Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Who's At Fault?
by Bruchie Laufer

Based on true stories heard from teachers

Mrs. Schwartz was next on line. As soon as Mrs. Gendel exited the classroom, Mrs. Schwartz rose from her chair in the hall and walked towards the door, aware of the admiring glances that followed her. Dressed in a tailored suit with matching jewelry, she looked every inch the executive mom she was.

"Good evening Mrs. Friedman. I'm Naomi Schwartz's mother. She's a real little darling, isn't she?" stated Mrs. Schwartz in a voice that implied: Don't dare contradict me.

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Schwartz. It is a real pleasure to have Naomi in our kindergarten. She is very well behaved and enjoys listening to stories. It is a pleasure to meet such an optimistic mother. Do you have any questions?" The teacher was relieved. She felt she came across as a good teacher to a good child. After all, whenever a child has problems, it's the teacher who gets blamed. And Mrs. Friedman had the long standing reputation of teacher who ALWAYS had the best children in her class. NEVER did she have any problematic children in her kindergarten. Problems just didn't exist there.

"No, thank you. I have no questions. We appreciate the fact that you made room for Naomi in your class even though we were late with registration. Also, that afternoon program you initiated is a wonderful idea. Naomi so loves coming home with those beautiful arts and crafts projects." Mrs. Schwartz answered warmly, blissfully aware that it was she who enjoyed the afternoon arrangement.

Naomi would have preferred coming home earlier and spending time with her almost invisible mother who pecked her cheeks with a slight kiss just as she was about to drift into dreamland. Mrs. Schwartz worked very hard at the office, getting home only at seven in the evening. Naomi was supposed to be sleeping by then, only her obstinate determination to be up for the kiss kept her eyelids from shutting tightly.

"It's a pleasure to meet a teacher who can appreciate our daughter for the wonderful girl she is," ended Mrs. Schwartz in her best PR manner.

After Mrs. Schwartz left the room, Mrs. Weiss entered. Mrs. Friedman groaned inwardly. This was not another optimistic mother who was easy to deal with. She looked like the type who asked a lot of questions and had her own comments.

"Good evening, I'm Mrs. Weiss, Miri's mother," she said with a winning smile and settled herself down at a little table, waiting to hear everything the teacher had to say about her daughter.

"Miri is a very charming girl who helps her friends and listens to her teacher," Mrs. Friedman said. Opposed to other mothers who thanked her and thanked Hashem for their good luck at having such a wonderful daughter and disappearing before the teacher changed her mind, Mrs. Weiss started shooting questions, all in one breath. "How well does my daughter count? Is she up to par? How does she sing? Are the words as clear as should be expected for children her age? At home, I can't make out the lyrics and I wanted to know if this was normal or should I take her to speech therapy?" Why is she looking for problems? Why is she asking so many questions? thought Mrs. Friedman and held up her hand to stop the flow. "Now, now, Mrs. Weiss. A person who has a slight headache doesn't run to a neurologist. First you wait to see if it goes away with time, and if not, you try over-the-counter medicines. Why make a mountain out of a molehill? Don't worry about Miri. She's sure to outgrow this and before you know it, she'll be giving lectures." Mrs. Weiss looked skeptical but had to admit that this teacher had a lot more experience with children. She was an expert, whereas Mrs. Weiss was only a mother.

When the months rolled by and Miri wasn't giving any lectures or speaking any more clearly, Mrs. Weiss retracted some of her trust in the teacher's infallibility and scheduled an evaluation for Miri through her sick fund. She was disappointed to learn that the closest available appointment was a few months away. Precious time was being lost because she had not followed her own intuition concerning her daughter. "Oh well, better late than never, that's for sure," she consoled herself.


The next year, when the children were already a few months into the school year, another PTA meeting was scheduled. As fate would have it, Mrs. Schwartz was again on line right ahead of Mrs. Weiss. Mrs. Schwartz, the experienced nachas-collector, walked into the classroom full of confidence, ready to hear only compliments from the teacher.

"Good evening, Mrs. Green. I'm Naomi Schwartz's mother. She's the cutest darling in your class, isn't she?" she suggested in a voice that indicated, "I've made up my mind about that so don't go confusing me with the facts." And with that, she promptly sat herself down, waiting to hear reinforcements to her assumptions. They were not long in coming.

"Yes, she really is a darling. She's always dressed so well, always keeps herself so neat and clean, a sure sign that she has a caring mother. It's a pleasure to look at her." That was more than enough reward for the money Mrs. Schwartz spent on Naomi's designer clothing. With a gracious `thank you' and a beaming smile, she swept out of the room.

"Ah, one minute, Mrs. Schwartz. About the reading..." But Mrs. Schwartz was already walking smartly down the hall, her motherly duty behind her.

In walked Mrs. Weiss. "Good evening. I am Miri's mother. She so enjoys coming to school each day."

"You have a lovely daughter, Mrs. Weiss. She is so well behaved and gives so willingly to others," said Mrs. Green. She expected Mrs. Weiss to thank her and head for the door. When that didn't happen, she looked up and saw the mother pull out a list from her handbag. "I have a few questions about Miri's reading. I noticed when you sent the new letters to be reviewed at the end of the week that Miri is not so familiar with them. Are the children in Pre-1 A supposed to recognize them or do they learn it again more thoroughly in first grade?" Mrs. Weiss was taken aback. A new teacher, she had heard stories circulating in the teachers' room. The mother who had just left the room fit the general profile of mothers who preferred to hear only compliments and did not want to acknowledge any shortcomings or problems in their children. Here was a mother who was actually interested in knowing the details of her daughter's progress. Many of Mrs. Green's colleagues would have beat around the bush rather than let on that they weren't successful in teaching a basic skill to some of the students for fear that it reflected back on them.

Mrs. Green decided to be honest with Mrs. Weiss. "I noticed that Miri had some difficulties with the letters a while ago," she admitted. "You did? Why didn't you call me? Or at least send a note home." Mrs. Weiss was thoroughly annoyed. Problems aren't corrected if they are not confronted. She tried to keep accusation out of her voice but it was hard not to feel it. "How is a mother supposed to know if no one tells her anything?"

"It's true that your daughter is among the few children who don't know all the letters. I thought I could tutor her myself together with the others who are behind. But I see that I'm just not getting around to it. I do have a few suggestions which can help Miri. First of all is to review, at least for twenty minutes a day. Next is something which has been successful with many children: employing the sense of touch. Many children integrate better this way. You can cut out shapes from cardboard, sandpaper, or glue material letters onto a large board or small cardboard squares. You can also make play-dough letters. All these ideas, and others you might add yourself, can make her aware of their reality."

"Thank you so much, Mrs. Green. I truly appreciate your suggestions. I think it would be a good idea to let the other mothers of poor readers know, too, so they can give their children the necessary push to keep up with the pace of the class. It is so much easier now when they are young, their minds are impressionable and the gap is not so wide. A pity they should grow older and be too ashamed of their difficulty in reading to do something about it," she said urgently. The image of a lovely high school student she knew flashed through her mind. Already in one of the higher grades, she still could not read. She was sent for tutorial help but by then the girl had lost all interest, even hope, in ever knowing how to read.

Miri was helped and in a short while, she had caught up to the level of most of her classmates. Sadly, it was not the same for Naomi. In the first grade, the teacher called up Mrs. Schwartz and informed her that she would have to make sure that somebody taught the letters to her daughter since the entire class was already reading five letter words and she was mixing them up all the time.

"I'm sorry about that," said Mrs. Schwartz, "but that is exactly the reason why I send her to school. I pay enough tuition not to have to worry about her reading. Really, it's the teacher's job, don't you think? And I expect the teacher to do a good job!" With that, she felt she had done her biological duty of caring for her daughter.

When the third grade teacher called up to say that Naomi was having great difficulty reading even easy words, which she should certainly have recognized by now, Mrs. Schwartz had a great idea. "You know what? Promise Naomi a very expensive prize, a very enticing incentive, and I am sure she'll buckle down to her reading and general school work. Don't worry about the expense; you'll be fully reimbursed."

"Alright," agreed the teacher, somewhat dubiously. "I'm willing to try." Mrs. Weiser, a very conscientious teacher, was also the mother of five small children who needed all of her attention in the afternoons. Nevertheless, she felt responsible for the progress of this weak student and went to the bother of finding a babysitter so that she could go looking for a suitable prize for Naomi, a student who had been problematic from the very first day. Mrs. Weiser had tried a long list of available methods for helping slow students, but was not reaping any success. It was because she cared for the child that she had finally gotten up the courage to call her mother, who had the reputation of being a difficult woman.

She found a gift that would surely appeal to Naomi. Pricey, but worth it, especially if the mother was footing the bill. She then had a private talk with the child: Naomi was to take her studies seriously and would receive the prize. The input was worth the attention she got. A few weeks went by and Naomi got her prize. She took it home to show her mother.

"Hmmm. Very nice," mumbled Mrs. Schwartz over the edge of the newspaper she was reading.

After that, Naomi lost interest in her schoolwork. She was not getting any outside help and it was downhill again; no lasting improvement with her reading to show for it. Mrs. Schwartz never bothered finding out how much she owed the teacher, and Mrs. Weiser was too refined to remind her.

The fourth and fifth grade teachers did not have the courage to call Naomi's mother. Each of them had past experiences with trying to get across to parents who were just not interested in hearing anything negative about their children. The fifth grade teacher still shuddered to recall the day, ten years ago, when she came home from school after handing out report cards to her students. She was a new teacher and had tried to be very honest with the grades. She felt it was only proper that the marks on the reports cards reflect the girls' progress throughout the term.

After an exhausting day at school, she was preparing dinner for her husband who would be returning home after kollel. The knock on the door was not her husband, but an angry mother.

"Mrs. Genuth, my husband is the biggest talmid chochom in his kollel, and he said that either you change the marks on the report card, or else you take full responsibility in this world and the next for having ruined our child's life forever." What a tangle. First she had tried to explain to the mother that if the child was not going to shape up and start learning, her life would end up a failure, no matter what grades she got on this particular report card, which was only a piece of paper. It was no use.

Mrs. Genuth taught a decade of fifth graders since, but she never again marked a report card with the real grades reflecting the (lack of) poorer students' progress. Rather, the marks were a mix of past endeavors combined with wishful thinking for the future. She did not want to risk having aspersions cast on her teaching abilities.

The sixth grade teacher decided to try an emotional approach. "Mrs. Schwartz, Naomi doesn't have self confidence. I noticed that she does not participate in class discussions, neither during the lesson with the teacher, or even just between the girls. It seems to me that all this stems from her feeling bad about her scholastic failures. It would be wise to do something about it now, before it is too late. With some remedial help, she can catch up to the class and upgrade her self image."

"Nonsense. Naomi talks so much at home that I don't even listen to all she says. She is sweet and intelligent." She proceeded to contradict herself, "She seems so quiet because she is very refined. I think you should look into different teaching methods. It is up to the school to cultivate a student's public speaking abilities, not the home." With that, Mrs. Schwartz was sure that she had put the teacher in place once and for all. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her Naomi. These teachers nowadays just don't know how to teach properly and they blame it on the homes.

Eighth grade rolled along and all the girls were nervously submitting applications to different high schools. But while most of them were getting letters of acceptance in their mailboxes, and discussing which school was really the best, Naomi did not receive any reply at all.

Mrs. Schwartz rolled up her sleeves and got down to business. "Hello, this is Mrs. Schwartz from Schwartz Contractors. I don't know if you remember, but we built the new wing of your school building and donated the desks in four classrooms. We have a daughter in eighth grade and would like to send her to your high school, which has an excellent reputation."

"Yes, of course we remember. Please have her send in an application as soon as possible. It should have been in by the end of last week which was the deadline, but we'll make an exception in your..."

"But we already sent in our application and have not received any confirmation."

"I'm sorry about that. There may have been a mix-up. All replies have been sent to the principal of your daughter's school. Check with them."

Mrs. Schwartz called up the school and asked them to look into the matter. The secretary called back several moments later. "I'm sorry to inform you that there has been no mistake. Naomi was not accepted into any of the schools to which she applied."

"What? How could they refuse us? She's such a good girl. She never hurt a fly. She was never thrown out of class. She never misbehaved. She never misses a day. Besides, our family has donated so much money to the school that you should have made sure she got accepted." Mrs. Schwartz was semi- hysterical. She insisted on being connected to the principal and repeated her arguments. The principal explained, "High schools accept applicants on the merits of their scholastic achievements, not on attendance. It is a very competitive society."

"Well, why didn't the school see to it that she got higher grades? That's why we sent her to school in the first place, for academic achievement. What has she been doing for eight years in school if not learning? Besides, these things can be arranged..." she concluded with a significant clearing of her throat.

"Mrs. Schwartz, the teachers have repeatedly tried to bring the issue to your attention a number of times. Naomi came to us as a weak student. Throughout the years there have been teachers who contacted you about outside help which Naomi needed in order to keep up with the work, but you ignored them. You chose to fault them and blamed them for picking on her. In the meantime, Naomi has been failing subject after subject. The home can help a child succeed and it was your duty as a mother to provide the extra help she needed."

Back and forth they argued, each throwing the blame upon the other, and neither side succeeding in convincing the other that they were at fault.


The poor Naomis are the ones who lose out in the long run. It is not exclusively the job of the mother or the teacher to help a child succeed in school; they must work together. Teachers should be honest with the parents and parents should be open enough to accept the fact that their child may need remedial help.

With a long summer ahead, this might be the best time to catch up on lost time!


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