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I Am Who I Am Today Because…

I generally ignore WordPress’s daily prompts, except today. It wasn’t an exceptionally brilliant or intriguing prompt, but my mind responded to it, not on a logical level, but a very emotional one, and I feel compelled to write about her.

My 12th grade Navi teacher changed my life. Well, not she herself, I did that, but she was a very large catalyst. I can’t say she was brilliant educator; I slept through most of her classes. She was though an exceptional teacher.

After yet another period resulting in drool pools on my desk and line patterns on my forehead, she called me over.

I stood there hand on hip waiting for her chastisement.

“The Navi speaks to me, TYTT,” she said. “It doesn’t do it for you. And that’s ok. Everyone has different things that pull and inspire them. I can’t have you sleeping through my class though.”

She had started off well, that spoke to me, but not sleeping through her class, wasn’t really an option, my eyes would just glaze over, I couldn’t fight the boredom.

“I’m giving you this sefer,” and she handed me a non-descript book, with a picture of stone staircase on the jacket cover. “I want you to read it, and take notes on it. Summarize it, jot down your own opinions, if you agree, disagree, any questions you have. This will be your curriculum. And your notes, your test. Ok?”

I looked at her questioningly, this seemed too easy, just read a book and take some notes, but I accepted the book, and the task.

The book was R’ Akiva Tatz’s “Living Inspired”.

And that book answered all the questions I never knew I had. And I felt secure in knowledge and not just faith. Things, religion, mostly, made more sense to me.

Thought is one thing, action another though.

I still slept through all my other classes, Historia, Chumash, Beer Tefillah, Hashkafah, Parsha… none of them got through to me, not like that book did.

But I graduated High School realized quite suddenly that no one was telling me what to do. No one was telling me what was right and wrong appropriate or not. I’d have to live my own life, make decisions and choices on how to lead it. And the thoughts finally translated to action.

I chose to be a teacher, and I chose to marry a man like my husband, and chose to live the lifestyle I now lead. And a whole lot of other smaller (and medium sized) choices too. My life wasn’t happening, I was making conscious decisions to make it so, spurred on by the contents of that book. I was living inspired.

I had clarity on the cycles of life, on daas torah, on the conflict between hishtadlus and bitachon and other big ticket questions.

I read his other books, listened to his shiurim and I my life changed, for the ever better.

I owe my wonderful life to my 12th grade Navi teacher. When I invited her to my wedding, I slipped in a little note,

Dear Rebitzen ——-,

I don’t think I’ve ever fully expressed, and explained how much I appreciate what you did for me in 12th grade. I know, it seems simple enough, a good idea that panned out: Give a disinterested student an interesting book, have her be involved in something Jewish during your class instead of her drooling on the desk in slumber.

But had you not done what you did, I would not be who I am today. And I would not be marrying the person I am; I have you to thank for that.

By just being the shaliach, introducing me to the works of R’ Akiva Tatz, and from him, R’ Dessler, I am forever indebted to you. Those books changed my perspective on everything, it explained so much, and my life, outlook and actions reflect that.

I hope to share in many more Simchas with you. And anything good, anything of merit, anything I or my husband, or children, or generations to come accomplish, is all because of you.

Thank you,

-TooYoungToTeach

I would have never came across R’ Tatz and his work if not for her. And even if I would have, I don’t think I would have had the patience to fully concentrate on what he was trying to convey. Twice a week, I had 45 minutes of intense depth and inspiration that I got to comment and question. And today whenever I need a little pick me up, when life starts feeling monotonous, I go back to the book – she let me keep it.

I’m a 12th grade teacher now, and on the short Shabbosim, with the long Friday nights, I have my students over for a little oneg. Together we learn Living Inspired, and I love seeing the light behind their eyes, when it clicks for them, the way it did for me back then.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Slice of Life, Teaching

 

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On Changing Roles and Relationships

Mazal tov!

No, I didn’t pop yet, but another one of my students are engaged. This is already number a lot. I could feel old, or acknowledge that teaching 11th grade when your 19, will lead to many married students (with babies) when you’re 24.

It’s kinda weird, I’ll admit it. I still think of myself as really young (and possibly dumb) and they, well infinitely younger, and definitely dumber (well, not dumb, but immature).

For a lot of my students, we’re kind of part if the same generation, even if I played a role that would put me one ahead of them. Think about it, I was really one of their “own”, on the other side, talking as if I knew (and I did –most of the time), telling them when their papers were due, and what was wrong with what they were doing till now (being that, is not grammatically correct, it does not sound “fancy”), and mostly, receiving respect that is usually reserved to the elder and wiser.

The playing field is leveled. And it probably will happen that one of my students’ children will be in the same class as my own, and possibly even befriend my child.

Our names have changed, so maybe we won’t realize it at first when we arrange a play-date, but Jewish Geography must be played, and the truth will out. I’m sure we’ll laugh, and there may be an awkward moment were remember out past relationship, me the venerable teacher, her the currying favor student, and now we’d be equals.

That’s what makes it so interesting – my students, who I taught, now being on par with me.

I never had any young teachers. They were always decades ahead of me, and no matter how much catch up I play, they’ll always be one step ahead of me, and remain – my teacher. A certain amount of respect and distance will always be there. But with my own students – the first few years at least, they can level with me, and I’m not sure if I find that cute or disturbing.

And I don’t know if that makes me vain and self-possessed, or just yearning for the good old days when teachers were always old and frumpy, respectable and respected.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Teaching

 

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Begging For Validation

 

I never answer my door – unless I know you’re coming. Someone can bang away all they’d like, if I wasn’t informed of your arrival, I’ll become selectively deaf to your hammering. If you really want me to open the door, just call my house, tell me your standing there waiting for me, and I’ll be ever so gracious.

Seems really rude, I know. But I have my reasons (whether you agree with them or not)
1) The only people knocking on my door who I’m not expecting are collectors
2) I don’t keep any cash in the house
3) I think it’s an easier let down to think no one is home, than to be told they have nothing for you

It’s not a big deal, really. Most collectors will knock once or twice and leave if there’s no response. The problem arises when the collectors are not bona-fide meshulachim, with shtars from the Vaad, but when they come in a more miniature and menacing form – children.

Kids are the worst. They knock – persistently. They don’t wait, pause, give you moment to walk across your kitchen to receive them; it’s just knock – knockknockknock – knockknock –knockknockknockknock. And they don’t leave if you don’t answer the door. They peer into windowshades and start knocking all over again. Also, they’re generally neighborhood children, so they know my car, and whether they saw me leave or enter my home recently. You’d think they’d pick up after 3 years that I don’t answer the door. But they are a dogged bunch.

You know what, even if I did keep cash in my house to pass out when benevolence strikes me, I wouldn’t give to children. And further, I don’t intend to allow my children to collect. It may be standard procedure in Lakewood, I just think it’s bad chinuch.

The position of a meshulach, to have to go door to door to procure necessary funds is degrading. It’s embarrassing, and is only undertaken in the most dire of circumstances. And so it should be. To just ask of another person, another person in which you have no regard for each other, is the epitome of taking – and if the most Godly behavior is giving, then taking in such a manner is its contrast, and thereby ungodly.

My question is, why are school, organizations and parents encouraging children to engage in such behavior. Yes, I suppose in many cases the causes are worthy, but do you want to teach your children to just ask a random stranger for money, to take away the human mortification of the deed, and further embed it into their sociological structure of acceptable behavior? There are other ways to encourage a child to fundraise for a worthy cause without them soliciting door to door.

And then there’s this story.

I was on the phone with my sister while it happened so I can attest to its veracity. Her 6 year old daughter came over to her and requested 11 dollars.

“Why do you need 11 dollars?” my sister asked suspiciously. “Is this for a school trip of project?”

“No,” her daughter replied simply, “It’s for Rochel.”

“Why do you have to give 11 dollars to Rochel?”

“She’s collecting for Organization Blank Blank”

My sister got a litter confused here,

“Why does she need 11 dollars specifically?” my sister asked, voice rising, getting slightly indignant, “I can give her whatever amount I see fit.”

“Well, she want the Gameboy prize, and she needs 11 dollars.” My niece answered plainly.

My sisters eyes popped (I’m assuming they popped, I didn’t see her, but I know her expressions)
“You can give her 25 cents –from your own money!”

And my niece, totally not following what happened, stated simply,

“But she needs 11 dollars.”

My sister then put her hand on her hip and wagged her index finger at her daughter (once again, just speculating here), and said sternly,

“I’m not giving tzedakah, so Rochel can get a prize. If she wants a Gameboy, let her parents buy for her, I’m not sponsoring it, especially not with my tzedakah money.”

I’m not sure if my niece understood the message, but she definitely grasped her mother’s tone of voice and dutifully walked away.

“Did you hear that?” My sister asked me, returning to our conversation. “The chutzpah!”

And I agree.

 

So, would you let your child go door to door collecting?

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Parenting, Slice of Life

 

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The Academic versus The Ego

The entire class was huddled together on the itchy patch of commercial carpet in the kindergarten classroom. Our heads craned upward, captivated, watching our teaching tell us all about the wonderful, stupendous, and incomparable letter “C”.

“Ka,” she enunciated the hard sound. “Can anyone think a word that starts with this sound?” All around me, girls raised their hands quickly.

“Candy.”

“Coat.”

I didn’t have any word, or was really sure as to the letter “c”, but they got approving smiles, along with a “Good Job”, and “Excellent”.

I just wanted attention and approval. I raised my hand high, and “oohed” the loudest.

She called on me.

I was so happy. A deep breath, wild and frantic thought for a word, any word, and I said,

“Pizza!”

She said the right thing,

“Good try, Esther, but that’s a ‘p’, not a ‘c’” and she moved onto the next kid.

But her face.

Her face, of course, told me otherwise. With lips twisted in a hidden smirk, right brow slightly raised, it plainly said,

“Seriously? A ‘p’ for a ‘c’? Moron.”

The teacher’s comment on my end-of-the-year report card read.

Esther is very withdrawn in class, it has not impacted her academic performance, but it is of concern, relative to her social interactions with her peers. We will be noting it, and keeping an eye on her progress.

I know “Lo habeishan lomed” (the bashful does not learn), but for me, I think Fiero of “Wicked” had it right when he sang, “Those who don’t try, never look foolish”.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Memoir, Writing

 

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Which Came First

I think I may be the Grinch that stole high school. Well, I can’t really be, because I don’t have the authority, but that doesn’t stop me from voicing my opinion, and possibly impeding the world’s grand plans.

I hate extra-curricular. No, wait, I actually think they are brilliant and essential. However the way they are implemented in high schools is retarded and is a detriment to students. First and foremost is the curriculum, then comes the extra-curricular.

I fail to understand why my curriculum is constantly second to G.O, Chessed, Play, Yearbook, Mishmeres, and whatever other program that is supposed to be taken care of after hours. I fail to understand why my period are cut short or taken away, why half my student body is missing, why I can’t assign any homework or tests at certain times and why I have students calling me a night before my midterms requesting to be excuse of so much class time missed it would be impossible to make up all the work.

Look, I get it, extra-curricular are meant to give the girls an outlet, a diversion, a place to shine, be themselves, find deeper meaning, make friends, teach responsibility and all other very important social aspects of life. However, that is not the point and purpose of school. School is for education, and knowledge, development of thought, and character, all these goals can be achieved in the classroom, and lunchtime.

Extra-curricular is called that, because it is in fact –extra, a boost, not essential. It should be available only on extra – time, mainly after school. It should not interfere with the general schooling at all. Yes, I understand it is difficult for students to juggle both; they therefore need to make a choice, do they want to focus on their studies, or is what they’re gaining in extra-curricular worth a lower grade.  And lucky is the girl who can do it all without consequence.

School administration need to realize that they are in fact defeating a lot of their educational goals through the lofty aspirations of what extra-curricular is supposed to achieve.

My students are more whiny and complain when their schedule isn’t perfect,

“but we have to practice for Shabbaton.”

They are more likely to give excuses,

“I’m couldn’t do it, I’m a play head.”

And these things are validated in their minds because the school allows and promotes it.

They don’t learn the value and respect of education, rather just the importance of their own vanity – after all extra-curricular is supposed to make them feel good about themselves.

The school administration hands them their cake on a silver platter, lets them eat it in my class, and leaves me to sweep up the crumbs.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Teaching

 

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This is Only a Test

I got a great compliment today. It was one of those rare compliments that you take to heart, and wear on your sleeve for a while. No one told me I’m beautiful, wonderful and special, that I made their day, that my mother would be proud, or that Hashem is smiling at me.

Today, as I passed by the principal’s office she beckoned to me. I poked my head in, and she said,

“TYTT, you made a beautiful midterm.”

I blushed liked a school girl.

Now, for non-teachers to be complimented on a test may sound odd, but for those teachers out there, you know how difficult it is to create a good test.

A test with enough questions. A test that it neither easy nor hard, but thorough. A test that requires students to think and not just spit back their notes, it’s hard. And quite frankly, a lot of teachers don’t succeed (that you non-teachers would know).

Ok, so yay for me, toot my horn, and give me a Good Job sticker, I made a good test. You want me to shut up now, I get it, but you don’t. See, I used to suck at making up tests, they were awful! Total spit back, too long, too confusing, too too too, oh G-d you don’t want to see my early creations. Necessity is the mother of invention, I planned to continue teaching, and be a darn good teacher too, so my test creation skills needed help, now! And I worked on it.

So it’s not that I was complimented on something that takes skill and effort, but I was complimented on something that I used to be awful at, that I then worked on, and reached a level of being recognized for quality in that area. Now that’s pretty awesome, no?

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Teaching

 

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My Problem With Averages

Opening up a school has been a dream of mine for as long I can remember…well at least going back to 6th grade. Every year since I began envisioning the perfect educational model, my views on what constitutes model education evolved.

In 6th grade more vacation was my primal focus. I later started railing against uniforms. I matured a bit, and vowed to get interesting teachers, who knew their subject like their own child. I swore not to play politics or money. Most recently I’ve been advocating a school for the average child.

Of course, I could never promote my school on that platform; no one would enroll. Nobody is going to publically admit that they believe themselves to be mediocre. Actually, I don’t think anyone would consider themselves a candidate for my school, but they would surely know plenty other wonderfully average people that would make terrific students for my establishment.

Nobody truly believes that s/he are average. Every person imagines s/he have some redeeming quality or talent that puts him/herself the above the line, but somebody, or actually most people, have to be among the average. It’s just basic statistics.

As a high school teacher for the past 5 years, employed in three different (very different)schools, I have witnessed one common link between them all. They love to recycle, and I don’t mean going green. When it comes to any positions, privileges, committees, jobs, whatever term there is – the schools always referred to a small pool of students. Those students who exhibited that X factor (or their father’s checkbook) early on, earned themselves the spot of go-to girl.

These girls throughout their high school careers have ample opportunity to develop coveted skills for life: leadership, delegation, organization, brainstorming, creativity, self expression, confidence, just to name a few. They get to be on top of the totem pole, ahead of the pack, the prized few. The other girls have two options, follow them or despise them.

Yes, I know, that a success in high school does not equal success in life, but giving opportunities, safe risks, a place to try and fail without drastic consequence is a high school’s obligation. And our schools are falling very short of this goal. The Jewish High Schools rule extra curricular like a dictatorship, who’s in who’s out, who’s on top, is all by their say so, even the G.O. “elections” aren’t safe – who do you think selected the candidates. Extra curricular should be run by students and supervised by adults. Kids give each other more chances than any adult ever would.

Going back to success outside school, how many people do you know who “blossomed” after graduating high school. Suddenly they “came into themselves”. People see them as the capable talented adults that they are – and very often ALWAYS were. They were simply never given a chance to show the world who they were, because the adults in the world were too busy with the same tried and true students.

So that’s who my current school is for, the child who deserves the chance, deserves an opportunity, deserves someone to say, “I believe you can”, but won’t receive it, because they have the unfortunate lot of being “average”.

Anyone want to back this venture?

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Teaching

 

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