Tag Archives: religious education

Parents of Teens: Do You Miss Those Parent-Teacher Conferences?

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I just read a quick blog about how elementary school parents should prepare for Parent-Teacher conferences.

For parents of teenagers: Will you connect to your teen’s teacher this year beyond the basic back-to-school night?

My guess is no.

Unless things have changed (optimistically maybe they have), parent involvement past 6th grade is pretty much off the table.

The biggest change you’ll experience is that there won’t be ‘official’ ways to connect to the school as you’ve had in the past You know, classroom parent, home room helper, PTO representative, and candy sale coordinator….mostly non-existent.

This will not occur because you don’t want a connection.

And not because there shouldn’t be one.

It will be because schools tend to wean parents out of the picture pretty soon after elementary school.

And realistically, there is little time, fewer resources, and frankly less interest on the part of the school, parent, student to have those connections.

This doesn’t mean those formal opportunities and meetings to hear about academic and social progress are any less important.

Unfortunately, the fabric of the home/school connection is fraying just at the time when it needs to be strengthened. (If I have this all wrong, please comment).

You will need to find other ways to maintain a connection with those who work with your teenager. Why is this important?

Because whoever that is, can give you another glimpse of your child in another venue which allows you to have a check into how they’re developing.

How can you get those connections?

Some ideas are below, none of which I considered ‘helicoptering’.

Instead, they are creative ways of parenting and making connections in these busy times.

After all, your teen has just spent a considerable amount of time in a different environment.

Plus you’ve either spent time, money, or resources on the activities, and you have a right to know

  • Establish a relationship with your teen’s coach (beyond “why is he/she on the bench so much?”)
  • Connect with your teen’s camp counselors, director, after the summer is over to see how they did.
  • Send your teen to an after-school faith-based program, and connect with the staff about your teen’s progress in social and educational areas.
  • If your teen belongs to a youth group, chat with the coordinator about your teen’s social experiences.
  • After your teens attends any teen program, check in with the staff regarding the above.

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.

 Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

Back-to-school basics for working parents (goerie.com)


Guiding teens without a moral compass

English: A HTC Desire S showing a compass app

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Picture this: a class of freshly minted teenagers, not even a year after becoming b’nei mitzvah, who attend an optional Jewish education program.

Ostensibly they come from homes where the parent/s place an importance on Jewish values. Yet, despite that, they seem to have internalized society’s penchant for abdicating personal responsiblity.

Over 90% of high school students cheat. Entire schools have been accused of tampering with test results.

These incidents reverberate beyond charts and stats–and I felt the tremors last week.

I presented this scenario to students taking a class in Jewish values and ethics:

Your teacher asks you to take home and complete a unit summary without looking at notes, any textbooks, or the internet. What would you do?

I value their openness with me. Only one student in the class said that he would not cheat. One out of 15 students. Eighth graders.

What did the other students say? Most nodded enthusiastically to this response:

It was the teacher’s fault….she shouldn’t have expected us not to look at anything. Did she think we wouldn’t cheat?”

So, what they were saying is that the teacher should have known better. She should have known not to trust them.  For them, there is no such thing as an honor system.

When I was in middle school, cheating also occurred. It’s just that we knew who would cheat and who wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

In fact, what was the kicker to my question? Three students said that their teacher just gave them a similar assignment–to complete a worksheet at home–and when they came back to school she revealed that she expected them to look things up even though she asked them not to.  So this lack of trust goes both ways.

This is the world we are all living in and this is what we’re up against. 

There were other comments by students toward the beginning of the lesson that didn’t surprise me; comments about whether ‘to tell’ on a friend who cheated or stole. That was pretty predictable. The peer pressure is so intense they admitted, that no one wants to be labeled as ‘the kid who tells’.

When I discussed their reasoning for what they shared with me, they said that it’s okay because in “middle school you don’t have to worry about anything yet” (i.e. high school then college). They  continued trying to convince me that their choice was okay: “what you do in school doesn’t really matter until you get to 9th grade, or even 10th.

I wanted to teach them a different course of action and there were many topics to explore, but the clock was ticking with little time left in the period.

I could have espoused other teachings from sages and scholars who have been grappling with these issue throughout our tradition. I didn’t think this would resonate.  Instead, I briefly mentioned the perspective of Jewish law regarding personal responsibility.

Then, I told them they are like onions. Their character has layers, and everything they do, every action they take, forms who they are.  Those layered experiences are part of them, much like the peels of an onion that won’t just disappear when they get to another grade.

And if they make choices that they will regret, those choices will be there, under the surface, but there none the less.  And it will affect them.  Guiding teens through these perplexing situations is what we can do as Jewish educators and parents. How do we begin the process with our teens?

A good place to start is by opening the door to these types of conversations. Allow your teens to share what their school environment is like, and what ethical challenges they face. Listen to what they say. They are our very sweetest onions.


A young and energetic Hebrew School teacher writes….

This is the e-mail I received today:

 Hi Ruth!  How are you? I hope all is well! As my mom told you, I am now teaching at a local synagogue near my college. I am enjoying it a lot so far, but I’m having trouble coming up with new and creative lesson plans apart from the teacher’s guide. Can you recommend any good books on Jewish lesson plans that I could use for my class? I would really appreciate it!  

Isn’t this a really great e-mail? I love to hear from our graduates. Here’s why I think this e-mail is so wonderful:

1. the writer graduated our program with honors, received a teaching certificate and is doing precisely what we hoped she’d do–teach in a synagogue school while in college.    

2. She obviously enjoys what she’s doing and has a commitment to her students.

3. She is aware of what specific tools and resources would help her be a more successful teacher.

4. She is asking for assistance. 

So, now the bad news:

1. She may not be receiving any supervision at the synagogue school.

2. Whether or not she is, she doesn’t feel a comfort level in asking for help.

3. It doesn’t seem like there are peers who could help each other work this through, or even mentors assigned to her in her first, very important year.

4. Many of our best and brightest work in synagogue Hebrew Schools. They get little help.

5. We may lose her and her energy in a year or two, and this experience may even impact her years later. 

This e-mail is not unique, and I’ve heard similar anecdotes before.

I know there are some programs and initiatives now to tackle some of these issues, however most focus on day schools.

I just don’t know if they will reach THIS young woman.

Several months ago, I  crafted a proposal for a web-based support system for college-age teachers in supplementary schools that was submitted to a foundation.

It didn’t get funded.


When Parents Say: “Jewish Education On The Side, Please”

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...

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Some parents are guilty of treating Jewish education like a side dish, something that will never star as the main course and won’t be terribly missed if not around either.

So often choices surrounding Jewish education seem like an afterthought, a rush job, something that’s done while in the middle of doing something else that’s way more important.

Basically, it is chosen as an option only if things work out. Otherwise, well, it’s not really a priority. Pretty harsh, huh?

How can I say such a thing? Just listen to my experience these past few weeks and judge for yourself.  The type of phone calls I’ve received illustrate this, and there were actually more calls than I’m describing.  I am open to hearing from you what your experiences have been.

One parent wanted to discuss her daughter’s enrollment during a prolonged red light.

Another parent called to ask about our program for his daughter, but he was about to board an airplane: “Okay, will rows……..” blared in the background as we were trying to discuss the different course options she’d take.

Another parent happened to breeze by the office at 6:15pm with questions that had to be answered right then because she was already late to go somewhere.

Another parent dropped by with his son to sign him up but could only spend 5 minutes on figuring out what program would be the right fit because he had a pressing work matter to attend to.  Yet  another asked her child to fill out the online application, and was in shock when it required a parent’s sign off (before we went paperless, it amazed me how many students completed the applications themselves).

People are sure busy and I understand the pressure to get so many things done.  Plus, I am appreciative that we’re even part of the rush-job-life these people are juggling. I really am.  I just wonder about the none-too-subtle messages that are given to teens when in general, their Jewish education is treated this way.

So here’s the recommendation: despite every activity that competes with commitments to Jewish education, involvement in Jewish learning is an important goal that is part of life’s meal, not a side dish. (This of course excludes those who have opted for the day school entrée).

Let’s not settle for being that low on the priority list. We want your teen to be part of our program, because we know there is value in participating.

Whatever commitments your family makes, place the proper value on the Jewish education part. Kids quickly get the message that it’s just not all that important to you from your actions, which counts much more than you think.


Jewish Parents: Four Things I Wish You Wouldn’t Say to Your Teenager

 

Making decisions about continuing Jewish Education  is often a challenge, though I’m not sure why. 

The comments below are ones I’ve heard directly, usually on the phone when asked whether their child will continue in our program, or sign up for the first time.  

Every year, unlike with other educational venues and opportunities, the conversation about Jewish education is reopened.  I’m not sure why Jewish education gets the blow-off.

Parents would never question other identity-building, intellectually engaging, social-emotional experiences and leadership opportunities, but in this case they do. (Le’ts see…do you want to continue editing the high school paper next year? Do you really want to put that effort into the advanced calc club?).

So, this posting is my way of  assembling the most common things I’ve heard, and  my responses.  I’d love to hear yours. Here is my brief list:

“It’s your decision”

Why? Why is furthering education a child’s decision? Parents make decisions about other forms of education, why abdicate here? Generally, teens are not wired for more school, they’re wired for less, so this becomes no decision at all.  Would parents ask if their child wants to ‘go on’ in Math or English? Of course not. Because in order to be an educated person you need a modicum of education. Putting Jewish education in an optional category makes more of a statement about its relevance for the parents, which speaks volumes.  Say no more, your child has already figured out your priorities.

“Your school work is more important”

Ditto, plus is school work always more important? More important than identity-building? Personal development? Creating a network of like-minded peers? Students will often need to juggle responsibilities between numerous commitments. You’ve  just told them there is no choice.  But is this really true? Won’t they have to make decisions about these commitments and sometimes choose the non-secular choice? Like whether to attend class on a Jewish holiday? Like whether to speak up and challenge a professor when tests are given on those holidays?

“Are you having fun?”

Ask any student involved in athletics if they’ve had fun at practice.  Yet, everyone knows that the end result: inner satisfaction with an accomplishment trumps ‘fun’.  Also, teens love learning and grappling with issues. Why do we underestimate them in this way?  You might ask what they’ve learned, what questions they’ve asked, what new issues they’ve explored.  This is our hope for the substance of their experience.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Really? If they’re part of the Jewish-people team, than isn’t showing up part of the obligation? Should they miss marching band? Practice? The reasoning used there is that they’ve made a commitment to be part of a group, and that holds responsibilities. Each person is depended upon to hold his/her own weight. Why should our language be any different here? They’re part of a team….why not transmit that message early on?

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.