Educationally Speaking – October 2018

Be an Excellent Mentor to Your Student

Racheli Morris, Director of Education

There are many circles in life, rather than long lines. Our age increases in a line, but our experience is circular in nature.

We don’t need to re-invent the circle or wheel, but we do need to examine it from our own perspective. As I write this missive, the Jewish month is still Tishrei, amidst the High Holy Days and Sukkot. I know that when you read these words, it will be the month of Heshvan, a very unexceptional month, in that it has zero holidays besides Shabbat. What is significant about this pause? I love to listen to music. What makes music so special is the use of silence, chosen carefully in between the notes. It makes a symphony instead of a cacophony. Also, the same principle can be used with renderings and artwork. The use of pause or white space creates the outcome as much as the activity does. The wisdom of the Jewish calendar is to use pause so that we can enjoy the ordinary.

As an educator, I want to look at an event I recently experienced and see what my pause enabled. My son participates in the study of Krav Maga, a type of martial arts developed in Israel. My son was being tested for his next belt when the instructor was using techniques that to me seemed harsh, as a mother. He yelled and required his students to repeat movements with additional push-ups if the movements were not viewed as correct. I needed to hold back from protecting my son because I realized that he will need to learn to cope with obstacles and actually see himself overcome them in order to surpass the next obstacles life will present to him. It is very hard to do as a parent, but as I once read, a skinned knee can be a blessing.

I am reminded of the poem by Paulo Coelho about the man who helps a butterfly by opening the cocoon, but too soon. “What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.” To me, the pauses, the holding back from solving problems for our children enables them to truly learn to overcome obstacles. When a student sees something they don’t understand, instead of providing an instant answer, like using a search engine, we need to teach the skills of research and being exposed to a variety of sources. I encourage questions, but do not know everything. Pointing a student towards independent thinking or trying harder is a crucial job of an educator whether she teaches Torah, Hebrew, or Krav Maga.

As we spend more time learning from each other and building our community, I am reminded of the word’s of Januz Korzack, the legendary scholar and educator who joined his orphans to perish with them in the Holocaust. He said, “Childhood is not a period to prepare you for life but it is an integral part of life itself.”

Let us think about the white space, the silence, and the struggles we meet daily and appreciate them for ourselves. Let us let the children be children, and not intervene by telling them at all times how and when to be. Let us have the patience to have them ask questions and learn how to find answers. This way, we will see strong affirmation of Jewish identity, a love of learning, and a healthy amount of good manners which creates the opportunity to live a life imbued with Judaism and Torah.