A Giving Teacher
When you think about your fondest memories from school, it is easy to think about a time your friend made your day, or that test you aced after a whole night of studying. What is often more challenging is to think about what and who made those culminating experiences possible. Each and every day, there are people who came to school to help students learn, to help them become better people, and to help them discover their true passions in life. If you are fortunate enough, hopefully one of those teachers will take the time to get to know you as a person. He will stop to say hello to you in the hallways, ask how your day was, and tell you that you had a nice shot in the basketball game the night before. He has a kind smile that says he is not just asking because he feels like he has to, but that he truly cares.
Sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to experience being truly heard and valued in a student-teacher relationship, but if you are fortunate to learn from an inspirational teacher, it can make all the difference. Jerry Rotenberg, director of student life and Judaics teacher, has dedicated the better part of his life to helping students succeed and enjoy the journey that is middle and high school at Denver Jewish Day School. He treats his students like adults and values their opinions. His classes always present some sort of real-world problem, and well-thought-out responses are encouraged. Engaging discussions always seemed to just happen magically in his room. As a teacher myself, I know now, that is never how it actually happens. Class culture is carefully created and manufactured by the environment a teacher sets in his classroom. Jerry is a master at creating such an environment. Each student’s opinion is valued, and no one sits simply as a bystander in class.
I cannot believe how much time I spend with my students. Many days, I am the adult my students interact with the most. The occasional “mom” I hear in class instead of my name, and the embarrassed student after she realizes what she said, actually makes me feel honored. Being a teacher is demanding, hard work, and your students are not just “your kids” during the day, it is as if they come home with you each and every night, and their successes and failures stay with you constantly. By this point in Jerry’s career, he probably has hundreds of kids, not to mention his two biological children.
After spending four years going on an overnight field trip with my fourth graders, I know what kind of time commitment this job can be, and what teachers give up in their own lives to be with their other families: their students. Jerry has been going on the annual tenth grade trip to Washington, DC, for more years than I can count, and he has even added another student trip to his repertoire. He takes his personal time to chaperone four—yes, four—student trips each year. I never understood what kind of commitment these experiences were for the dedicated adults who traveled with us. After volunteering to coach the Denver Maccabi volleyball team, I cannot believe that Jerry has been attending and planning these student trips for years. He puts in at least 12-hour days, combined with a full day of activities that he often plans, not to mention the stress of going through the airport with your students.
Not only does Jerry commit his time to these overnight trips, he also continues to lead our school’s student council, attending weekly meetings and planning school programs. As a former council member, I remember feeling empowered, like I was making a real difference in our school’s future. My experiences on student council made me go to college thinking that I could have an impact, I could lead others, and I could manage not only my own life, but help others to become more productive members of our community.
Jerry also serves as co-athletic director. His responsibilities extend beyond the school day as he often remains at school for multiple athletic events in one evening. Reflecting on my fondest memories in high school, there seems to be one constant: Jerry was there supporting me in my experiences. He was there, or at least behind the scenes, for every part of my academic, social and athletic career, which has left me with lasting memories.
Jerry’s dedication to his career and students is unique. The time he spends to help each student feel successful and valued should be praised. Thank you, Jerry, for helping to shape me into the person and teacher I am today, and for setting an example of hard work, loyalty and commitment.