Palette Introduces the AJA High School’s New Teachers
Mr. Bill Feinberg has been teaching math for over thirty years. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Mr. Feinberg moved to Atlanta when he was around seven years old, and attended college here in Georgia at Kennesaw State University. He has remained in the Atlanta area for his teaching as well, teaching throughout the years in public schools, private schools, and alternative schools.
Mr. Feinberg loves teaching math because he loves helping students who were struggling to finally grasp a concept — what some might call a “lightbulb moment.” He explained that, in math especially, students can get quite frustrated and convince themselves they can’t do it. He likes to tell students to “embrace the fear.” Even if the math can become intimidating, if students keep trying and don’t give up, the concept will eventually click.
Mr. Feinberg thinks that it’s important to keep a light atmosphere when teaching. Often, he explained, a math class can become monotonous and students tend to zone out. To combat this potential monotony, Mr. Feinberg likes to joke around and keep the mood upbeat. “Some of you guys might have noticed,” he elaborated, “every once in a while I’ll break into song, do a little dance, little spin.” Indeed, Mr. Feinberg holds a firm belief that math class shouldn’t be dry or boring and takes strides to combat this.
Mrs. Michal Lashansky, a new Shlicha, teaches Chumash and Jewish History in AJA High School. She grew up in Australia, attending Beth Rivkah Ladies College in Melbourne, Australia, before making aliyah (a Hebrew term for moving to Israel) with her husband after they both graduated from university. Mrs. Lashansky explained that she “pretty much always wanted to move to Israel.”
Before making aliyah Mrs. Lashansky taught Jewish History and Hebrew for one year at Beth Rivkah Ladies College. After making aliyah, she continued to teach occasionally. She briefly served as a substitute teacher for second graders in Chaifa, which she described as “…crazy — they were throwing chairs.” In addition, she taught online classes at an American Bar Mitzvah program and worked as an informal teacher at the National Library of Israel. Inspired by the Shlichim who had been a big part of her childhood, Mrs. Lashansky decided to become a Shlicha and bring her teaching skills to AJA.
While growing up, Mrs. Lashansky always felt that Judaic classes were treated as secondary to secular classes. Often, she felt that the teachers didn’t treat the class seriously, so neither did the students. As a teacher, Mrs. Lashansky wants to show her students that Judaic studies classes are serious and important.
Additionally, she strives to make her classroom a “warm and welcoming environment.” As she explained it, “I take my teaching seriously and I want you to also take it seriously, but at the same time I want it to be a place where you feel comfortable asking whatever questions you have.” Along those lines, she stated that one of her favorite aspects of teaching is when students interact more than is required with the material, asking questions and thinking independently and creatively. She is excited to build connections with all of her students in the coming year.
Dr. Michelle Cline teaches two English classes and a Study Skills class, in addition to her roles as the curriculum specialist and head of student support. She grew up right outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. She has masters degrees in both English and school administration, in addition to her PhD in educational leadership.
Dr. Cline has a passion for education. “I kind of think teaching chose me,” she explained as her reason for pursuing teaching, “I think it was a calling.” As an undergraduate, Dr. Cline originally intended to go to law school and become a lawyer. However, she enjoyed helping other students grasp the material so much that she eventually pivoted to education.
In addition to her role as a teacher, Dr. Cline also contributes to the school’s administration — specifically around curriculum. It’s her job to examine each class, break down what skills it teaches, and consider how that overlaps with future classes. She makes sure that every year’s English or math class is a step up from the previous class, yet without leaving gaps in the material.
Dr. Cline considers herself a lifelong learner. She is always trying to soak up knowledge about new things. “I’m like a little sponge,” she joked, later elaborating, “I want to learn as much as I want to teach.” She pointed out that this attitude helps her to adapt and grow as a teacher.
Dr. Bobby Portis grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Jackson State University as an undergraduate and stayed there for graduate work to earn his PhD in Chemistry. While doing so, he had his first experience teaching. “In order to get a PhD, or even a masters in science, they force you to teach,” Dr. Portis explained. He explained that while at first, teaching was something he was uncomfortable with, he found that it was actually something he wanted to do long term. For Dr. Portis, the best part of teaching is what he called, “the actual teaching.” He loves being in the room in front of students, interacting with them, and explaining the science. As he put it succinctly, “I love to teach.” After six years of teaching at Jackson State University, Dr. Portis has come to the AJA High School to teach chemistry and physics.
Throughout the years he lived in Jackson, Dr. Portis travelled often. He recalls having visited at least 36 of the 50 states. Through all of this travel, he realized that he didn’t want to stay in Jackson. “When you grow up in a place, and then you go to school in that place, you don’t necessarily get to see as much of the world as you want to,” Dr. Portis elaborated. With this in mind, Dr. Portis saw coming to AJA as a big opportunity for new scenery and culture.
Dr. Portis is a big fan of maturity in and out of the classroom. He explains that a lot of life comes down to how people react to everything around them. “If you handle everything with maturity and tact, you’ll get a lot farther,” he advised. For that reason, he believes that it is important to teach and model maturity as an educator.
Rabbi Raif Melhado was born and raised in Urbana, Illinois. Following high school, he went to Yeshiva in Israel for a gap year and then to University of Illinois. At the university’s Hillel (an international organization that provides Jewish life on campuses) he met his wife. Following college, he worked at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which oversees Hillels in the state of Illinois; spent a year at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem; and spent some time self-employed with his own home renovating company.
Rabbi Melhado then attended Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, became a rabbi, and moved to L.A., where he worked as a congregational rabbi. He explained that he had needed a lot of help finding direction in life when he was younger, and it was rabbis and Jewish community workers who helped him. He hoped that, as a rabbi, maybe he could give that same support to others.
Upon encouragement from a friend, Rabbi Melhado decided to apply for a teaching position at de Toledo High School. He gave two model lessons there before being hired, and these classes really convinced him that teaching high schoolers was right for him. “They asked questions, and they got into it,” Rabbi Mulahdo explained, describing the energy as “electric.”
As a teacher, Rabbi Melhado puts an emphasis on a specific style of communication. “We talk about what you do want, what you’d like to see happen, what you stand for, instead of what you don’t like and what you don’t want to see,” Rabbi Melhado said. He thinks that this form of positive communication helps people communicate more clearly and helps build a better person. Rabbi Melhado is excited to bring this unique perspective into the Gemara classes he will be teaching here at AJA this year.