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The gift I was given: what I learned from my preteen students
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about Jewish teens [I posted my very first blog in the early months of 2011] but now, for many reasons, I’ve decided not to return to this part of my life. I delayed packing away my “Hebrew” school stuff (I’ve always hated that term, but no other seems to stick) because I wasn’t ready to leave that amazing, unnamable space between student and teacher. Teaching preteens and teenagers has always been so incredibly rewarding, so, before I put the experience to bed, I decided to re-read student comments from this past year.
They have what to teach us, and we can learn from them. Their words, in italics, are unedited.
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Afer our discussion of the Aseret HaDibrot [the Ten Utterances is the literal translation usually translated as the “Ten Commandments”] a student shared his disbelief. You could almost see his head shaking: If it already predicted how to live in the most efficient way, how do we all not do it already?
His genuine curiosity about humanity’s failings is so pure. If we have a template for a just and humane society, with respect for all living things — animals and plant life— why aren’t we doing it? How would we answer him? We know this perennial philosophical question is multi-layered and so complex. But in this student’s mind, there is something terribly wrong about ignoring what seems to be in his mind, the ingredients for a successful society.
Read what some students wrote when asked to summarize the year. Three things I learned: To have more patience when learning things and that things take time. Learning can bring people together. That Judaism has a variety of things to learn other than just Hebrew (ex. life lessons). I hope in this students’ lifetime, he will continue to walk through the door of learning, establish meaningful study partners, and experience the richness that Judaism can offer for his life. Reading this was my end of the year gift.
Another student wrote I learned more about myself as a learner. Is that not what we would all hope for?
There’s the other side as well. When asked to choose a leader to emulate, either Abraham or Moses (we learned and discussed the leadership styles of both), this student said: Neither, because I am my own person. I might be more open-minded about this answer if he hadn’t, for another question “What did you like best about the talent show” answered My act. You can’t make this up!!! From another student: I relate more to Moses because I am sometimes chosen to be a leader and I get everything done but people still don’t respect me sometimes. This is one of those answers that can take your breath away. At this age, she understands with quite some insight, the challenging role of a leader. But even more so, she also has the ability to see herself in that way. I’m catching my breath as I read this, and I hope I will be able to see where she lands in the next few years.
I’ll go from that to a smile, every single time when I think of this response: Learning the Talmud is what one student answered to “What did you enjoy this year?”. It’s so sweet on so many levels, I can’t even begin to explain…but you can understand.
Thank you for letting me share this with you. Maybe you can see now what has hooked me for all these years. It’s been a gift.
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