Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Bright Beginnings
by Bayla Gimmel

It is Elul. We are turning the last few pages in our old much- used calendar.

However, the school year has just begun. The children are entering new classrooms, meeting new teachers and tackling new subject matter. It is a bright beginning.

Teachers, parents and students alike wish there was a way to keep the excitement of the new school year going. But we are afraid that, sooner or later, this year will become just like all of the others.

A classroom must have order. It must have guidelines. It must have a schedule. However, it should not have `routine.' As soon as routine sets in, that's it, folks, as far as freshness is concerned. The bright beginning flies right out the window.

I once watched a brand new right-out-of-seminary teacher running off photocopies of the chumash sheets she was planning to pass out to her first class of seven-year-olds. She placed the master copy in the machine, closed the cover, selected `1' as the number of copies, and waited expectantly as her first effort slid into the outbox. Then she held it up to the window.

Shaking her head in disapproval, she sat down and drew some flowers, leaves, vines and other designs in the margins and in the double spaces between paragraphs. Then she placed the new master into the copying machine, pressed `1' again, and waited anew to see if she would be satisfied with her additions.

The copy must have pleased her a great deal because she triumphantly changed the number of copies to `30,' started the machine, and brightly asked the secretary to please put the completed sheets into her cubby hole as soon as they were finished. When she collected the copies and took them into the classroom, the girls could sense her pride and excitement. Each one waited expectantly to receive her copy.


There is an old folk expression, "A new broom sweeps clean." A new teacher is enthusiastic about teaching.

The secret of success in making our schools an ongoing source of fresh learning is to create a sense of newness within our teachers. Many schools are doing just that.

There are mandatory teacher in-service training programs led by master teachers which focus on bringing new ideas into the classroom. They describe innovative teaching methods and demonstrate new teaching tools.

I am fortunate to live right near an excellent gan. I see the children coming out with their completed projects and I am amazed at the clever uses the kindergarten teachers find for such simple materials as construction paper, paint and crayons, to say nothing of disposables.

It is truly an art to design a project where the basic shape will be determined by the adult who designs, draws and cuts the parts, but the finished piece will reflect the dexteritiy, creativity and input of the child. At 1 p.m., each child comes running out of the gan. He brings his work to his waiting mother and happily presents it as the masterpiece that it is.

Whether it goes up on a bulletin board, is taped to the door of the child's room, or finds itself between a magnet and the refrigerator, that week's work will surely be a source of pride to the child who made it.

I was at a shiur given by a retired school principal, an educator of note. She was telling a story about one of her older daughters who teaches in nursery school. She laughingly said, "You know, my daughter became a nursery school teacher many years ago -- before you had to be a professor to teach in nursery school. Now you need at least a B.A. degree."

Nearly everyone in the audience chuckled. However, I, for one, feel that elevating nursery school teaching to a more professional level has been beneficial to our children. I think today's early childhood teachers are doing an excellent job.

Perhaps we should be fostering a feeling among our teachers in general that their efforts are appreciated. Why not keep a little one-shekel notebook handy and jot down some of the excellent crafts and ideas that our children bring home. That way, months from now, when we show up at parent-teacher conferences, we can tell the teacher some of the specific things we liked best.

When a child learns something in the lower grades, it is bound to be new to that child. S/he will come home and share the new information at the Shabbos table. The trick that we old, seasoned parents have to learn is to be as excited about that small tidbit of wisdom from the parsha when Child Number Six tells it over as we were when we heard it from our firstborn.

Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a wonderfully useful housewarming present. It is a thin volume with a short summary of each weekly Torah reading, followed by a couple of pages of brief commentaries. It is particularly useful for mothers of young children who want to familiarize themselves with the key points in the parsha.

When she presented me with her gift, my friend said, "I have the same little book. After my husband and older children leave for shul on Shabbos morning, I settle the baby down, open my copy and see what's new."

The weekly parsha IS new every year because we are new. Hopefully, after a year of growth, we are not the same people who learned those same insights last year. If we keep that in mind, we CAN find something new and wonderful to smile about when our younger children tell us a familiar teaching of Rashi or Ramban.

Getting back to expressing appreciation to our children's teachers, let me tell you something that happened recently. A young man I know spoke to an expert in modern teaching methods. He was sending his first son to cheder and wanted some advice.

The educator told him the following: "Every now and then, send your son's rebbe a little gift. Something for Chanuka and for Purim, of course, but in addition, a little something here and there. It doesn't have to -- and shouldn't, in fact - - be expensive. It is just a way of thanking him and showing that you appreciate what he is doing for your child."

I had to smile. When I was a child, the older women used to tell us about how they left for school in the morning. They were dressed nicely, with a carefully ironed, perhaps starched handerchief pinned to their blouse (this was in the days before tissues), and they carried their books either in a home-sewn book bag or held together by a leather strap dangling from one hand.

The other hand held an apple for the teacher!

Clearly, there is nothing new under the sun!

I am not really asking for anything new in the classroom -- except for an ongoing sense of newness. Let's try to turn all of our children's schooling into a bright beginning.


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