High School Dean: ‘Being a math teacher is joyful for me’


Senior dean Orit Schwartz has mentored the graduating class of ’22 since they were sophomores.

Orit Shwartz is currently the student dean for the 12th grade class at de Toledo High School and a math teacher with an emphasis on Algebra II. She has been my dean since 10th grade and dean for our grade for the last three years. Previously, she mentored all the incoming 10th grade classes to help them get acquainted and comfortable with high school life and education.

de Toledo is a small Jewish private high school  in West Hills, California,  one of the largest Jewish day schools, with a 2022 graduation class of 109 pupils. Orit–as she is known to her students–is Israeli. 

Orit moved to Los Angeles in October 1997, and began teaching at de Toledo in September 2007.  She is married and has three children, ages 16-23. Orit grew up in Ramat Gan which is near Tel Aviv, Israel. She has both an older and younger sister.

Even though Orit lives in America, she is surrounded by Jewish families, schools, a variety of Jewish stores, and many Israeli and Kosher markets that remind her of the Jewish values and traditions of her homeland.

How does living in America affect you being an Israeli? 

I live in L.A. in the [San Fernando] Valley, and there are many Israelis there with me. There are many stores where I can buy products that are from Israel. I don’t feel completely an Isreali now as I did before.

Has the language ever hindered you from your American experiences? 

English was really hard for me to learn. I used to have hard times having a conversation. Being a dean and a teacher, I have to do a lot of speaking in front of classes and parents. It can be very stressful. I have felt more comfortable over the years.

Why did you decide to move here? 

I was already married and living in Israel, but I had a work connection. My husband got really excited to move here. I always wanted to go back to Israel.

Do you see your kids struggle with their identities, considering they are first generation?

My children were born here and grew up here. They feel American, but they also feel different because they come from an Israeli household. They can see all different types of atmospheres from friends’ houses to food to music. My kids don’t feel alone because there are others here that are Israeli and Jewish. 

How has antisemitism changed since you’ve been here?

When I came to the [United] States 24 years ago, I didn’t feel any hate. I felt safe. In recent years, it’s been more scary. Sometimes I think twice if I even want to go to a place like a Jewish restaurant or holiday because of all the incidents that have happened. I came from a country that has suicide attacks and bombings, but we still go out and do stuff.

Have you had any experiences with antisemitism in this country?

 I personally didn’t see it. I don’t go to crowded places, but personally I haven’t experienced it.

Do you ever think about moving back to Israel? 

This is always on my mind. I always wanted to go back to Israel because that is where I feel connected, that’s where my family is and my roots. For different reasons that didn’t happen. If you would ask me if I would move there today, I would if my kids would come with me, but they already have their life here, and I wouldn’t leave them.

Why is math important? Do you think some students are wired for math and others for language?

Math is important. This is my passion, this is what I love doing. My dad was a math teacher. As a kid, I would help him grade papers and sit with him when we were tutoring other students. I always enjoyed it. I love numbers. I’m not really a person that likes to write much. My personal story: growing up in math was always easy for me. Learning English was really hard. I failed English. The language itself I just couldn’t remember. Now it’s better, and it has been for many years. Some people have the talent for math or writing. It’s a skill you can learn, so it goes both ways. 

What is your philosophy on teaching? 

I always wanted to be a teacher. I’m lucky I’m doing something that I love. My philosophy is you do it because you care. 

What are the challenges and joys of being a dean? a math teacher?

I love my work. I love the connection with my students, the ability to help. I really care about my students. I keep in touch with many of them after they graduate. The challenges are that I need to discipline a student or give a consequence. I feel bad about it, but I think it is the right thing to do…they grow and learn from it. Being a math teacher is joyful for me. I love doing that. I know it is weird, but I really love teaching. Some challenges are math isn’t easy for many students, and I happen to teach the classes that are a bit of the lower-level of material and those students really don’t like math. Sometimes it’s challenging, but I really love math and at some point they get it.