From the Editor
“That circulation between human beings, and between humans and God, both gives Torah life and teaches us that Torah itself teaches life. We Jews are so in love with our texts and textuality that we bid to lose sight of the human immediacy—typos, misprints and all—without which Torah is a body lacking a soul.” The links that connect Torah and humankind are teachers. “Get for yourself a teacher,” says Yehoshua ben Perachiah in Pirkei Avot 1:6, noting that in so doing you will “acquire a friend” and coincidentally adding the crucial mandate: “judge every person favorably.”
Teachers connect us to our past, guide us in our present and prepare us for our future. The teachers of elementary school children probably spend more hours with their students than do the children’s parents, certainly in today’s busy world. Yet teachers are at once much praised and much maligned. Theirs, as authors in this issue of HaYidion point out, is a task that must be an end unto itself, for a career ladder inevitably leads out of the classroom.
Our nation is currently struggling with issues related to teachers: how to evaluate them, how to train them, how to fire them, whether to arm them. The New York State Commissioner of Education was recently booed off a stage by an audience of parents and teachers angered by the implementation of the Common Core curriculum and related testing. In response, he issued a statement entitled, “Teaching Is the Core,” in which he wrote, “Although the work [of education] is complex, the vision is simple. The best preparation for student success is a great teacher providing great instruction.”
Yet try as we might, we cannot define or quantify what makes a good teacher. We all know one when we experience the tremendous growth and excitement that comes from studying with one, but good teachers are very diverse in their qualities and qualifications and teachers resonate differently with different students. Educator and author Beth Lewis identified the following six qualities that contribute to a successful, durable, and happy teaching career: “1. Successful teachers hold high expectations; 2. They think creatively; 3. Top teachers are versatile and sensitive; 4. They are curious, confident, and evolving; 5. They are imperfectly human; 6. Successful teachers emphasize the fun in learning and in life.” And yet I think back on the teacher from whom I learned the most in graduate school, and the only one of these qualities he possessed was #5! Despite his failings, he taught me to think in unimaginably new ways and opened up my eyes wider than they had ever been opened before.
In our Jewish day schools, we must appreciate and respect our teachers and value the many ways in which they serve our students. They open the gates to Jewish learning, without which we do not exist as a people. RAVSAK’s Executive Director Marc Kramer recently wrote that it is not enough for us and our students to just “feel Jewish,” to have a “Jewish identity.” Judaism requires a knowledge base that goes far beyond “Mah Nishtanah,” the blessings for the Chanukah candles and eating bagels. Our teachers provide this base.
Maimonides wrote that “just as a person is commanded to honor and revere his father, so is he under an obligation to honor and revere his teacher, even to a greater extent than his father, for his father gave him life in this world, while his teacher who instructs him in wisdom secures for him life in the world to come.” This issue of HaYidion celebrates teachers, recognizes their challenges and addresses their issues in ways that we hope will honor their commitment and professionalism!♦
Dr. Barbara Davis is the secretary of RAVSAK’s Board of Directors, executive editor of HaYidion and head of school at the
Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, NY. firstname.lastname@example.org