June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It’s back-to-school time, which I’ll admit isn’t super exciting, seeing as most people are probably just going back to the same school they’ve been going to. But the good news is that every school is constantly trying to get better.

We’re learning. It’s a school.

For example, just last year, the mesivta where I teach switched from having the students stay in one classroom every period while the teachers moved around to having the teachers stay still and the students move around. Half the students are moving around anyway.

But while the classroom idea is great on paper, there aren’t enough rooms in my yeshiva to make this happen. That’s how I ended up in the dining room.

Dining room? I don’t know what to call it. Lunchroom isn’t accurate, because they eat all three meals there. Dining room implies fine dining, or at least everyone using silverware. And cafeteria implies a much more formal structure, whereas in this yeshiva, there isn’t actually a chef. The yeshiva orders food from a service, and a guy brings it.

I know this, because after class, the entire yeshiva stands out in front of the building to help bring the food in. They don’t even like the food. And it takes maybe two people to carry it in. So they’re going out to be melaveh the food in. Even if the food is late, they will stand out there, with no coats, already holding a plate and fork so they can run alongside whoever’s carrying the heavy pans in and attempt to serve themselves before the food even gets into the building.

I don’t think that’s how cafeterias work.

Sure, I’m happier not switching rooms, but based on my experiences last year, I’ve added a bunch of weird classroom rules to my first-day speech:

—Stop eating.

This isn’t really a new rule. Though technically, the rule used to be “No eating.” Now it’s “Stop eating.” Because forget the “no eating in class” rule—now people who aren’t even in my class come in just to cook.

I do sometimes look the other way when it comes to eating, because if I tell my students, “No eating in class,” they can say, “Well, by that logic, no learning in the dining room.” But they haven’t thought of saying that yet, because when they eat, their brains shut off, which is why they’re not supposed to eat in class.

—Don’t sit too far away.

The dining room is two table-lengths wide by, like, a football field long. The door is at one end of the room, and the whiteboard is at the other. There are students closer to me than they are who don’t even belong in the room.

Basically, every grade is divided into a stronger class and a weaker class. And the way the weaker class works is that the first day, everyone tries to sit in the back. Why are you sitting so far back if you’re a weaker student?

I don’t think they’re weaker; I think they just can’t hear me.

And it’s not like I can just sit closer to them. Not unless I get much longer board markers.

Part of the idea of having the kids move to different classrooms is that if I want to tell them where to sit, they don’t say, “Well, this is where I sit in the mornings.” But now they just say, “I’m not sitting at your table; that’s where the ninth graders eat.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re not supposed to be eating. Do you think the ninth graders are going to come in and beat you up?”

“No; the table’s a mess.”

And it is.

—Stop handing in sticky papers.

The janitor doesn’t get to finish his job every day of laying supper tablecloths down on sticky lunch tables, because some days he walks in, sees the mess and goes home to work on his resignation letter. But whatever happens, my table is always the stickiest.

The yeshiva has a lot of great qualities, but I don’t think they teach the ninth graders how to eat without dripping everywhere. Maybe that’s 10th grade. And I know this because for a week or so, I was wondering why there was a section of board that my marker didn’t work on, until I figured out that it was covered by a thin layer of soft-boiled egg. I couldn’t figure out if it was one of the ninth graders who did this, or whether someone egged the entire table of ninth graders. I had to bring in a paint scraper.

This is why you’re supposed to cover your textbooks.

—I’m not holding onto your papers for you.

One of the downsides of the dining room is that there are no lockers. If you have something personal, like a cereal box, you just leave it around, balanced on some of the pipes that go across the ceiling. So no one holds onto anything. They’re not running upstairs to put things away when they have to get outside in time for the nightly supper levayah.

I did have one class last year that actively tried to do something about this: Toward the beginning of the year, one guy commandeered a box of corn flakes and put all the papers in there. Everyone else in the class liked that idea, but instead of getting their own cereal boxes, they put their papers in that same box, too, and they wrote on the box, “Mr. Schmutter’s 4th period class—do not touch,” and they balanced it on the pipes. It was one cereal box for the whole class for the whole year. And no one was in charge of weeding out the papers no one needed anymore. Eventually, the box was ridiculously heavy, and it was always tipping over, and then one day the glue gave way, and there were papers everywhere.

You’d think the students would learn their lesson after that, but the last thing they want to do in school is learn anything.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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