Sometimes, when I’m walking through the preschool or browsing children’s books, I think of my future children and what I want to teach them. I’m definitely not ready to have children, but I hope one day to sit down with a baby of my own and read my favorite stories to them. When it comes to Jewish rituals, like lighting Shabbat and Hanukkah candles, I find myself looking forward to the day when I can do that with my own family. Lighting tonight’s candles alone is good enough for now, but there’s something about sharing a tradition within your family that makes the holidays even more magical and meaningful.
So maybe that’s why I inquired about teaching at Temple. I began teaching in Temple’s Youth Learning + Engagement department (religious school) in 2014. I started as a substitute; my first class was kindergarten. I felt completely overwhelmed and baffled at how to deal with such little kids, especially since I didn’t completely understand at the time what it meant to talk at their level. Up until that point, my only experience with little kids was limited to occasional visits with cousins. I’m an only child, raised by a single mom, and I grew up pretty much surrounded by mostly adults. One of the comments my teachers gave my mom the most was “She’s so mature for her age, but it makes it difficult sometimes for her to relate to her peers.” I also wasn’t so fond of children at the time, which is probably why my mom found the whole situation hilarious. But I kept substituting and when Rabbi Ross asked if I was interested in having my own class in the fall, I said yes.
I was placed in the fourth grade and my first year was rocky, to say the least. The entire year was an experiment; sometimes class was great and sometimes I would be pulling my hair out at the end of the day. It probably didn’t help that the year was also marked with crises: I was still dealing with the aftermath of my mom having a pacemaker put in, one of my aunts had a stroke and died, plus my depression flared up significantly, resulting in a panic attack during the holidays. At the end of the year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back. I truly believed that I was a terrible teacher and needed to be kept away from children for fear of scarring them.
I’m still not sure why I agreed to come back and teach fourth grade again. Maybe I wanted the chance to redeem myself, maybe Rabbi Ross talked a good game that convinced me to teach again, but, surprisingly, this year has been much smoother and I look forward each Sunday to seeing the kids. The job hasn’t gotten easier, but I stumbled across the key to capturing and keeping their attention: keep the lesson short and then have a related activity that they are so interested in, they actually listen to you. I taught them about golems right before Halloween and had them create their own golems out of clay and other supplies. They loved it and I realized that maybe I wasn’t such a bad teacher after all.
So this sixth night of Hanukkah is dedicated to the kids I have taught so far and Rabbi Amy Ross, who convinced me to keep teaching. They have taught me patience and pushed me to my limits, but also reawakened my creativity. It isn’t always easy and sometimes I wonder what I got myself into, but when I see their faces light up and their hands go to work on the task at hand, it feels like I have the best job in the world and even if the class hasn’t been so great, a kid will do something like come up and hug me and it makes it all worth it. I can’t wait until they see what I have planned for Sunday.