factors may be for this specific student demographic and what preferential qualities build school attachment for this demographic. By examining a high-achieving population, this research offers a contrasting specialised perspective to compare with research done in urban and public schools with at-risk populations. This perspective can better informed analysis of influential attachment factors by demographic, the standardisation of school climates, and the role of teachers in diverse environments.


What is Attachment and Why Does it Matter?

According to Feldman (2008: 190), attachment is 'the positive emotional bond that develops between a child and a particular individual'. Attachment can also include a positive feeling about a particular place; student attachment to school describes a child's feelings of closeness to their teacher and school community. Riley (2011: 11) explains that the concept of attachment is most closely associated with the field of psychology, but it can be applied to education. While students may develop an attachment to a particular teacher, it is important to recognise how teachers play a larger role by contributing to the students' positive feelings about the school environment and how teachers foster this emotion in an academic setting. In this framework attachment will mainly refer to the bond students form with their school environment. The purpose of this case study is to examine how teacher-student relationships contribute to students' attachment to school in general. Understanding how attachment to school plays a part in student motivation and willingness to learn is important for educators and researchers. This knowledge can help inform professional development and teacher preparation while raising the teacher's awareness of relationship qualities that influence students' success in school (Rudasill and Rim-Kaufman, 2009: 107).

The rewarding effect of strong teacher-student relationships and student attachment to school creates a rationale for further exploration of the topic. Research has shown that student attachment to school has a positive effect on academic achievement (Hallinan, 2008: 273). Attachment contributes to academic achievement by creating feelings of security that allow students the ability to explore freely (Bergin and Bergin, 2009: 142). Without attachment, students can experience frustration with school, which can affect their willingness to learn. Dissatisfaction with school becomes noticeable during the adolescent years, which include middle-school students who range in age from 11 to 14 (U.S. Department of Education, 1990). This dissatisfaction in turn contributes to disengagement and dropout rates (U.S. Department of Education, 1990). Since student achievement is a main goal of schools, it is important to examine factors such as attachment to school and the teacher's role that correlate with and affect academic success. Bergin and Bergin (2009: 153) focused on the role of the teacher in teacher-student relationships and suggested that attachment to the teacher improves academic performance in high-risk students. One of the links which Hallinan (2008: 272) made in her study was that teachers contributed to the development of students' attachment to their educators. She surveyed public and urban Catholic school students, measuring for feelings about teacher support and expectation in relation to the attachment they felt; she found that students were more willing to strive for high expectations set by teachers if they had a positive relationship with them (Hallinan, 2008: 282).


The Role of the Teacher

While student attachment to teachers positively influences their overall attachment to school and willingness to learn, researchers also point to other elements as well. In identifying influential elements of the school environment that can play a role, Hattie (2003: 1) lists students, home, school, peer effects, principals, and teachers. Showing the percentage of each element's contribution, Hattie's (2003: 2) work showed that the role of the teacher had the heaviest weight, influencing 30% of variance in student achievement. Most other areas held percentages between 5% and 10% and had a contributing part, just not as large as the role of the teacher outside the role of the students which accounted for 50% contribution to their own achievement.

Educational engagement and social membership are factors in the school environment that contribute to student retention, specifically in urban schools (Cothran and Ennis, 2000: 106). Cothran and Ennis account for the fact that students have social and cultural conditions and personal problems that influence their level of engagement, highlighting the discordance between student background and school agenda where student background might serve as an impediment to engagement and academic success (Cothran and Ennis, 2000: 107). To address this discordance, their research suggested that teachers had a strong role by acting as bridges to engagement (Cothran and Ennis, 2000: 144). Regardless of other factors influencing attachment to school, researchers stress the powerful influence of the teachers and their relationships with students as significant when addressing the topic of attachment to school, achievement, and engagement. While much literature focuses on how students' attachment to the teacher influences performance, this case study seeks to contribute to literature that explores how that teacher-student relationship functions in the context of the students' attachment to the overall school environment using an extensive framework similar to Hattie's approach.


Participant Population

While multiple articles discuss the importance of the teacher in fostering students' attachment to the teacher as an individual, there is little literature on what influences environmental attachment for high-achieving student populations such as Jewish students and those attending Jewish day schools (Fejgin, 1995: 18). Often the literature on the achievement of these students focuses on background and cultural factors without looking at how elements in their schooling experience, such as relationships with teachers, could lead to school attachment and play a part in their academic success as a group and their positive attitude about academic environments. The intention of this case study is to look beyond their culture and background for answers, extending the focus to the teacher's influential role with this group.

Jewish people are often stereotyped as highly intelligent due to statistics supporting their high academic achievement; they represent 33% of the student population of Ivy League schools in the United States (Nisbett, 2009: 171). According to Richard Nisbett (2009: 172), the typical Ashkenazi Jewish IQ score is at two-thirds to one standard deviation above the average of the white population. Additionally, a disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish: 32%, compared with a global population of 0.2% (Murray, 2007: 32). Since this study seeks to examine a high-achieving group, these statistics support the conclusion that the population chosen for examination falls into a high-achieving group.

Along with students of Asian ethnicity, Jewish students have been one of the highest academic achieving groups in the United States (Fejgin, 1995: 18-19). Many factors influence the achievement of these students including socioeconomic status, cultural expectations, and parental education. Fejgin (1995: 22-27) examines these factors in her work, exploring factors that contribute to the academic excellence of American Jewish and American students of Asian ethnicity. Once socioeconomic measures were controlled for, Jewish students still excelled among other ethnic groups, but Fejgin admits that cultural elements and parental education did not completely explain their achievement. She specifically credits the success of Jewish students in mathematics to their private, Jewish school education (Fejgin, 1995: 27). The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (2003) emphasises in a study done with Detroit high-school valedictorians that 23 out of the 60 had graduated from a Jewish elementary or middle school. Both this study and the research done by Fejgin show that Jewish day schools can be seen as a common factor in the academic success of the Jewish students who attend them.


Jewish Schools

There are around 800 Jewish day schools in the United States (Schick, 2005: 18). Of those, 79% are Orthodox, 10% are Conservative, 8% are community affiliated, and 5% are Reform (PEJE, 2003). Since Orthodox day schools are more common and since the school observed in this research was founded as an Orthodox school, the Orthodox level of incorporating religion and Judaic studies will be examined. Unlike the other types of schools, Orthodox schools place a heavier focus on religious studies and usually devote half of the school day or more to this type of instruction (Schick, 2005: 11). The promotion of Judaic interest and religion is not just reflected in the curriculum, but often is the sole agenda for some teachers at these schools who may derive their teaching philosophies from biblical principles (Hyman, 2003: 40). Hyman's analysis notes that the teacher's responsibility is to 'train their students in skills as well as proper moral, religious, and social behavior' (Hyman, 2003: 45).

When considering the general environment of many day schools, Pomson points out that these schools are often physically small and teachers usually share classroom space (2005: 788). Environments like this indicate that class and student population sizes are small. Over half of Jewish day schools in the United States have an average size of 51 to 350 students enrolled (Schick, 2005: 18). Small school and class sizes allow for more individual attention that may not be received in a public school where class sizes and enrolment are often larger. Given the descriptions in the listed research, Orthodox Jewish schools are depicted as small, religiously driven communities that cater to a specific population's spiritual and academic needs.

Public schools in the United States, on the other hand, have to cater to a diverse range of students, generally have larger class sizes, and do not incorporate religion into their curriculum. While prayer is part of daily instruction in Orthodox Jewish day schools, formal prayer was moved from American public schools in the 1960s when the Court prohibited religious worship in school and limited moral education (Hafen, 1993: 609). This strengthened the attitude among public school personnel that children are capable of choosing their morality and that school functioned mainly to cater to the intellectual realm (Hafen, 1993; 609). Despite a need for professional development elements that public schools may share with Jewish day schools (Stodolsky et al., 2006: 92), their differences change the way the school environment functions for students. However, the role of the teacher as an academic educator does not change, which is why this particular element is examined in relation to student attachment to school.


Research Question

In this case study, the role of the teacher in the Jewish educational environment is considered, in order to see how their relationships with the students encourage attachment to school. A couple of research questions arise from the exploration of the teacher's role in student attachment at a Jewish day school: what are the key elements in teacher-student relationships that affect attachment for students attending a Jewish day school, and what qualities do the students most value in their teachers? These questions are asked to gain insight into the teachers' contributions to this group of Jewish students' attachment to school. As explored by other researchers, there are multiple reasons students can develop attachment to school. These questions place emphasis on the teacher's role and first-hand student accounts. According to McKeachie (1997: 1218) student evaluations are the 'most valid source of data'. Like McKeachie, I believe the student perspective is most valid for obtaining information about their attachment to school. This information not only provides specific examples of teacher-student relationship components that foster attachment in the school climate, but it also contributes to research being conducted to determine which elements beyond cultural and economic ones create academic success for students attending Jewish day schools.

In looking at how the role of the teacher in a Jewish day school might be different from those in a public school, I speculate that teachers will have knowledge of the Jewish religion and culture that they incorporate academic instruction. Based on Hyman's depiction of teachers in Jewish day schools, teachers in these environments often have other religious and cultural agendas and teach multiple subjects religious and academic (Stodolsky et al., 2006: 103) which lead me to believe that these elements will manifest themselves in academic instruction. It may be this aspect of teaching that fosters relationships with student, and the teachers' cultural and religious awareness may create in students a positive feeling about the teacher and a positive attitude about school. Gay addresses culture as affective to students' attitudes and disposition, encouraging teachers to acknowledge cultural heritage in formal curriculum (Gay, 2000: 39-44). For this reason, I believe culturally responsive teaching may contribute to a comfort and willingness to learn by aligning with the students' specific interest and being tailored to their experiences in a way that public school does not. Since public schools have diverse student populations they lack the ability to personalise instruction to the extent of cultural and religious preferences as in the more homogenous Jewish day schools.

I use a mixed method design that incorporates qualitative and quantified methodology to answer the questions. Interviews, writing prompts, and observations are employed to obtain information about the teachers and their relationships with students in context to their role in school attachment. Additionally, student surveys are used to reveal information about which qualities of teachers students value most and will contribute quantifiable information.

 

Methods

Participants and School

The school observed is a small private school located in a medium-sized city in South Carolina. Founded in the 1950s, it is one of the oldest Jewish day schools in the country. Originally an Orthodox school, it now seeks to draw a more inclusive student body while loosely maintaining Orthodox practices. According to its website, the core values of the school include academic excellence, individualised learning, religious participation, respect and diversity, and ethical behavior.

The demographic of the school is predominantly middle-class, practising Jews. The middle-school students are aged between 12 and 15 and consist of students who are American, European, or Israeli Jews with the exception of one student of Asian ethnicity. The students in the observations (n=23) include all the seventh and eighth graders, although the number of participants in student writing prompts and survey vary within the selected population. The ratio of boys to girls is 10:13.

The teachers (n=2) in the sample are from the population of middle-school instructors at the school. They were selected because they taught academic subjects, and the role of the teacher as an academic instructor is the role of interest for this study. Both are female, but they range in age and experience. Teacher #1 is middle-aged, from the South, and has taught for more than twenty years. Teacher #2 is college-aged, from the North, and is in her first year of teaching. Teacher #1 teaches social studies, and Teacher #2 teaches mathematics. Neither of the teachers is of Jewish background or a practising Jew.

Since the school is fairly small and Jewish day schools in this state are scarce, the sample population is small. My cross-sectional study is limited to this particular school only giving a snapshot of attachment factors for this student population. While limited, this case study does provide information about group specific attachment to school, and the student population acts as a baseline for students at similar Jewish day schools.


Data Collection and Analysis

I observed two academic classrooms: mathematics and social studies. The middle-school students and each of the two teachers were observed ten times, giving twenty overall observations. Observations gave me the opportunity to see variations in subject matter, classroom environment, student groups, pedagogical styles, and teacher ability. It also gave me a chance to see if culturally responsive teaching was happening and what the daily academic lives of the student looked like.

Interviews were used to learn about the teachers' philosophy on teacher-student relationships, background information, and what the teachers thought their strong points were. I was also able to obtain information on their experiences, how they interact with students, and knowledge of Jewish religion and culture.

Anonymous student surveys were used to obtain information about the qualities of teacher-student relationships these students' values. Student surveys identified key characteristics of teachers that they valued and the degree that they value. The survey was constructed with Stronge's (2003: 22-33) research on effective teaching in mind, and lists qualities from his research that have been proven to positively influence students. This instrument served to obtain information directly from the students about their values, with their data being the source of focus. A rank-order method was used where students selected and ranked the top five qualities they valued. Responses were listed in a chart looking at frequency and rank to determine which qualities were most valued among the group.

Two open-ended writing prompts were given for students to identify what role the teacher played in attachment to the school environment and what created attachment to school for them. Answers were analysed by grouping responses into major themes.

 

Results

Teacher #1 Interview

This teacher has been teaching at the school for over 20 years. She teaches social studies and English for the fifth through eighth grades. Teacher #1 is not Jewish nor does she practise Judaism. This cultural and religious difference does not inhibit her from enjoying interactions with the students. According to Teacher #1, interaction with the students is one of the best parts about the job. Her sparse knowledge of the students' culture and religion does not stop her from relating to them, which she sees as one of her strengths. She does indicate that organisation is one of her weaknesses. When it comes to teaching, one of her main philosophies is captured in the statement, 'There is a different kind of friendship in teacher-student relationships. Know boundaries.' With this statement, her emphasis on professionalism in the job is highlighted.

Teacher #1's years of experience with this population, subject matter, and geographical background set her apart from Teacher #2, which gives some contrasting factors to consider when analysing data about student attachment. She also lacked in-depth knowledge of the students' religion or culture, but knew more about it than Teacher #2. Unlike Teacher #2, Teacher #1 was able to give me surface details about the students' religion and was familiar with their holidays. While dedicated to relating to the students, Teacher #1 takes a holistic, group approach with examples as opposed to individualising her interactions.


Teacher #2 Interview

Teacher #2 is in her first year of teaching. In addition to teaching mathematics for the middle schools, Teacher #2 also teaches early childhood classes. Like Teacher #1, Teacher #2 is not from a Jewish background and does not practise Judaism. She obtained a position at this school after moving from the North and knew very little about the students' religion or culture. She teaches students with a diverse range of abilities and loves, 'seeing that light bulb go off when they get a concept after struggling.' She says her strength is her patience and classroom management. Like Teacher #1, she identifies her weakness as organisation. When it comes to teaching philosophies, Teacher #2 believes that 'catering to their [the students'] specific personalities' is vital. It is important to her to be able to relate to each student and approaches him or her differently according to his or her needs.

Teacher #2 was less knowledgeable about the students' culture than Teacher #1. Teacher #2 mentioned culturally adjusting to working at a Jewish day school. She mentioned her adjustment to hearing her students frequently converse about bar and bat mitzvahs. Unlike Teacher #1, Teacher #2 was not able to give me any information about the students' religion. She also chose to relate to students each differently depending on their personality. With this being her first year and having a regional change, Teacher #2 has had less time to become acquainted with the community and does not have the privilege of students knowing her from previous year or having her as a previous teacher, a privilege Teacher #1 had.


Observation of Teacher #1

In terms of teaching style, Teacher #1 focused on classroom discussion and helped the students to use deeper thinking and analytical skills. During instruction, the volume in Teacher #1's class remained moderate or low and she mainly acted as a facilitator of discussion. Teacher #1 had been using the classroom structure and instructional strategies I observed for a while with her students. She occasionally allowed students to work in groups, but class time was mainly dedicated to whole-group discussion. Teacher #1's strategies had been compiled over many years. I only witnessed her use a culturally responsive teaching measure in the form of a video in one of her lessons, but most of her instruction was taught through an international lens where student often used maps. While she did not converse with the students about their culture or beliefs, she did show an interest in their well-being. There was an incident in Teacher #1's class where a student cut himself, and she made sure the student went to go take care of himself first. This teacher also openly joked with the students before class, and allowed them to talk among each other about their interests before instruction time. Overall, students appeared very comfortable with the teacher and followed expectations well.


Observations of Teacher #2

Teacher #2 used individualised and differentiated instruction in the classroom. Teacher #2 also used groups and structured class time around co-operative learning. Students often worked with peers and at their own pace while she moved from group to group. Teacher #2 had just employed this new group structure, and was trying it for the first time. There was no incorporation or acknowledgement of culture and religion in her mathematics class, which could be due to the subject matter. The only time she addressed the entire class was for homework review or announcements. As a result, more personal interactions took place in her class. One student even showed Teacher #2 one of his toys during one of the observation days. The volume in this class was moderate and above as the groups worked on their given tasks. Teacher #2 emailed students supplementary work to help them with homework and had after-school hours where students could get help. She also used more technology in the classroom and often took students to the computer lab. Her tone with the children was receptively sarcastic and most of her interactions outside of instruction were mainly focused on helping them understand the material. While students sometimes conversed about their personal or social life with Teacher #2, less joking and storytelling happened in her classroom. This may be due to the structure of the class and difficulty of the material. Students were more focused on their social lives in this classroom. They did exhibit respect for the teacher and an interest in sharing personal information with her, but they struggled with following her expectations.


Student Surveys

Twenty out of the 23 students participated in the survey. Therefore, data presented is based on 86.96% of the population. The student survey was broken down into three sections. The first section asked students to circle the top five characteristics from a list of 19 researched qualities and indicators of an effective teacher along with a write-in option. From the top five they selected, the students were asked to give them a rank order on a scale from one to five with one being the most important. The other two sections were designated for students to identify if Teacher #1 and Teacher #2 possessed these characteristics. From their responses, it is possible to identify the characteristics that were most frequently selected as well as the ones that were highly ranked.

Of the qualities, the most selected were 'listens to me', 'respects me', 'makes learning fun', 'helps me when I need it', 'wants me to succeed', and 'motivates me'. The highest ranked were 'respects me', 'values what I say', 'cares about me', and 'is fair'. Of the most selected 'wants me to succeed' and 'motivates me' were the highest ranked while 'respects me' and 'values what I say' were the highest ranked of the most selected making these four qualities most valuable to the students as a group.

Characteristic # of Students that selected characteristic as one of their 5 Ranks (1 being the most import and 5 being the least) Average Rank of
Characteristic
Listens to me 9 1,1,2,4,5,2,5,4,3 3.00
Cares about my Interests 1 5 5.00
Respects me 9 1,1,1,3,3,5,3,1,1 2.11
Is friendly 6 2,5,4,1,2,5 3.17
Values what I say 4 2,3,2,2 2.25
Is enthusiastic 7 3,3,3,5,2,2,3 3.00
Understands my history and religion 1 3 3.00
Makes learning fun 9 1,2,4,4,5,1,5,5,2 3.22
Helps me when I need it 9 1,4,1,2,2,3,2,4,1 2.22
Asks how I am feeling 0 0 0.00
Cares about me 4 2,2,5,1 2.50
Is fair 8 3,3,5,2,4,1,4,1 2.88
Wants me to succeed 13 1,2,4,4,5,1,4,3,5,3,3,4,4 3.31
Makes me feel important 3 2,4,5 3.67
Jokes with me 3 3,4,4 3.67
Motivates me 11 1,3,5,5,4,2,4,1,4,5,5 3.55
Interested in my family 0 0 0.00
Smiles a lot 1 5 5.00
Gives me compliments and feedback 2 5,3 4.00
Other/Write in 0 0 0.00

Table 1: Top 5 important characteristics of a teacher. Generated from original data. The characteristics are modifications from Stronge's Teacher as a Person and Teacher Skill Checklists (2007: 110-11).


Student Responses to Writing Prompt #1

Only 12 middle school students of 23 participated in the writing prompt, meaning that the data is representative of 52.18% of the students. The first prompt asked students to explain why they like to come to school, providing specific examples from their daily experiences. This was an open-ended prompt where students could write freely. From the information gathered, their responses were divided into two categories: teacher-influenced factors and other factors. Out of the 12 students who responded to the prompt, seven listed teacher influenced factors. The reoccurrence of these factors reveals that the teacher is an important aspect in creating a positive school climate, but the equal attention given to other factors suggests that other elements are of equivalent importance in creating attachment to the school environment. Table 2 shows the results.

Teacher Influenced Factors
Influential Teacher Characteristics: 'funny', 'amazing', 'creative', 'smart', 'nice', 'relatable', and 'fabulous'
Influential Teacher Actions: 'jokes with me', 'make learning fun', and 'like to have fun'
Other Teacher Factors: knowing teachers outside of school 'makes us all a lot closer' and having teachers that are 'familiar' and 'who have taught my siblings'
Other Factors
Peer Related: 'seeing friends', 'helping the younger children', laughing, 'going to lunch', working in groups, and 'having recess'
Academic Related: subject content, doing specific classroom activities, 'being challenged', and 'learning'
Religion and Culture Related: 'celebrating Jewish holidays', and 'gain[ing] self-identity'
Staff Related: 'helping in the kitchen', a sense of community, and seeing staff members,

Table 2: Student responses to the first writing prompt.


Student Responses to Writing Prompt #2

Of the 23 students, 14 participated in the second writing prompt. The data for collected from this measure represents 60.87% of the population. The second prompt asked students what characteristics the best teacher in the world might have. It also asks what a good teacher does and how they make the students feel. From the responses are generated lists of teacher personality traits, actions, and the emotions they evoke, making up three key elements where teachers contribute to attachment in their teacher-student relationships. Of the elements listed, the actions of a good teacher were of dominate focus revealing that attachment is not based on the personality of a teacher. All of the elements in Table 3 are pulled directly from the students' responses and organised in list format. Some words are modified for formatting purposes.

Characteristics of a Good Teacher
Personality traits: smart, kind, caring, confident, funny, creative, approachable, relatable, a leader, organised, patient, understanding, honest, sense of humour, a good personality, passionate, fun, professional, sweet, nice, good attitude, enthusiastic
Actions listed: challenges students, uses a variety of teaching strategies and materials, incorporates students' interest into lessons, applies multiple perspectives in the classroom, gives feedback and explanations, keeps students on task, encourages students to learn more, helps students when they need it, tells students about tests an adequate amount of time in advance, says exactly what they expect of students, rewards students for good behavior and studying skills, teaches students at their level, spends time making sure every student is caught up, motivates students, willing to learn, instill perseverance in students, inspires students to excel, treats them nicely, responsible for teaching students, gives students positive attention, gives students a good amount of time for assignments, considers the workload students have in other classes, makes learning fun, has fun with students, gives students time for a break, listens to students, has control of the class (alternative interpretation: good class management skills), should make students want to come to school, should not single out students, does not yell, supports student
How a good teacher makes students feel: important, smart, strong, appreciated, happy, confident, 'makes me feel that she wants to get the information through to her students', good, 'never make students feel inferior', 'make me feel good about my work and like I am doing well in school', 'make you feel interested in learning and doing well', 'make you feel at home in the classroom', 'makes me feel comfortable asking questions'

Table 3: Student responses to the second writing prompt.

 

Discussion

Teacher Qualities the Students Valued

With middle-school students in this particular Jewish day school, motivation, respect, a desire to see them succeed, and knowing that what they said mattered were the qualities they most valued in their relationships with their teacher according to the surveys. In contrast to what I expected to find, students did not care much about their academic teachers' knowledge of their culture of religion. This data conflicts with theories about the relevance cultural competence has for academic instructors in an environment where others, such as Hebraic studies teachers, hold this competence. Having teachers that care about them did rank high. This is in line with Cothran and Ennis's (2000: 115) research identifying care and respect as highly influential elements on students. This information provides a useful resource for the teachers at this school, but it may not be true for all schools. These findings lead to questions of which teacher-influenced factors provide a positive atmosphere for all students and which ones are more preferred to certain groups of students or schools. This research raises the question of whether attachment-influencing factors are different according to regional, ethnic, or religious needs.


The Role of the Teacher

Finally, the student writing prompts revealed that while teachers are important in making their school experience positive, other people and aspects of the school were just as important. Responses emphasise that a community of people with shared goals and interests made school like 'home', as one student put it. In this case, the goal was to provide academic instruction for children while offering a space for them to embrace, learn about, and practise their beliefs as a religious and cultural group. As the interviews revealed, these teachers did not have much knowledge of the group's culture or religion and did not have an agenda to incorporate these factors into their academic instruction, a different situation from that which Hyman describes in his work. These teachers played a part in fostering attachment to this school environment by catering to the students' academic needs through their actions. Contrary to my speculation in the introduction, the two participant teachers knew little about the religious practices of the student. However, they did focus on accommodating students' academic needs, contributing to a community goal through the action of educating. From observations made, their interactions appeared to be the most influential factor. The way they interacted with students inside and outside of instruction time often led to desirable school experiences that students listed in their prompts. For instance, one student listed that laughing made them enjoy school and Teacher #1 often told jokes. One student also listed working in groups as one of the reasons they enjoyed school. Teacher #2 conducted her instruction in small groups as seen through observations. The actions of the teachers were what most contributed to these students' attachment. According to the second writing prompt, teacher actions took precedence over personality traits and emotional appeal when it came to teacher-influenced factors in their attachment to school.


Further Implications and Limitations

Although some success of the Jewish education model had been attributed to economic, background, and cultural factors as stated by Fejgin (1995: 19-20), the findings of this case study suggests there might be other factors involved that are less tied to cultural particulars when examining their attachment to school. Results showed that teacher action - not cultural knowledge or culturally informed instruction - is a key factor in terms of the teacher's role in influencing attachment for this particular high-achieving demographic. Data from the students even indicated that catering to their religious and cultural needs in an academic class was not of high priority. This may be so in this more Orthodox school because they already receive religious instruction, and it is not necessary to have it incorporated in their academic classes. The study raises questions about teachers' level of importance in influencing student attachment to school in relation to the school community. Realising that the model of the school itself shaped student attachment differently led me to question the role of the teacher in fostering attachment in different school models and climates. One of the things that did stand out was how communal the structure of the school was and the multiple functions it served outside of traditional education. It was attached to the Jewish Community Centre and employed staff who filled multiple roles and functions. Future research can explore questions about the role of the academic teacher in non-traditional environments like this and examine student attachment by demographic to see if and how influential factors vary with the students' needs in difference communities. While this case study adds to research on attachment and Jewish education, it had multiple limitations, including a small population, its regional nature, lack of randomisation in population selection, data interpretation completed by one person, and limited generalisability in the interpretation of the group.

 


 

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Dr Anne Gutshall in the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance for advising me through the IRB process and to Dr Adam Mendelsohn in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston for his connections with the school in the study. Their time and support are greatly appreciated.

 

List of Tables

Table 1: Top 5 important characteristics of a teacher.

Table 2: Student responses to the first writing prompt.

Table 3: Student responses to the second writing prompt.

 

Notes

[1] Shateara Hall recently received a bachelor's degree in Middle Grades Education at the College of Charleston, and is currently a graduate student obtaining a Masters degree in Education Policy at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include studying Jewish education and examining the impact of education policies in the United States. She also enjoys learning about other cultures, nations, and religions.

 

References

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Fejgin, N. (1995), 'Factors contributing to the academic excellence of American Jewish and Asian students', American Social Associations, 68 (1), 18-30

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To cite this paper please use the following details: Hall, S. (2013), 'Student Attachment in a Jewish Day School: the Role of the Teacher', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 6, Issue 2, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/hall Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.