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I Seem To Be a Teacher

 

The same week that I started teaching at synagogue school, I also ran a writing workshop on blessings at my synagogue. The combination allowed me to see very clearly how much easier it is to teach adults, and how much trouble I seem to have gotten myself into.

Things were a bit chaotic on the first day of synagogue school, because we only had partial class lists (most families register late, but the kids show up on the first day anyway), and the building was still a construction site, and, oh yeah, I’d never done anything like this before in my life!

It’s important to say that afterschool synagogue school is a unique set of circumstances: even the most well-behaved kids hit four o’clock and lose their minds; they can’t sit still; they have an enormous amount to say after keeping quiet most of the day; and they don’t really have room in their brains to fit in any more information. Desks are for climbing, other children are for bothering, and there’s a competition for who can say the nastiest things to the teacher – which would be me. It’s a joy!

I drove home after my first two hours of teaching in a state of shock. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. On top of the chaos, the classroom was too warm, and early on, I realized I would not be one of those teachers who stands the entire time. But I didn’t vomit or faint, so that was a plus.

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The girls were vicariously exhausted.

And, despite some rough spots, I actually did some real teaching (I know, because without realizing it the kids repeated things I’d said in week one when they came back for week two. They would be horrified to know this, so don’t tell them). The second day with the kids went much better than the first. We even came up with some ways to manage their extra energy: like standing behind their desks when they couldn’t sit still anymore, dance breaks, and even a little bit of Pachelbel Canon in D (“Ugh! Classical music!”), helped them get through it.

The blessings workshop, with the adults, two days later, was like a walk in the park on a cool day compared to synagogue school. We had ten people around the table, and everyone participated, and shared their blessings, and listened to everyone else with interest. The workshop was based on a post I did on the blog a few months ago (or the post was based on the work I was doing to build the workshop), with prompts for different categories of blessings, and an overall intention to help empower people to trust their own voices along with the voices of tradition. It went well enough that now I have to prepare for a new workshop on blessings leading up to Passover. I have six months, so I’m not too worried, yet.

281

“I’m worried for you.”

The thing is, the one career I was sure I didn’t want was teaching. It’s not that I expected to be bad at it, exactly. No, the real problem was that my father was a teacher, and I was afraid to be anything like him; or accused of being like him. My father was accused, multiple times, of inappropriate sexual contact with his students, so the idea of teaching and of going to jail seemed tied together in my mind from very early on. When people told me to get a PhD, in something, and become a professor, or teach writing after I got my MFA, I said no. I was too scared. What if I was accused of hurting someone? What if I actually hurt someone? What if I said the wrong thing? Or failed to be a good enough teacher? In my mind, I could go to jail for boring my students, or raising my voice, or just being in a bad mood, because my father’s paranoid ramblings at the dinner table suggested that that’s the kind of thing he’d done wrong, if anything. Even after I understood that my father was truly guilty of a crime, and had caused real harm to his students, I couldn’t uncross the wires in my brain around teaching.

Unfortunately, I never had a chance to see my grandfather in the classroom. He taught high school Consumer Education, and was the principal of an afterschool Hebrew school, but he died at age eighty, when I was eight years old, and he wasn’t in good health for the last years of his life, so his teaching was just a story I was told, not an experience I could draw from.

And yet, people kept telling me I’d make a good teacher, or even assumed that I already was a teacher (I’m something of a know it all), and I couldn’t shake the idea that this was the path not taken. When the chance to teach synagogue school came up a lot of internal bells started ringing, telling me that I had to at least try.

The dogs have offered to help me test out some of my ideas, and they keep reminding me that chicken treats are great motivators and that leashes are very reassuring (though I’m pretty sure that wisdom won’t translate especially well to human children). On the other hand, they are great at comforting and distracting me when I get home. They’ve always been wonderful at reminding me that I am loved.

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“I love you, Mommy!”

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Cricket is thinking about it.

I’m still overwhelmed with too many ideas for what to teach, and how to teach it, and I can’t fit even a quarter of my ideas into my actual classes. And I’m still comparing myself too much with other teachers, and feeling less than. But I am, slowly, developing more realistic expectations of myself. It will take some time to learn about classroom management, and how to not take the kids’ comments personally. But for now I seem to be teaching, and sometimes even enjoying it. And, maybe someday, I might even be good at it.

067

“Really?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

81 responses »

  1. I would love to have you as a teacher. You’re smart, compassionate and have a great sense of humor. I haven’t told you this enough but I’ve learned so much from you in the last few years about writing online and about life. I really don’t know if I’d still be writing here if it wasn’t for you. You give me courage. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one either. So, you’re already a great teacher whether you realize it or not. Take care Rachel 😊❤️

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  2. You have many talents, I think.

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  3. The blessings workshop sounds like it would be so engaging. I remember your blog post earlier, and I like your comment here about combining their own voices with ancient wisdom (something to that effect).

    As far as synagogue school, yeah, kids keep you on your toes every second, which is exhausting. But, it sounds like you are doing well with it. Good luck, and I hope this is a wonderful experience for you!

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    • Thank you! The blessings workshop was a lot of fun, not only because all of the participants were well-behaved and actually sitting in their chairs instead of jumping from them, but because people are fascinating when they feel safe enough to say what they mean. I’d run that every month if I could.

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  4. Rachel–your posts are always so well presented (and funny, too), I have no doubt you are more successful in the classroom than you know. Cricket–deep down I know you know your mommy is an excellent teacher. Yes, that deserves a chicken treat…. 🙂

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  5. I think you touched on the solution…put leashes on the kids and give them treats in exchange for good behavior.

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  6. I always love the expressions on the little dogs faces because the fit perfectly with what you are saying in the post.

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  7. Always inspiring to watch someone stretch new muscles, try new things, overcome old obstacles. Thanks for taking us on this journey with you!

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  8. Two things.
    1) Don’t let what your father did define you. You are more than capable of being a wonderful teacher.
    2) I love those little characters of yours. They underscore what a wonderful person you are. Go be a teacher.

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  9. This is such wonderful news. People around the world have been praying for you for years. Maybe this is the answer to those prayers!

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  10. That’s great news. Someone who is as nice and devoted as you will make a great teacher. I wish you luck and happiness.

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  11. How great it is that you’re feeling better about teaching! Keep up the good work!

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  12. Sounds as if you’re doing pretty well. Don’t underestimate what you’ve achieved.

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  13. You just have to love these cuties , they are so adorable ,Rachel. I do like your stories.

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  14. If anything, the experiences with your father will almost guarantee that you won’t make those same mistakes, or behave in any inappropriate way. From my own experience as a pupil, I related best to those teachers who presumed I had some intelligence, and ideas of my own. They inspired me, very much making me the person I became in later life.
    I don’t know you personally, but from your manner, writing, and self-effacing personality that comes across in your blog posts, I am sure that teaching is something you could shine at.
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  15. Well done Rachel! So pleased things are going well. The girls are very attentive I see!

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  16. Congrats! It sounds as though the teacher learned as much if not more than her students. What a great milestone in your life.

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  17. “Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?”

    I think Izzy is on her way to finding the answer to her question. Teaching is in her family DNA; keeping judgment, and this is necessary for all of us, regardless of religion, profession or hobby; so, YES, I suspect she is on her way to establishing a new environment in which she can externalize her gifts, and find her happiness.

    And we, her audience, and also her students are already grateful to her for sharing with us this further venture on her journey; and for toasting us with refinement, intelligence, and elegance of his texts narration their histories.

    Thanks and Blessings, Rachel!

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  18. The joys of teaching. I’ve recently stepped back into the classroom for a few art lessons at religious school. I forgot how much fun it was. I also remember my very first year teaching. If you haven’t seen it, watch Kindergarten Cop.

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    • I’ll have to rewatch that one, but the other night I saw a little boy flying through the air at services – he was entertaining himself by jumping off the new podium – and I turned to the woman next to me and said, that’s pretty much what my classroom is like.

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  19. The fact that you are concerned about how good a teacher you will be makes me know that you will be one of the best!
    I wish I had thought to tell you you should become a teacher because now that I think about it, you were born for it.
    Go for it!

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  20. My heart goes out to you. I taught Sunday School for a short time, so can sympathize. 🙂

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  21. Teaching can be very rewarding and a lot of fun. Judging by your blog posts, Rachel, I can only imagine you as a wonderful teacher. Best of luck! Enjoy your new experience.

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  22. Good for you! It sounds like you are already good at teaching, too. And I am glad you listened to the inner bells.

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  23. Oh my gosh! When I was a kid, I heard constantly – “are you going to be a teacher like Janet when you grow up?” Janet, my oldest sister, was a mean, truly nasty person, who pretty much hated me from my first breath, and there was no way in Hell I was going to be anything like her. And yet here I am. And I truly do love my job – I teach accounting at the Community College and yeah, adults aren’t always a barrel of fun but they do mostly stay in their seats! You will be amazing – because you’ll ask yourself what your dad – who is probably sitting with Janet and exchanging stories about how horrible I am – would do, and then do the opposite. I have great faith in you!

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  24. Yes, you certainly do seem to be a teacher! It brought tears to my eyes to read how far you have come. I hope you realize it. Your father was sick and a predator and in no way represented the teaching profession. You were a victim and now are a survivor and are enriching the lives of others. Huge kudos and double high fives.

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  25. I was teacher for a short time but it was very interesting. Bestest part of my career till date. You should become a teacher. Even I am considering to start teaching again. Your approach will motivate me .

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  26. I’m not a trained teacher but there’s one thing that you should do
    NEVER be boring.

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  27. Teaching is definitely easier when your students want to learn. I used to teach riding lessons, and the adults were always there because they wanted to be so they paid attention and put some effort into learning and made progress. Some of the kids were there because they wanted to be, and those kids did just as well as the adults – sometimes better depending on their talents. Then there were the kids who were there because their parents thought it was a good idea. I sometimes felt more like a babysitter than an instructor with them. They were less likely to pay attention, put no effort into learning, and took forever to make any progress. You might find similar reactions among the children in your class in that if any of them are there by their own choice rather than because their parents want them to go, they are the ones who will do the best because they actually want to learn.

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  28. I love your caption “The girls were vicariously exhausted.” I think I suffer from this at times too 🙂

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  29. Congratulations Rachel, I feel you are on a path.

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  30. I spent my life teaching English after vowing that I would never teach English! God has had a pretty consistent sense of humor about my life, and we have frequently differed. May you move in the direction for which you are perfectly suited. May you have a solemn Yom Kippur service and emerge ready for next year.

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  31. That sentence completely resonated with me: “the one career I was sure I didn’t want was teaching.” My mother was a teacher. I knew I never wanted to be one, and my mother didn’t want it for me either. I’m on my 3rd year of teaching K-12 (I’m at a high school now), and there are dozens of reasons why not to be a teacher.

    If you are looking into improving your classroom management skills and managing your high needs students, I recommend the NYC Teaching Fellows. It is definitely not for everyone, but if you feel you can hack it, it is next level. The (middle school science) co-teacher I trained with was amazing, and I learned so much through that program than anywhere else. Let me know for more information!

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  32. It’s wonderful you are a teacher and teaching in a synagogue and help children and adults in their learning.

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  33. A good teacher is a very rare thing!

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  34. What a wonderful thing to run a workshop on blessings!

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  35. I love that you’re using your talents this way . . . and yes, kids learn even when they don’t appear to be. Sometimes ESPECIALLY when they don’t appear to be:). Wink, wink.

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  36. I’d be happy to have you as a teacher indeed!
    Check out the new one?
    https://papersonfire.wordpress.com/2019/10/11/the-flower-within/

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  37. I have no doubt that you will be a wonderful teacher!

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  38. Something you said really resonated with me… worrying that you’d automatically end up like your father if you became a teacher and were therefore too much like him; worrying that you’d hurt someone and not have control over the situation. I haven’t read enough of your blog to know too much of your history, but I have a childhood sexual trauma history and I had a lot of those same fears; terrified I would repeat those same things because it was genetic or I’d been tainted by what happened. Statistically we have nothing to worry about; while most predators are victims of trauma, most victims of trauma do not become offenders. This is a common fear among trauma survivors that makes it difficult to talk about what happened because of the stigma surrounding the situation.

    Tl;dr I have had the same fears and thank you for sharing yours, because being open about this is the only way to end the silence.

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    • Thank you! It’s taken such a long time to feel safe enough, and confident enough in who I am, to share the damage from the abuse. And to know it’s about the abuse and the abuser and doesn’t belong to me. Though sometimes I forget.

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