Ten Things You Don’t Know About Teachers and Teaching

Grading papers. Sitting in a cafe between two tables with chatty white girls on either side of me. I’m not trying to generalize or say they were basic, but could a conversation get more bland? Even unintentionally overhearing them, I craved a little salt on my tongue.

So the girl on my left, she starts saying that maybe she’ll become a teacher, and she, like, read this article about things you don’t know about teaching until you teach, and like, “I know you get the summers off, but I don’t know if I could go three months without a paycheck.” And I was like, girl, forgive my intrusion, but let me tell you how it really is.

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Sharing the Love of Learning

It’s no secret I love learning, but if you press me to share the most memorable moments that made learning come alive, each of them would share a common theme: a teacher who inspired me. My favorite Hebrew school teachers were understanding and compassionate, sharing stories of living in Israel and talking to us in Hebrew. My favorite math teachers humanized abstract concepts and spoke to us as equals, helping us not only to learn, but to love. My political science teachers have made dull topics exciting by impersonating polar bears flopping around on the ice or breaking the tension with a sarcastic comment that leads the class into laughter; writing teachers have given encouragement, honest feedback, and shown an intimate interest in helping me to grow.

It is no small task, the work and effort I’ve put into my education at every level–from my earliest memories of being homeschooled through today–but if not for the passion my teachers showed me, all of this would have meant nothing.

So wouldn’t it be amazing, if only for a few days, I could inspire others as much as my teachers have inspired me?

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Candles in the Wind

Tonight begins Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the commemoration of the rededication of the Temple hundreds of years ago. Normally I would light candles and celebrate with my family, but tonight that’s impossible: I’m still on campus, hung between finals, and candle-lighting isn’t exactly allowed in the dorms. (I’ve got a friend bringing me his lighter, and then I’ll at least light the candles outside.)

Since it’s been a long time since I’ve last lit any candles, and since it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about the Pirkei Avot, I figured tonight would be the prime time to reprise both.

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The First Step

1.16     Rabban Gamliel taught:

Select a master-teacher for yourself so that you avoid doubtful decisions; do not make a habit of tithing by estimate.

It’s interesting that this teaching should fall on this Shabbat: As readers who saw my post this past Thursday should already know, Rosh HaShanah—the Jewish new year—was just days ago. The holiest day in all Judaism is only days away now: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath of Sabbaths.

The period between these two high holy days is called the Days of Awe, and there’s always ten of them. This is a special Shabbat then, that it should fall in these ten days: It’s Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return—a fitting name, being as that the ideal of Yom Kippur is teshuvah, returning to God (in that our sins have caused us to stray from God, to whom we must now return, as we must always do, in the end). I could probably elaborate further, but to do so would lead to an entire post on this special Shabbat, and that is not my intention.

My intention is to speak about teachers, specifically what’s implied by this teaching. And, of course, to state why this is a special teaching for this special Shabbat.

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Things to Stand By

1.6          Joshua ben Perahya and Nittai, of Arbel, received the tradition from them.

Joshua ben Perahyah taught:

Select a master-teacher for yourself;
Acquire a colleague for study;
When you assess people, tip the balance in their favor.

A day late. I’ve been hours late before, and I’m sure I’ll be hours late again, but being a day late upsets me. What’s most upsetting specifically is that, although earlier in the day I had recalled it was a Saturday, by the time the end of the day had arrived, I had forgotten, and only remembered before I had gone to bed. It felt like I had failed myself in some way, but I knew I only had two choices at that point: I could give up entirely, or I could accept that I make mistakes and just try to fix that. So that’s what I did. I gave myself time to sleep and now I’m making up for it.

I think my post on Thursday, about being thankful for my teachers, serves as good a segue into this week’s teaching as any. But then, what defines a master-teacher? And in the realm of colleges where you get what teacher you get and can hardly select them at all, how are you supposed to choose a master-teacher then?

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Thankful Thursdays

One session at the Student Leadership Institute was about being a reflective leader. Now, granted, I’m already fairly reflective: I keep a journal (mostly, when I’m not trying to catch up on it, for various reasons) and I think a lot about things regardless of whether I write it all down. But still, one of the suggestions really interested me: Keeping a gratitude journal. I think it’ll be a cool exercise to try to think of a hundred things that I’m thankful for and post them all here. And since I love alliteration, Thursdays is the perfect day for being thankful!

Of course, providing I can make it to a hundred (which I think I will), I’m being thankful in no particular order.

So many things to be thankful for. I’ve had a good day, though, so–

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