Sunday, June 07, 2020

Every year as Peach approaches we busy ourselves with endless preparations, not just physically cleaning and cooking, but intellectually and spiritually as well. We stay up late into the night preparing words of wisdom about every nuance of the Haggadah to share at our Seder, all in the hopes of igniting a passion, love and curiosity in our children. We encourage them to ask questions and look forward to the impact of this transformative night.

When thinking about the Four Sons of the Haggadah, I am always brought back to an interesting interpretation: The wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who does not even know the right questions to ask—they are all one, all parts of each of us. The question then arises: how do we teach our children in a way that empowers them to make choices that highlight the positive attributes of these Four Sons: their brightness, purity, uncomplicated natures and confidence?

The most powerful tool we can give our children is the knowledge that they have choices. They are masters of their own destiny and not helpless little kids to be shut down or controlled. Gone are the days where children are “seen but not heard”; this generation has a voice and intends to use it. It is up to us, as parents and educators, to help guide our children so they can make positive, kind and healthy choices.

Think back to this morning. What did you say or do when you walked into the kitchen and saw your daughter, mother, brother or spouse? Did you ignore them and head for the Keurig? Give a quick nod and dash off to pack your work bag? Or maybe you took a moment to smile, ask how they slept and wish them a good day? Now think about any other moment of your day; how did you act? What did you say? How did you interpret another’s words or gestures? Our lives are full of choices, and our choices define us.

The first thing I do with my students every year is sit in a circle on the rug and have a powwow to get the class rules down. I’m not talking about the rules that so many students have come to expect and loathe. I’m talking about student-generated rules by which our class will run and function for the year to come. We call it our Class Constitution. The process has three crucial steps. 1. Have an open and honest conversation about our hopes and dreams for the year. 2. Encourage the students to choose rules that are necessary to reach our goals. 3. Every member of our class community must sign the constitution. This is an essential component in creating a positive, respectful, empowering and growing environment. The Class Constitution is hung on our wall and referred to often, always with a reminder that the students themselves created each and every rule.

When children learn to focus on the choices they make, they learn to be mindful of their words, actions and facial expressions—because we all have a profound impact on ourselves and those around us. We learn to take responsibility for our choices and feel proud and empowered by our growth process. My students love to quote me: “Mrs. Hardy says she doesn’t control us, we control ourselves!” Once upon a time, that may have been a very scary thing for an adult to hear from a child. However, today it is what most educators and parents dream of hearing: happy students who feel in control of themselves and capable of making life’s choices.

By Tamar Hardy

Tamar Hardy has been teaching for 13 years and currently works at Yeshivat Noam and runs a private practice as a reading specialist. She holds multiple master’s degrees in special education and is a certified Wilson Dyslexia practitioner. Tamar lives in Fair Lawn and can be reached at [email protected]