In a continuing effort to get to know our wonderful mechanchim and hear their opinions about important issues and concerns facing our school-aged children, the following question was asked of our panel:
Is it the responsibility of the rebbe or teacher to mechanech (educate) his students beyond the time of the classroom? Furthermore, should teachers be in involved in advising what their students choose to do in their free time and at home?
Rabbi Dr. Harvey Horn, Principal, Judaic Studies, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey
The primary responsibility of properly being mechanech (educating) and guiding our children on the right path lies with the parents. However, the Talmud in Baba Basra 21a says that, if not for Yehoshua ben Gamla, Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. This is because, he instituted that Torah should not only be taught by parents, but rather children should be taught by a rebbe as well. Our sages saw with their great wisdom, that when parents partner together with a rebbe, the child has a much greater chance of achieving success and fulfilling his/her potential.
Baruch Hashem, we live in a time when both rebbeim and morot are very dedicated to their students. Obviously, the vast majority of their influence takes place in the classroom.
However, Torah education differs from any other education. It cannot be accomplished by an individual merely reciting a lesson in front of a class. Even the most intelligent and studious child will need to be given more than textbook information. In order for a child to be inspired onto the right path, the values that they are taught must be preserved at all times, not only in school.
It is therefore imperative that all educators work very closely with parents and other professionals to ensure that the values that we teach our children are not being battled or lost during other parts of the day. Torah education requires that every Jewish neshamah (soul) entrusted to the rebbe or morah is cared for “al pi darko” (according to his/her way). Torah teachers who realize this fundamental concept, transform their “responsibility” into a sacred task, which extends far beyond the classroom.
Rabbi Ari Katz, Owner/Director, Camp Mesorah and Former Assistant Principal, Yeshiva of Central Queens
There are many ways for one to be a successful classroom teacher. One key factor that should always be considered when planning a lesson is how the course work is relevant to the life of the student. Discussion questions enhance the lesson and keep the student active and interested. Connecting a story in chumash with life experiences keeps the lesson alive and may even help the teacher understand students’ interests. In Parshat Shemot when Moshe becomes the leader of Bnei Yisrael, the posuk says that Aharon rejoiced and was happy for Moshe’s new role. Imagine a teacher asking his/her class, “Have your siblings ever achieved something much greater than you? How did that make you feel?”
When teachers connect and have the ability to relate to their students because of classroom experiences, it is easier to inspire and advise students within and out of school. Teachers play a crucial role in the child’s life as long as the student continues to be inspired and seeks the advice of their role model. The teacher has the responsibility to connect with the student so that ultimately the student feels inspired, respected and therefore interested in the advice that the teacher has to offer. Once this connection has been developed, the rabbi or teacher should not only carry that responsibility to mechanech the student beyond the classroom, but ultimately want to take part of their student’s development in choosing what s/he does during free time as well.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross, Assistant Principal, Judaic Studies 6-8
One of the more complex issues that teachers are faced with on a daily basis is where their role and responsibilities towards their students ends. Teachers are often expected to use time beyond class time to meet with students to discuss academic issues that cannot be dealt with within the confines of the larger class. Additionally, many schools encourage their teachers to play a significant role in enhancing the atmosphere of the school, be it through their participation in co-curricular activities, their attendance at nighttime or weekend school events, or simply by engaging with their students during recess. Schools whose faculties represent the ideals and mission of the school, both educationally and religiously, are implicitly hoping that those teachers will serve as role models for all that the school stands for. All of these less-formal opportunities for interaction between teacher and student serve to enhance the bond between the two, thus hopefully paving the way for a better in-class relationship and better learning.
However, there is no question that these enhanced relationships also provide an opportunity for the teachers to have an influence on the students beyond the walls of the school, and it is in this area where a teacher has to demonstrate a deep knowledge of both his students as well as their families. There are some families who expect the teachers to be a partner in helping to guide their children along a certain path. At the same time, there are families who look to the school to provide a more “textbook” education, while assuming that what happens at home is the responsibility of the parent. Teachers who fail to influence in the first case are disappointments, while those who influence too much in the latter instances are often seen as intrusive or disruptive to a family.
Every teacher has to bear in mind the words da lifnei mi ata omeid—not only to know that we are always in the presence of God, but also to know who the students are that we are standing in front of every day. That knowledge and sensitivity is what will be able to guide every educator to hopefully play a meaningful role in the lives of his or her students.
Compiled by P’nina Seplowitz