Hacham Yom Tov Yedid Last Chief Rabbi of Halab

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By: L. Azar

Ode to our Educators

Raise your hand if you recall your school days with fondness. Raise two if you can conjure up in your mind the lyrics to your third grade “Good Afternoon” song faster than what you fed your family for dinner last night.

Beneath the surface of the frenzied, down-to-the-wire purchases of pencils, notebooks and schoolbags lie the anxieties of Mom as she faces another school year. “What will the upcoming 10 months bring? Will my child learn? Grow? Blossom? Will he excel academically or socially? Will she like her teacher?”

What is it about The Teacher that plays such a tremendous role in a child’s life? What is it about the Morah that can make or break his or her year? I don’t know, but the facts remain: Our children’s educators are more than simply people who educate, and they wield a great deal of influence over our children.

I can recall almost every positive experience I’ve had with a teacher, and I’m sure you can, too. I remember how my teachers complimented me if I raised a good question in class. My kindergarten teacher gave me a Lisa Frank pencil for praying extra nicely. My third grade teacher thought I was great at multiplication. My fifth grade teacher complimented me on my skirt. My seventh grade teacher praised my writings. My ninth grade teacher told my sister how much she enjoys having me in class – a report which naturally got back to me, to my delight. I even remember some of the special comments on test papers or book reports. (“Wow, you got so many of the extra credit questions correct!”) From first grade through 12th, I remember waiting with a fluttering stomach for my parents to return from parent-teacher meetings to hear what Morah thought of me. I remember the exact words of some of those teachers. (My father would take notes as the teacher spoke, so I usually had the report verbatim.)

Did those teachers realize then that their words meant so much to me, and are still with me? I wonder…

On the flip side, you will find grown men and women still living with negative and painful memories of the classroom.

I once took a public speaking course. For one assignment, the professor asked us to deliver a three-minute summary of an interview with a senior citizen. The professor distributed a paper full of sample interview questions. One of the questions – “Can you share one positive and one negative childhood memory?” – was so innocuous, yet so revealing. One by one, we students got up and delivered our overviews. We exchanged stories of triumph and happiness and accounts of pain and sorrow. The 15 or so interviewees included immigrants, orphans, and Holocaust survivors – people who were no strangers to hardship. Yet, the responses to our innocuous request to share one negative childhood memory were glaringly similar. The majority of them consisted of painful experiences with, or comments made to them by, their childhood teachers. “My first grade teacher spanked me with a stick because she erroneously thought I spoke out of turn,” quoted the granddaughter of one elderly man. You could discern the man’s raw pain all these years later. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t amount to anything,” was a torment from another interviewee’s teacher. 

And that is why, come September, mothers of the world unite in their sentiments of worry and trepidation.

At this time of year, we implore Hashem with extra tefillot to inscribe us and our families in the book of life and to grant us a happy, healthy new year. At the same time, let us beseech our Father in heaven to grant our children a successful school year… with teachers best suited for them.

For those readers who are educators (and, Moms, aren’t we all educators?), I tip my hat to you! You carry your responsibility with alacrity and warmth, letting each student –someone’s precious child – feel special and proud to reach his or her potential. Remember, we are relying on you not just to fill our young ones’ impressionable minds with knowledge and wisdom, but also to let our children know that you believe in and care about them. In doing so, you will equip your students with warm feelings that will accompany them for the rest of their lives!