“Teachers open our eyes to the world. They give us curiosity and confidence. They teach us to ask questions. They connect us to our past and future. They’re the guardians of our social heritage. We have lots of heroes today – sportsmen, supermodels, media personalities. They come, they have their fifteen minutes of fame, and they go. But the influence of good teachers stays with us. They are the people who really shape our life.”
From Optimism to Hope p. 132
As we head into our new school year, I’d like to challenge each of you to take a moment to remember a teacher who shaped you. Teachers have such a strong influence in how their students approach learning. The best teachers can nudge children towards the life-long tendency to be curious, to question, and to explore. A religious school teacher has a special role in relation to their students. They aren’t just stirring in them the beginnings of life-long learning, they are giving them the foundation for a life-long connection to their faith and their heritage. The relationship a Jewish person has with their faith and their ancestors can touch every piece of their life, even outside of religion and the synagogue.
I’d like to start off our year acknowledging the commitment that our religious school parents show when they make Jewish learning a priority for their children. It can be difficult to add one more thing to an already busy schedule, or to pull a tired pre-teen out of bed early on a Sunday morning. I personally thank you. I’d also like to acknowledge the dedication I see in the religious school teachers. Adat Shalom is lucky to have a group of teachers that are truly here with the mission of guiding and shaping the next generation. They each take pride in their lessons, their classroom and their relationships with their students. Together, the teachers and their students form memories and a bond that will stay with each of them for life.
When I was a student, I remember making Challah with my religious school teacher and classmates. The softening of the consonants in the Hebrew songs she sang to us as we baked gave me such a sense of belonging. I feel the same now when I bake Challah with my own children, singing some of the same songs my teacher sang to me.
As a teacher, I will never forget the thoughtful answer an 8 year old student gave when I asked the question the class where they saw G-d. “I see G-d when people who don’t speak the same language or believe the same things can work together and get something good done”, she said. I realized then, in my first year of teaching, that I wasn’t done learning. Now it was time for my students to teach me.
I look forward to this school year, filled with new opportunities to instill curiosity and confidence, to build connections between the past, present and future. I end this note with another challenge. Whether you are a parent, or a teacher, or both, I challenge you to consider what the child in front of you may remember about this day. What small thing can you do to make an impression?