Tag Archives: Teachers

“But I’ve already been to the museum!”

Negotiating with teens when they say "been there, done that!"

Negotiating with teens when they say “been there, done that!”

The entire school was taking a trip to the relatively new National Museum of American Jewish History, located in Philadelphia. The museum, with thousands of historic treasures, interactive exhibits, and multi-media presentations, has caused many people to say that they could spend days there and not see everything.

Yet, we heard that one student, when he learned about the trip, went home and confidently told his mother: “I don’t want to go. I’ve already been to the museum once.” 

The comment above is not specific to the museum. It is a catch phrase for all things that kids think they’ve already done, if they’ve done it once.

I remember working with a student on his course selections for the coming year. I suggested a class that I thought he’d find really interesting, based on his background. He didn’t ask me any clarifying questions, and without missing a quarter-note, told me assertively: “I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken Talmud!”

Put in whatever word works for you here, so that the comment would be equally humorous:

“I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken engineering.” (architecture, medicine, fine arts, or any area of study that could be endlessly interesting if someone had the interest).

So, how as parents and educators do we get past the “been there, done that” syndrome?

With patience, explanations, and the confidence that we know better. 

We should never assume because someone is in school, that there is a deep understanding of the process of learning.

We need the confidence to communicate that when it comes to learning anything, revisits are important and necessary. Gaining depth of a subject matter, seeing things again from a new perspective, is a good thing.

Let’s think about that, and let that very thought bring sweet smiles to our faces when we meet at our Seder tables and hear “But we did this last year!”


Read what one teen says about teachers

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September...

From the 1950’s, but great teachers create impact no matter the year

This summer I’m working with an intern through a program that combines work experience with college preparation. Great idea, no? I’m fortunate that this person has also been a part of our school for years, and is somewhat familiar with the world of blogging (and has his own gaming site blog!).

I asked him about his experience in our Jewish community high school, and to be a guest blogger.

“Something I really find a need for in Jewish education is good teachers. I hear my friends complaining a lot that their teachers are uninteresting, and they may find hebrew school, or any religious school for that matter, a waste of time or boring.

I don’t entirely disagree with that. If a teacher cannot find an interesting way to teach a subject or at least a way to keep the students interested, then they won’t want to learn, and they won’t care about Jewish education.

As a highschool student myself I find that the only reason I really keep coming to hebrew school now, is the great teachers and the friends I have made. The teachers that I have found to be the best are the ones that don’t just teach the subject. They know how to really engage us into the topic.

These special teachers have been able to not only get my attention, but to really make me think.

They have been able to start great class discussions that weren’t even meant to happen.  I also think it is better when the teacher treats us like an adult, like we can handle more mature topic matters.

I have had teachers in the past that would break every subject down—spoon-feeding us the material, and would tone down the maturity level simply because we are teenagers.  There was not thinking involved. The best teachers I have had may have provided us with more detailed information, but they do it for a reason, and they would end up explaining why that method was used.

Overall the best teachers make the best Jewish education experiences. If the teacher is really good, they could get any student interested and understand anything.”


‘Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

What image comes to mind when you read the headline?

Is it the consummate Jewish nebbish, portrayed here by Woody Allen?

The words “You’re soooo0 Jewish”, said in that tone of voice, from one Jewish teenager to another, is not meant as a compliment.

So, what does it mean?

Really, take a minute.

What would it mean to you?

 

To this teenager, it meant that his Jewish friend was taking Judaism seriously, too seriously.

Not only was he Jewish, he was acting Jewish.

Forget that being ‘so Jewish’ is a little like being a human. You either are or you’re not.

But that’s not the point.

The comment was meant as a put-down, a derogatory statement about identity.

Clearly, there is no ‘cool’ factor when it comes to Jewish education for these students.

Okay, you’re wondering, what is it that this student is doing that makes his peers say he’s so Jewish?

He attends a supplementary high school program two days a week.

He’s in 8th grade, and says that he wants to graduate the program in 12th.

He belongs to a youth group.

He sometimes attends synagogue on Shabbat. And he sometimes studies with a Rabbi.

Okay, by now you’re probably convinced that his Jewish involvement is unusual, and you might be shaking your head.

Years ago, this student would not have been labeled ‘SuperJew‘.

On the contrary, that’s what thousands of teens were doing. Then.

Before their lives got so busy, complicated, college-focused and pressured. Now, based on today’s new realities and priorities, our expectations have changed. So, is the student I described s00000 Jewish, or have we bought into diminished standards?

What Jewish involvements are too much? Too little?

How do you feel about the term s0000o Jewish?

What I will say, is that the one thing, the Jewish identification thing, that will help Jewish teens be more grounded before they run off to college is the thing that tends to get low priority.

Unless of course, you’re “SuperJew” and one of the kids who is “sooooo Jewish.”


what Jewish teens taught me about family values

English: Heart Planet Earth

Last week I was figuring out a way to teach eighth graders the value of Shalom Bayit (Family Harmony–Peace in the Home).  With teens going through their own struggles for authority in that realm, the notion  of peace and family harmony might not strike the right note. 

The last thing I think they’d want to hear were clichés and platitudes about the topic and I could just imagine the yawns when introducing it.

I couldn’t argue with that.  Would anyone in the class disagree with the concept of such a positive sounding value?  As a teacher, how could you explore that further in a way that would inspire a lengthy discussion?

I needed to find a way in to this topic and create some educational tension.

So, I decided to become “MojojoBo”, an alien from another planet.  In that way, the students would need figure out how to teach the subject matter to me.  The students would need to explain teachings to this being that ‘their people’ practiced, focusing on  Shalom Bayit and family values. Since MojojoBo had a family too, it was an easy place to begin.

I began the class in character, with accent, stunted staccato speech and all.  Corny? Definitely. Campy? For sure.

MojojoBo wanted to be convinced that as a people known as “Jew” they had values surrounding family, preservation of tradition nad mutual respect. I gave more details to MojojoBo’s story so students would have a context and not get caught up in irrelevant details.

I divided the class into groups to study the textual sources. Their task? To break down the language in very easy to understand words and concepts so MojojoBo would understand what they were saying. That meant that no prior learning about the topic could be assumed. They had top break down words and concepts like ten commandments, Torah and Kavod because MojojoBo wouldn’t understand the meaning.  They went to work deciphering the texts, figuring out the best way to explain them and selecting the best ones to convey the concepts.

Taking turns, the groups made presentations. The quote “A home where Torah is not heard will not endure”  instead became: “Your home, where your family lives, needs to be a place where you can learn the teachings of your people. Not only learn them, but talk about them everyday so every one in the family understands why they are special and needs to continue being part of this people in days and years ahead. Your home is where that begins.”

I was riveted. I wish I had a video. These are today’s teens, who often get shortchanged for not being connected, being too self-centered and not always very respectful. I am hearing them say these incredible things about respecting parents, valuing tradition, being partners with God, holding back anger, commitment to Jewish peoplehood, and MORE. Their responses were stunning. I know the lesson would not have gone this way if I had used a more traditional approach.

They were teaching me things I didn’t even know they were thinking, let alone feeling, about their homes, parents, God, and spirituality. I will miss MojojoBo but will bring that dear, sweet, alien back whenever I need to learn from our amazing teens.

Image via Wikipedia


Jewish Teens Reinvent the Synagogue

I’m so lucky.  We Jewish educators trudge uphill a lot of the time, just to keep pace. Yet, every week I get inspired from the Jewish teens I work with. Last week I asked a group of 10th and 11th graders how they would reinvent the synagogue:

Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade ...

“Your goal is to insure that people will be active, engaged, and interested. There are no limits. What will you create? What type of organization will speak to you?”

They had a hard time with this initially, not being able to get past what they experience now.  That surprised me. They first offered: more music, shorter services, more comfortable seats.

When I prodded further, they pushed the boundaries a little more.

Welcome to the synagogue as seen through the eyes of a group of Jewish teens: branding abounds, with lots and lots of food available (did I mention that there are mostly boys in this class?).

Someone piped in: “We could have a Manishewitz wing!” Another student shot right back: “Yeah,why not? Companies could be sponsors of the synagogue or even sponsor events.”

“Even Bar/t Mitzvahs I asked?”

“Yea, why not,” they responded. That way, they wouldn’t cost so much.”
Hmmmm. Interesting.

Unanimously, they all agreed that there needs to be more food.  Then they began to dream big, envisioning a cafe-type set-up, with lots of  informal places to sit–like a lobby in a hotel.  Oh, they were also big on sports options.  Basketball and racketball courts and pools. Places to sleep when family comes into town for b’nei mitzvahs. Why not a spa?

What they talked about resembled a newly configured JCC/Synagogue/Restaurant/Hotel.

I told them that they will be the ones to do this, and that we’re depending on them.

Though I don’t see a Rokeach-sponsored Bat Mitzvah anytime soon, I can see the ‘Awesome Osem Auction!’ with these teens in charge of things.  Just maybe we need to take some cues from these young leaders and simply lighten things up a little. Oh yes, and have some food.

Image: Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade School, South Jersey Colonies, Carmel, NJ (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)


When Teens Say “I’m not that Jewish”

Jewish Star; Star of David

Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

I met with several teens yesterday, and when I asked them to tell me about their Jewish identity, their answers surprised me.  At one point or another, more than half of them responded in the negative with: “I’m not that Jewish” or “I’m not really so Jewish” and sometimes they completed  those statements with: “because I don’t go to synagogue”, “because I don’t really practice”, “because I’m not that religious”, or because I don’t really believe in God….”

Does this strike anyone else as strange? Why the emphasis on ‘not being Jewish’ and why the focus on what they don’t do?

Somehow, they are defining themselves by what they’re not.  Yet, I don’t think that holds true for other aspects of their lives.  If I would ask them to describe themselves, I doubt they’d begin by telling me what they’re not: “I’m not athletic, I’m not friendly, I’m not really into music” –would sound ridiculous.

I wanted to explore these comments with them, and decided to challenge them instead of playing it safe. I responded with something like: “saying you’re really not that Jewish is like saying ‘I’m really not that human’, isn’t it?  “A human is what you are through and through….and so is being Jewish. It’s your identity, it’s who you are and what you are.”

They just looked at me, surprised by my strong opinion.

I proceeded: “Why the continuum? Why do you rate yourself on your Jewishness? Why do an evaluation? By the way, do any of your non-Jewish friends define themselves that way—-on a scale?” (This sounds much harsher in print than the actual tone of the conversation, but you get the point).

I also encourage them to stop defining “Jewish” .  Those other qualifiers of belief, practice, attendance….tend to create distance and separation–the opposite of what we should be after.

I think we need to be aware of the language our teens use and help them flip it towards the positive.  As a start, “I am Jewish” sounds great to me.


Classroom and Community: Making It Real for Teens

courtesy of katerha's photostream

Recently I was teaching a class the Jewish value of G’milut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness). I asked them to think about a time when someone (friend, family–anyone) did something for them that they would define as an act of G’milut Hesed so we’d have an example of how the value is applied to real situations.  This is a class of intelligent and outspoken students, grades 8 and 9, who attend public and private schools in a suburban area. No hands shot up. I waited and gave some examples in case they didn’t understand the concept yet, suggesting that it was a difficult question and to take as much time as they needed. Still nothing.  Not one student had anything to say.

I discovered that the way  they experience kindness is through gifts or exchanges of things.  At this point we brainstormed about what they could do for others.  At first, they also thought about things: buying someone lunch, buying them an itune, etc. It took some work to move beyond that, but we did.

I don’t know if this lesson will ‘stick’, or if its ramifications will affect them in any way. But it stuck with me.

I learned that this is pretty much their world.  It’s not that gifts are bad (which we talked about). It’s just that in their experience there seems to be little in the way of true community at work.  In a non-Orthodox Jewish community it is really hard to build that into Jewish life.  I didn’t hear anyone talk about their synagogue or their youth group in this context, let alone the public arena.  This is the setting in which community and classroom have to go together.  The classroom needs to be the vehicle to put G’milut Hesed into action and any other value that we try to teach.   We need to make it real.