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Category Archives: Teaching

Out of Retirement For a Moment – I need to talk

I feel like I’m young again – being moved to outrage,  feeling the urge to get up onto my soapbox. I just wish I knew a way to do something about it.

This Malky Klein story, is tragic. The first I heard of it was my sister telling me about a shiur she listened to about her story and I found the details so incredulous and ridiculous I didn’t believe it, until I saw who the speak was, R’ YY Jacobson, very reputable, and not one to exaggerate and conjecture. I just couldn’t believe these puny reasons schools found to torture this girl.

But it’s not a new story – look around, talking to a few people, everyone knows someone, or has their own horror story(ies), myself included.

The system is messed up, I don’t trust it. That’s one reason why I teach, so girls can have one class that I’ll love them regardless of their grades or what the school thinks they are. I make sure to slip in at every opportunity what an awful student I was, how I failed my way through high school, messaging the girls, High School doesn’t define you as a person, you can be amazing and successful regardless of your grades or status in high school (never mind studies revealing that it’s the popular people who end up unhappier later on in life).

But it’s disingenuous really. Because I know that if I tried, I could’ve done it. If I cared even a moment, I could’ve been the top of the class. But I didn’t. And the area that I truly struggled in – math, did bring me down, did make me question my intelligence. If I was as smart as everyone said I was, why couldn’t I remember the steps to a formula.

People are suggesting things like creating different tracks, academic and vocational. They’re well-intentioned but naïve. Not just the American culture, but particularly the Jewish culture values intelligence above all. How many results do you get from Google when you put in “Are Jews Smarter” or some iteration of the theme. Even if they make two tracks, the academic track will be the prized one, and the academically challenged (not dumb, never dumb, learning disabilities don’t make a person stupid) students will be left second best again. Yes, they’ll be in a more welcoming less pressured environment, but they’ll still know they’re second in society’s eyes (and who would ever acquiesce to being in the vocational track, who would marry them, because everyone knows you need an IQ of 180 to be a good wife, mother and person).

People suggest less stress on academics – that’s a double edged sword. While it’s more inclusive to the left end of the bell curve, it disenfranchises children who do succeed academically, you enjoy the challenge, who need the stimulation, who derive their self-worth from their accomplishments the same way other measure their worth by their lack. (which is another problem for another day)

There’s no easy fix, what’s required is a cultural shift, a revolution of thought. The thought is out there, but it’s harder to instill, feels to feel-good to be true, and to some, almost antithetical to their Jewish values when they quote (I forget who) “10,000 go in, 1 becomes a gadol.” [referring to yeshivos] And I believe the Chazaon Ish who said, “Every child should be taught as if he’s the next gadol hador.” It’s blasphemous to many to deny these sage words, so we pressure every child.

As an English teacher, maybe I’m more sensitive to language and word choice, but there’s a lot of wiggle room and interpretation in those statements, that don’t leave to the obvious conclusion most people reach – Academic Excellence.

Focusing on Growth Oriented mindset. The research on it, is amazing, but yes, it takes more patience, and rephrasing and resisting language and culture we’re so used to, but it empowers people. And particularly in the Litvish culture, we focus so much on the intellectual aspects of Yiddishkeit, the learning, the intensity, the depth, the mind. We often forget the core – the neshama, the ahavas yisroel, the chessed, the character building. It’s second – part of the extracurricular program, not the curriculum.

How many times have I sat in teacher’s meeting, were they discussed jobs and positions to offer various girls, and invariably the girls at the top of the academic ladder were always chosen. If someone else was mentioned there was a long discussion of “can she handle it – balance the workload.” And from the goals they set for their students, those questions are valid, academics, college, professional opportunities come first. But if they looked at their students as people, without considering their earning potential (never mind that intelligence is not the biggest indicator of future success) they’d realize that who cares about “handling” the workload. Will the girl do a good job, will she positively influence others, what will it mean to her self-worth.

Culturally we need to move away from the intelligence is primary attitude. It’s overrated, studies show that. Not suggesting it doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, but it’s A LOT less significant than the value people pin to it.

I don’t know how to implement any of this. I don’t know how shift the culture. I’m not even sure how to do in in my own classroom. But I know something needs to be done. Or Malky Klein will just be another name among many.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Jewish, Teaching

 

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Those Who Don’t Learn History…

I have so many childhood memories. Most of them involve me getting into trouble, or being embarrassed in some form or another. A story of my second-grade self just came up the other day while teaching. My students asked in wonderment “How do you remember that!?”. The answers simple, when you’re hurt, you don’t forget, because if you do, it might happen again.

I suppose when I think about it, I have the happy clichéd childhood memories, of sitting on our front stoop playing watermelon, and pretending that the etchings in the stones by the front of the house made a perfect hopscotch board, and playing tap tap trio, and eating ices, trading stationary and the like. They’re not individual memories though; they’re collective.

I don’t remember single times that I played elimination in front of the house. It was something we did every day. I don’t remember all savvy stationary trades I made, just that we did it often and I had a great collection. The only individual memories I have on these collective ones, are the bad one – where things went wrong – not super right. Like the time Elisheva Link bombed a ball into my belly and it hurt so much I sat out the rest of the gain and everyone laughed at my for being weak. Or the time Zahava Feller tried to trade my Lisa Frank stationary for her Snoopy reinforcements, and Miri, my sister, interfered and told her off for offering me such a bad trade. I suppose that should be a good memory, I was spared, but I remember feeling ashamed that I was almost conned, and why didn’t I know this myself.

I was recently reminded of a third grade tale – the time I returned a WAY overdue book to the Bais Yaakov libarary, and I was so afraid to tell Mrs. Florence, the librarian, because she was scary, she had a short pointy nose, blue eyes that bulges with veins, and of course the requisite high shrill of librarians. You can’t really blame a third grader for being afraid. So I put the book down on her desk, like it was any other return, and walked briskly away.

Later on in the day, there was a student messenger knocking on my classroom door. She held a note, which my teacher proceeded to read out loud. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember it, recounting what I had done, and the words “and ran away!”. My teacher read those words with much drama. I wanted to protest, to explain, and maybe deny, but I was just so embarrassed by my actions being revealed publically, not just revealed, but reprimanded, and in a way, almost mocked.

Why did they have to do that, both of them, the librarian and my teacher. What point and purpose was there for the librarian to write a dramatic note to my teacher? Address my mother, or me, or really address it, don’t just point out my wrongdoings. And why did my teacher read it aloud? What gain was there besides for just shaming me into more misbehavior.

When I was in High School, I met the librarian. I was helping out the school Chinese auction, and she was the grandmother of one of the heads. She came to “shep nachas” and put in a few tickets. I couldn’t view her as a grandmother. As a loving person. Someone who could care about someone else. I couldn’t reconcile that incident years ago, with that just being a facets of a person, or job really. It hurt me tremendously.

Most days I laugh at the story. Because it’s funny if you tell it over with the right voices and levity. But there’s a part of me that’ll never forget the eyes wide, and iced grip on the little girl’s heart when she realized that she was the subject in the note her teacher was reading.

People ask me why I teach, why I’ve always wanted to teach. I know I’m supposed to say that I love kids, and I want to share, and help them grow and all that too nice-smiley stuff, but really, most of the time, it’s that history doesn’t repeat itself.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Memoir, 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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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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Hairy Situation

Countess of Artois by Dumont

Image via Wikipedia

My students were very upset today, so naturally they came complaining to me. No, not because I’m the wise and sagely, guiding light inspiration of a teacher, but they’re scared of Macbeth, well, not really scared, they’re just not in the mood of thinking.

In any case, what were they up in arms about this time you ask. The school scheduled their graduation pictures for 10:00 in the morning. The fastest and smartest girl called up the salon and made her hair appointment for 9:15 in the morning. After her, well, there would be none, or the girls would be late, which was unacceptable.

And my students need their hair blown.

This timing was not done without consideration to the students’ need. Their mental needs though, not physical. The administration does not want there to be a pressure among the girls to have their hair professionally done, so in order to circumvent the inevitable pressure, they made the scheduling of said professional hair, near impossible.

Forget that Seniors are told that their graduation picture will predict their marital success, but focus on the larger picture of peer pressure.

These girls are in 12th grade, they’ve spent a good portion of their academic career being told about the evils of peer pressure, and to love themselves. Constantly told, “when you’re faced with peer pressure, when you start to feel jealous, when you start to feel down on yourself…”

Why is it “when” it should be is.

School is a microcosm of the real world, the same emotions and challenges, just on smaller scales, and where it’s ok to fail, and learn – where the consequences aren’t as dire. And you’ll get another chance.

The administration is coddling these girls, making everyone equal, because G-d forbid we wouldn’t want someone to feel bad about themselves, and their place in life.

Isn’t 12th grade a time to start transitioning a bit? It’s just a blow-out.

Or am I the one missing something.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Teaching

 

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Profiles in Personality

Every year I teach, somehow, Don Marquis poem “Takes Talent” comes up, and I end up reciting it to the delight of my students, who aren’t from the era of memorizing your favorite poems, or prose (they’re not even from the days of memorizing the preamble to the Declaration of Independence or Gettysburg address).  Sometimes I tell them how I first read this poem when I was in 8th grade, and have been quoting it ever since, sometimes I tell them I recited on a bad date and the guy conceded that he was of the first kind described in the poem. Sometimes I tell them it was written on the wall of bedroom (when I was single), and sometimes, I just tell them about Archie the cockroach who Marquis wrote under the guise of, skipping my personal connection. The poem is a follows, for those of you (most of you, I’m assuming) who are not familiar with it.

 Takes Talent
by Don Marquis

there are two
kinds of human
beings in the world
so my observation
has told me
namely and to wit
as follows
firstly
those who
even though they
were to reveal
the secret of the universe
to you would fail
to impress you
with any sense
of the importance
of the news
and secondly
those who could
communicate to you
that they had
just purchased
ten cents worth
of paper napkins
and make you
thrill and vibrate
with the intelligence

Every time without fail, I always end up thinking about two friends of mine, sisters, who, while I wouldn’t totally confine them to the paper napkin variety, as they do possess a mass quantity of intelligence to balance them out, however on day to day interactions, there is always something of dramatic interest to relate. There’s no such thing as an average day, or just a conversation, when walking away from any interaction there’s always something to say and comment on. And sometimes I walk away questioning myself, and my interpretations in life, who is right? Am I an unobservant, middle-road, never too extreme kind of person? I don’t think so, with most things, but relative to them, I’m a stick in the mud.

One time, after an interaction with the princpal she turns to me,“Hello, she was furious with us, did you see her eyebrows?” Eyes wide, her eyebrows perked up, and mouth open in intense question. Ummm…well, I think, she wasn’t happy with us, but she didn’t seem too upset, yes, she sugarcoated some words, but the situation is workable, as for her eyesbrows, I dunno, she pencils them in, they’re always extreme.

Telling over one story from our road-trip, “Hello, it was miserable, we’re sitting there, on the side of the road, cars just flying by, too fast for us to wave forlornly at them, and them, and then it hit us, like DING, call AAA. It must have been at least an hour, maybe longer, when AAA showed up, but then in like seconds we were up an’ running. But seriously, until they came – despair!”

Yeeeeaaah, I was there. We were singing every children’s song we knew, and having  a blast, eating all the mike and ikes, and then AAA showed up, and we were on the way. Ye, we might’ve flipped for a moment when the car broke down, and we weren’t sure what to do,  but it was a minute, really. Calling AAA is common sense, not genius, why are you exclaiming, “ooh, that’s so smart” when she tells you we called them?

And then there was the time one of them got me a job giving private swimming lessons. I’m very capable of doing it, and I did a good job, but I wasn’t looking for the job, she just happen to meet someone by a pool we were swimming by who commented she was looking for someone to teach her 4 year old swimming basics. I swam by, doing my umpteenth lap, and heard my name being called, and then as if I wasn’t there, she went on singing my praises – I was a lifeguard for years, taught tons of kids, my whole family is major swimmers, and on and on. All of it was true, but I would have never phrased it that way.  She also kept using words like, amazing, and the best, and bashert that we had met up today, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Yes, I’m good, I’m skilled, but really, the best, I don’t think so. Amazing? What does that word mean anyway in this context.  But the woman was sold, and I had a side summer job. I’m not complaining, but but—

The other night I was working with one of them on a project – changing the lyrics of a musical to fit a play we are working on. I think we did a good job in keeping the core of what made the song great in the first place, not perfect, there  are a few rough spots, and I don’t like all the transitions, but overall, really good, and I’m not embarrassed take credit for it. She though, was ecstatic, “It’s beautiful,” she tells me, “You’re so good at this,” “That line is brilliant, I don’t know how we did it”, and“Oh my gosh, I’m so excited about this!” I really think we may win a Tony now.

I feel like they’re living on a different plane of existence, even if we are experiencing the same thing, the way we interpret them and relate them, the dichotomy, is the clichéd night and day. To them a day is never a day, there’s always something fabulous, stupendous, horrendous or dreadful. You will talk to them, and you won’t think they’re drama queens, they’re not, they just know how to talk. And you will listen, and wish you had been there with them, or done when they did when x,y and z happened.

Am I missing something?

I ask my student’s if they could choose only one of the personalities presented in the poem, no in between balance, which would they choose? Most couldn’t decide if they wanted the intelligence, but no one caring to hear a word they said, or to talk total fluff and have everyone’s neck craned forward to hear your next utterance? I try pressing them for a definitive answer, but then they ask me for my choice, and I can’t decide either.

Good thing mutually exclusive things don’t come along that often, and that there is balance to most things in life…but still…if I had to choose… Is it really about how you talk, or how you experience life, which affects which?… If I had to choose…

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Teaching

 

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