April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chanukah: A Teaching Moment

One beautiful aspect of this time of year, the holiday season, is that we stop our hamster-wheel scurrying to think about the people who are important in our lives, and take a moment to show them that we are grateful for their contribution to us and our families. Many of us take a careful account of every individual whose job has meaning for us, and show our thanks with some kind of monetary recognition: the mail carrier, the UPS delivery person, our child’s bus driver, babysitter, the cleaning help; even the people who collect our garbage do not go unnoticed at this time of giving and gratitude.

It is puzzling, therefore, that one group of service providers somehow mysteriously go unrecognized by many families in our community. A group we certainly value and appreciate: teachers.

I am a teacher in a local yeshiva, and every Chanukah I am surprised by the lack of teacher appreciation and recognition from families. There is a curious contrast between this and the generosity that is shown toward other service providers.

We are all aware of the tremendous dedication and love our teachers bring to their jobs. Without prep periods during their work day, teachers in our yeshivas voluntarily devote hours of time and energy outside of work time to create meaningful learning opportunities for our children. In addition, most teachers I know spend tens, if not hundreds, of dollars of their own money each year on enhancements to their students’ learning.

Now consider the role of your child’s teacher in school during an average day. The classroom is full of students vying for care, love and attention. The teachers of today strive to differentiate instruction and to cater to the academic, emotional, social and behavioral needs of every student. Our teachers, more than just teaching, spend their days as caregivers, nurses, parents, coaches, friends and therapists. For hours each day, the safety and well-being of our children is entrusted to their capable hands. If our children grow up with self-worth, confidence and the skills and strategies that they need to take on their adult lives with passion, joy and meaning, we have our teachers to thank for much of this blessing.

So why, when we take a moment to recognize the meaningful helpers in our lives, do we too often forget our teachers?

At a Shabbos meal one week, I posed this question to some parents and was presented with the following responses:

1) We give a monetary gift to the teachers through our school’s PTA.

2) We already pay enough for tuition in our private schools. Why should we scrape even more out of our already-taxed pockets?

Allow me to clarify some of the facts pertaining to these points. In many local yeshivas, the PTA recognizes that there are staff members, such as office personnel, gym teachers, administrators and specialty support staff, who would not be acknowledged at this time of year. They collect about $25-$36 from each child and divide this amount among the staff members of the school so that each person receives some token for Chanukah. This is a beautiful and meaningful mission, but consider how this plays out for your child’s teacher. I teach about 20 students a year, and on Chanukah I receive a PTA gift that totals around $80; that amounts to around $4 per student. Sometimes I imagine a parent in the class walking up to me and saying, “Thank you so much for taking care of my child for several hours a day, all year. Here is a Chanukah gift of $4.00.” Hmm. The PTA gift is a nice way to show hakarat hatov for the many service personnel who support our children in the school building, but it certainly should not be a substitute for a personal Chanukah gift from a parent to a teacher.

To the second point, I have two responses.

First, the kind of education we expect and receive from our yeshivas is an expensive endeavor, one which actually costs a lot more than we pay. The fact is that the teachers working there are not paid nearly as much as their jobs are worth. I once asked a parent to guess what my salary was, and his guess was four times what I actually make. Yikes! Your child’s teachers are likely making a lot less than you think.

Second, we often make choices to spend a lot for services we consider valuable, and in other areas of our lives this does not prevent us from adding a gratuity on top of the cost of the service. Consider a meal we have at a restaurant. We may sit down with our family and spend $120 on the food. When the waiter, who has served us for a grand total of an hour and a half, brings the check, we don’t hesitate to tip him the expected 20 percent, or in this case, $24. That’s eight times the amount that we give the teacher who serves our child and our family for several hours, every single day of the school year!

We live in a society where tips are an expression of gratitude for services rendered. We tip our garbage collectors and UPS driver $10-$15, our babysitters a week’s pay, often amounting to upwards of $400, our cleaning help another $150, our hairdressers, manicurists and waiters 20 percent, and the list goes on. Yet we unabashedly satisfy ourselves with gifting our children’s teachers $4. What does this say about the value we place on their services and of our appreciation for their dedication and devotion to our most prized asset, our children?

I’m not suggesting that we tip our children’s teachers 20 percent of their salaries, or even a week’s pay, but a small personal gift goes a long way in sending a message of gratitude and value. This year, when we sit down to make a list of the important people in our lives, perhaps we can stop for a moment to think of the special teachers who love and care for our children each day. I think they deserve our heartfelt and personal acknowledgement; don’t you?

Name Withheld on Request

Teaneck, NJ

Editors’ note: The Jewish Link is not in the practice of printing anonymous letters to the editor. On the rare occasions that we allow it, we ascertain the identity/name of the writer and discuss with them the reasons why they want their name withheld.

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