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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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if i could

a discussion in class about choices,

mistakes,

decisions,

second chances,

 

and if you could do it over

would you?

should you?

could you?

 

said many students

they’d love

they’d want

they’d die

 

me?

not sure

don’t think

no.

 

wishing when it happened,

that it had gone differently.

that I said something else.

that some things didn’t happen at all.

 

those moments with the pause

of shame

of frustration

of desperation

 

smiles not meaning happiness

but, sarcasm,

but, grief

but isolation

 

people ask,

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Only the good die young”

“She’s so sweet, but suffers so”

 

the unsatisfactory answer:

they can handle it

G-d loves them

it’s a test

 

i don’t know

if i’m a “good” person

if i “handled” it

if i’ve passed

 

i do know i’m here

to-day

just now

this moment

 

because of what

i’ve done,

didn’t do,

gone though,

 

all is

for better or worse,

the good with the bad

the joy in the sorrow

 

i am me,

because

despite

contrary

 

of

it

them

all

 

and i kinda like me.

so no,

so sorry

so, whatever.

 

i choose

no reset

do over

groundhog day.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Musings, Poems

 

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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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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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Student of the Weak

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...

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Every 3rd grade teacher has a reward system to keep the little brats in line, mine had “Student of the Week”. Thursday’s Mrs. Landau would announce who the best behaved student was for the week, and the following week, they would hold the prized position of “Student of the Week”.

The Student of the week had a lot of privileges. First, she got to sit in the second row, first seat, close to the teacher and door. She also got to run all of Mrs. Landau’s errands: go the office to pick up photocopies, get Mrs. Landau a drink of water, pass out papers and the like. Looking back, we were all just vying to be her personal slave, but back then, there wasn’t anything we wanted more.

Best of all privileges, the Student of the Week got to wear a pin with ribbons on it that read “Student of the Week”. Worn every day, all the girls in the class, grade, and anyone she’d meet in the school during the duration of her reign would know of her accomplishment, of her status.

I wanted everyone to know how great and special I was. I wanted to be Student of the Week. But it was so hard. Every week something happened that I knew would take me out of the running. Once, I came in late for recess, another time I called out. Other times, I whispered in class for my friend to give me a pencil, and then sometime, I didn’t have the right books on the right day, even if she gave us a chart telling us what we needed when. There were also those weeks that I was ok, but other girls were better than me.

Patiently, I waited my turn, waiting for the day where the sun would shine on me, and I would be among the chosen glorious.

Mrs. Landau said that every girl would have the opportunity to be Student of the Week at least once, before anyone got a second chance. So I knew, that even if I wouldn’t earn it, I’d one day, by default come into respect.  I kept a secret class list, and carefully maintained records of who was student of the week, who was still left, and when could I possibly secure my place and validity.

The weeks went by, and my name wasn’t called, but it was ok, there was still time. And then came the week where I knew I would have to be crowned, everyone else had had their moment in the sun. I behaved extra well that week, I wanted to deserve it, even though I knew it was coming to me. I kept myself in check. I didn’t push in line, I didn’t lose my place reading, I kept my desk neat, and none of my pencils rolled noisily off my desk. And on Thursday I waited for the inevitable confirmation.

It didn’t come.  

Mrs. Landau started off saying how excited she was to call this girl’s name, what a model student she was and how beautiful she conducted herself all week, and we should all learn from her. I leaned forward in my seat expectantly, so proud that I had really done it right. But then she said,

“Chani Green, come up!”

She called a different girl’s name, not mine. Not Brenda Stein. She called up a girl who had a chance early on in the year. A naturally sweet, angelic, organized, well-behaved girl. A girl who would have won have won every week if she were in the running. Won it without breaking a sweat, or giving a thought.

I slid down in my seat, embarrassed. She didn’t call me, she had ignored me, and all my efforts, passed me over. I had tried so hard, this was supposed to be my moment, but now it was another to enjoy, again. I was heartbroken, and hurt, I didn’t understand how this could have happened. I calculated correctly, there was no error, this title was supposed to be mine, except it wasn’t.

The next week, Chani Green took my seat in the second row, first seat. And she performed all of my duties. I didn’t try anymore. There was no effort to participate, to listen, to behave, to be. I was cheated out of my 3rd grade dream with no explanation.

The next year, I vowed to start fresh. I would behave, participate, be organized. I had a rough start the first week, but I was determined to make it work. On Monday of the second week of school, there was knock on my classroom door. A small girl with frizzy red hair popped her head in and requested that I come out. Puzzled, I exited the classroom, and when I looked at her, I didn’t see her large flaming hair, put was drawn to the pin on her chest, Mrs. Landau’s “Student of the Week” pin.

Mrs. Landau wanted me to erase my name that I had written in pencil (no pens allowed until 5th grade) in the back of several of my textbooks, the Student of the Week explained. She led me to stack of books and handed me an eraser.

The back staircase was cold on my bottom, where I sat erasing my name. There were other names of previous students written of the white canvas, but she called me. I was a failure of a student, I could never be a “Student of the Week” under any teacher. Having her current prized pupil pull me out of class and reprimand me on her behalf, was a slap in the face letting me know my worth.

There went my year.

And other teacher’s tried. They had their systems, their rewards, their different titles, but they were all the same to me – I never tried to be a Student of the Week again.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Memoir

 

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In Stitches

Stapler

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I wrote this piece about 6 years ago as a sample for teachers in a writing curriculum I was developing for 3-5 grade boys, hence the perspective, subject matter, and style.

I never got stitches in my life. Every boy I know got stitches at least once. Some girls even got stitches. The best is when you can see the scar so everyone knows you got stitches. It’s not that I don’t fall, scrape my knee or do stupid things, I just don’t get hurt enough to get stitches.

The closest I ever got to getting stitches was when I tried to pop a wheelie on my bike. I ended up falling backward and banging my head. All I got was a concussion and three butterfly Band-Aids.

The best time to get stitches is over the summer. That’s cuz when you go back to school the teacher always makes you write what you did during your summer. and then read it in front of the class. Nobody pays attention when I read about my salamander collection, or about how I won a lot of relay races. I don’t blame them.

The stories everyone listens to is when a boy gets stitches. He gets to show everyone his scar, tell all the gory details, and best of all gross out the girls. I always wanted to tell such a story. I’m good at making scary, eewy faces.

I was so excited to go to school this year, cuz this summer I finally got stitches.  I was going to have the best story for the first day. All the girls were gonna throw up! I even wrote the story before I came to school so I’d have it ready to read the second the teacher would ask for volunteers.

Of course, everything changed when I got to school. First in yard I saw Timothy. He was in a wheelchair cuz he broke his ENTIRE foot rock climbing. He was gonna have a better story than me. Then I saw a bunch of guys around Randy. He was telling everyone how he split his tongue in two over the summer. He stuck his tongue out and I could see a thin line going down the middle. He had a WAY cooler story and scar than me.

I was getting upset as I walked to class, but I still had my story all written up, so I could read mine first, and everyone will think it’s cool. At least until Timothy and Randy tell their story. The teacher walked in and she looked nice enough, but had too many teeth.

She started teaching all the boring stuff like multiplication, George Washington, and something call the inverment, and how we should all be green. I was going crazy till finally she told us to take out a piece of paper. I started reaching for my story when she said.

“Instead of doing what you do every year,….”

 Instead? What did she mean instead?! Did that mean we weren’t writing about vacation?

“…We’re going to write about each other…”

What??!!! Each other?! What for?!

“…..the person sitting next to you..”

Next to me? Oh G-d eww it’s Fatty Patty, disgusting!! I think it just might be worth stapling my hand again. I’ll get out of writing and get stitches, AGAIN.

“…remember to only write nice things.”

Nice things?!! I can’t believe this is happening! I have my whole story written out. Why can’t I just give it to her?! I described everything so good. How the blood spurted and the staple came out the other end of my finger. How my sister started crying when she saw it, and that my mother almost fainted. I wrote how I watched the doctor stitch my finger, and he didn’t even have to numb me. IT IS SUCH A COOL STORY!!!

And now I’m stuck writing about Fatty Patty. Maybe I should write that her fingers are twice as big as mine, and if she wanted to stitches a stapler wouldn’t help cuz their so big. That’s a nice thing about her, right? She’s safe from staples.

I hate new teachers who try to be original. Who do they think they’re impressing. Anyway I better start writing, Teacher is coming up and down the rows watching us….

            The teacher just sent me to the principals office cuz I started my paper with the sentence; Fatty Patty doesn’t look so fat when she’s far away. Almost like a picture, when you look tiny, and your whole body is in the picture. She said it was milishis, and I didn’t listen to instructions.

            I don’t know what milishis means, but I know how to listen to instructions. That was nice. Now Fatty Patty will know to stand far away from everyone if she wants to look smaller. I don’t what the teacher is talking about. I don’t like her. Fire her.

            Anyway, so this is the whole reason and story I was sent to you Mr. Principal. Please don’t tell my mom I stapled my hand on purpose.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Writing

 

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My Mama

I went to Kever Rochel the other day. It was an interesting experience.

I was having a difficult time relating to the whole “Mama Rochel” thing, when I can just go “Tatte” at the Kosel.

And then I got it.

Me by the Kosel, is a student talking to a teacher.

Mama Rochel is a mother talking to the teacher by PTA.

When a student talks to a teacher, s/he humbles herself, flatters the teacher, asks in the nicest of ways, begs, pleads, and the teacher nods and listens and appreciates the student having the guts to approach her directly, and will definitely consider what the student asked, explained and said, but when it comes down to it, the teacher will do what s/he thinks is best.

Before we get to PTA, there’s the pre-PTA where the child tells the mother all the issues and gripes s/he has with the teacher.

“Tell her not to pick on me.”

“Her tests are so hard.”

“She doesn’t even know my name!”

Then comes PTA.

There is no greater advocate for a child than his/her mother.

“She’s really smart and creative, you have to give her a chance.”

“Call on her when she raises her hand.”

“She needs a modified test.”

“I think a different approach is necessary.”

“My child doesn’t think you like him/her.”

“You give to much homework.”

“My child really tries, I know you don’t see the effort in the results, you should see her work.”

“My child doesn’t think you even know her name.”

And when it comes to parents’ comments, teachers generally listen, because they know the parent will have no problem calling them again and putting them in their place.

So, yeah, I get the Mama Rochel thing now.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2009 in Jewish

 

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