That’s actually the opposite of the way I feel, but before I whine about how I’d like more parents involved in what their teens are doing at a Jewish supplementary school, I have to think about the messages they’re getting from the secular world about how much their presence is desired.
How often are parents part of the picture at middle school? High School? When my children were in elementary school, there were numerous ways to be involved: classroom parent, library aide, PTO member, usher, office worker, committee member –and encouragement to volunteer my time any way I could.
So, what happened as my children got older? All of a sudden, the welcome mat disappeared. Whether this was intentional, implicit, or perhaps inspired by teens who would much rather not associate publicly with their parents is a mystery. This experience has been confirmed with other parents, especially when invited for programs and they tell me they’ve promised their teenaged children complete anonymity and decide to stand ‘way in the back’ unnoticed. So, contrary to popular expectations, I want parents to show up. A place in the back guaranteed but not condoned.
I can’t help thinking about it. Why do our most committed students keep their Jewish involvements a secret? Even from Jewish professionals? Are we guilty of modelling that behavior to them?
I co-facilitated a workshop a week and a half ago that featured a teen panel (volunteers) who were asked to discuss communication and other issues that are important to them. There was no set criteria to be on the panel and they were not billed as “Super Jews”. These were teens who were willing to share their opinions with a group of Jewish educators and parents.
None of the adults knew the students personally. Ironically, the teens all opted to continue their education past the age of the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off, and are enrolled in supplementary synagogue and community high schools. A majority of them are well into their senior year of high school. Some are taking college level courses and earning Teaching Certificates. Yet, when introducing themselves to this group of Jewish parents and educators they mentioned their secular high schools, towns of residence, some hobbies, but none said that they were currently enrolled in a Jewish supplementary high school program (ignoring the kvell factor entirely). Why the secret?
Our students may be compartmentalizing their lives, and we may have trained them to do so: “I go to hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays, baseball practice on Wednesdays, debate class on”…..and so on. I’ve even heard students say on occasion: “When I’m here, this is my time to do things Jewish (sic), I don’t have time to do (extra research, projects, language practice) anything in addition to that. I only have this amount of time for that.”
Even if I get the fact that their time is limited, the question I still need to ask is “okay, so why are you keeping what you’re doing a secret? Why aren’t you proud of the fact that you’re doing this double academic load? Why is doing this not a cool thing to do? ”
The question I need to ask myself is whether, as a Jewish educator, I’m helping to ‘keep the secret’. Am I complicit in setting this standard by not talking about my Jewish life outside of class? Am I modelling what I want my students to do?