What is the most and least successful course you have taught?

Ken Koltun-Fromm

Haverford College

The most successful class I have taught is the one I just completed, "Modern Jewish Thought," in the Spring 2011 term at Haverford College (you can find the syllabus at: http://dvar.haverford.edu/courses/modern-jewish-thought/). I invited eight of my colleagues to suggest readings for our Monday class sessions, and then send me their scholarly work on this class material for students to read for our Wednesday meetings. For example, I asked Noam Pianko to suggest readings on Mordecai Kaplan for Monday, and I provided copies of Noam's work on Kaplan to my students for Wednesday. All of this provided the framework for Noam to actually "visit" the classroom via Skype on the very day that we read his work on Kaplan. I mirrored this framework for each of the eight participants: readings in modern Jewish thought for Monday, my colleague's research for Wednesday, and a Skype hookup so that my students could engage directly with scholars in the field. All eight scholars then arrived on campus at the end of the semester for a symposium in modern Jewish thought and culture. Technology (Skype) and funding (Hurford Humanities Center grant) expanded my classroom beyond Haverford's borders.

My least successful course undermined the very goals of that modern Jewish thought class. Early in my career, I team-taught a course in "Ethics and the Good Life" with one of my mentors at Haverford. Big mistake, for I foolishly attempted to emulate his teaching style and ended up becoming what I was not—certainly not a good life by any standard of assessment. Teaching is a praxis, I soon realized, and one enacted with distinctive style and character. My colleagues in modern Jewish thought projected their own sense of purpose and concern into the classroom; I wish I had done the same in mine.