May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I’ve noticed that basically every time I write about teaching, I write about my experiences in a boys’ mesivta. I do realize there are other grades, but this is where I teach.

So let’s change pace this time: We’ll talk about the experiences of my daughter, who has apparently gone into the family business, at least for now, and last year she taught 3-year-olds. As an assistant morah.

These are 3-year-olds. This is their first year out of the house, seeing the world. So she’s basically introducing them to everything. And that’s such a wholesome feeling. When my daughter’s students see her, they run over and hug her. Whereas when I walk into a room, my students say, “You again?”

Her students do not say that.

So I can’t help but wonder which of our jobs is better. Let’s go through some factors:

Singing in Class

My daughter’s class involves a lot of singing. Davening, exercise, parsha … even cleaning up gets a song.

My class involves a lot of singing too, but it’s not officially mandated. It’s them singing with me yelling for them to stop.

Advantage: Nursery.

Asking Good Questions

My daughter told me one day, “One of my students asked me, “‘What’s metamorphosis?’”

And I said, “Out of the blue? She came across this word and said, ‘As soon as I get to school, I’m going to ask my assistant morah!?’”

And she said, “No, it was in a book I was reading to them as part of our lesson on butterflies. But actually, I’ve read this book to them about a hundred times.”

Like how many times of hearing the book was this kid sitting on that question, not sure if she should ask? But she did it. This is one of the benefits of teaching through repetition. That’s how little kids learn.

Whereas when I try repetition, the best question my students ask is, “Why are you teaching this again? We already learned it!” Like “How dare you teach us the same thing twice!” And then those same kids do badly on the test. You’d think they would at least study, but that’s repetition.

Advantage: Nursery.

Forgetting Why They’re There

One thing that we do in my class that they don’t do in nursery is ask, “Why do we have to learn this?” We ask this question every day.

Apparently, they do like repetition.

The 3-year-olds, however, do not ask this question every time the morahs try teaching anything. “Why do we have to learn this? In all my 3 years on the planet, I have never needed this knowledge so far!” Even when they’re taught about things like butterflies.

Advantage: Nursery.

Learning Names

One of the hardest things for any teacher the first few days of the year is learning all of the students’ names. Nursery morahs, for example, have to do this with kids who just learned a few days earlier that their names aren’t scheifele.

Kids that age don’t fully understand names in the first place. My daughter was telling us that one day a bunch of her students were talking about their mothers, and one of them said, “My mommy’s name is Mommy.” And then the other kids said, “My mommy’s name is Mommy!” “My mommy’s name is Mommy!” And one kid goes, “My mommy’s name is Elana.”

So what the preschool morahs do is they give out name tags. The kids can’t read their names, but that’s okay, because they got stickers! For free! These morahs are awesome!

So on the surface, that sounds like something I should try with my students, because I have four classes of bochurim who think it’s hilarious to, when asked for their name, give me the name of someone else in the class. So stickers might not be a great idea. I bet by the end of the first day, I’ll have at least 30 stickers on my back.

“Great class today, Mr. Schmutter!” (pat)

It’s a great way to get compliments on my lesson, though.

Advantage: Nursery.


My daughter has to coax her students to eat. It is literally a grade on the report card. In fact, she told me that during lunchtime, she plays a game with her students called “The Big Bite Game.” The way it works is that she calls out someone’s name, and that person has to take a big bite of their lunch. While everyone cheers them on. And she tries to call on the slowest eaters the most—the ones who take two nibbles an hour—because lunch needs to be over at some point. That’s the whole point of the game. But everyone loves it. Every day at lunch, they’re like, “Let’s play the big bite game!” “Let’s play the big bite game!” “My mommy’s name is Elana!”

In my class, though, the challenge is to get my students to stop eating. If I say on the report card that someone’s good at eating, that’s a bad thing. My students would also be very happy to play a drinking game if I offered.

Advantage: Tied?

Nap Time

My daughter’s class has nap time every day, although a lot of the kids don’t actually go to sleep. The parents weaned these kids off taking naps, and the kids aren’t about to go back. Whereas I actually don’t give nap time in my class, and a lot of students go to sleep anyway. It’s probably about the same percentage, I would guess.

Advantage: Tied.

I’m not saying my daughter and I should switch jobs. They would never let an 18-year-old girl be a teacher in a boys’ mesivta any more than they would let a 40-year-old guy be a nursery assistant.

But I definitely feel like my daughter’s lessons are more well-rounded. She’s teaching shapes and animals and songs, and all I’m teaching is writing and how to hold onto important papers for more than five minutes.

Wait. Why don’t mesivta teachers get assistants?

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

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