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End of the Synagogue School Year

            I need time to stop again. I keep needing time to stop; keep needing a chance to catch up with my life, because it’s running too far ahead of me.

“I’ll catch it for you, Mommy!”

            I’m looking forward to the end of the semester, and the beginning of summer vacation, because I need a break; but it’s sad that this will be the end of working with this particular group of kids, and probably this particular teacher’s aide, all of whom have had so much to teach me. There’s so much more I want them to learn, too.

            I feel pretty good about what my students have learned this year in Judaic Studies – both the ethical lessons from Leviticus and our virtual travels around the world to visit different communities of Jews throughout history. I keep finding more places and more eras where Jews have lived interesting and unexpected lives, and I love that I get to share all of this with the kids, and help them build a wider and deeper and more flexible idea of what it can mean to be Jewish. But their Hebrew needs work, and there are so many lessons I’ve had to cut from my lesson plans in favor of something else – a holiday, a musical event, etc. – and could never find time to add back in.

            But also, I get anxious before each class: worried I’ll leave something out, or miss something that’s going on with them. My expectations of what I should be able to do two afternoons a week, in eight or nine months, is out of whack with what’s truly possible, but still I always feel like I’m falling short.

“Did you just call me short?”

            Of course, part of my summer vacation will be spent revising lesson plans to see how I can fit more in, and teach things more effectively. I need to work on my ability to teach through games – especially games like Jeopardy, which my teacher’s aide did with the kids twice this year to spectacular effect. And I need to figure out how to repeat lessons more often, but in different ways, until the material really sticks, for most of them rather than just for some of them. And I want to revise my readings to better fit their current reading levels.

            But before I do that, I need a nap. And I need a chance to refocus on my own work and my own learning process and getting my own stories told. I tend to live in a state of high anxiety during the school year, and I need to transition out of that into something more sustainable that allows for more creativity and imagination.

“And you need to take your dogs for more walks.”

            But, I’m worried that my teenage teacher’s aide – a fourteen year old boy with the sense of responsibility of someone much older, and a really lively curiosity and comfort level with the kids, and of course, an endless supply of ideas for how to gamify learning and keep the kids on their toes – won’t come back next year; that he’ll go on to teach his own class, or leave the synagogue school completely in favor of brighter pastures, like, I don’t know, the school play, or an after school tech club, or starting his own business out of his parent’s garage. And I’m worried about all of the unknowns for next year – whether I’ll have a classroom of my own or stay in the cavernous social hall, whether I’ll have a teacher’s aide at all, and what new and unexpected challenges my next group of students will bring with them. And I’m excited that the kids from my first ever class are going into their B’nei Mitzvah year, and every other week I will get to see them coming into their own and claiming their Jewishness, surrounded by their friends and families. And I’m hopeful about our new educational director and all of the energy and ideas and collaborative spirit she will bring with her.

            But right now, I really need a nap. I need to rest and recover from all of the lessons I’ve learned over the past three years. I just need time to stop for a little while, so I can catch up with myself, and feel rested and ready for whatever comes next.

“Ah, nap time.”

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.

53 responses »

  1. Enjoy your very well-deserved break, Rachel!

  2. Sounds like you are very thoughtful and attentive with your students. Hope the respite makes next year even better.

  3. Enjoy your summer and take lots of naps!

  4. Do you think that maybe you’re taking on too much, or setting your goals too high? What about more short term goals? You sound like you’re working way too hard and taking on an awful lot. I don’t want to presume to tell you what to do, but it sure sounds like you’re setting your expectations of yourself WAY too high. I like having goals, too, but they have to be achievable. Everyone around you will still love you even if you do only half as much as you do. Listen to your lovely dogs!

  5. Enjoy the rest. I hope it is super restorative.

  6. Wow are you having fun yet

  7. One sign of a truly amazing teacher is that you want what’s best for your students. You hope all of them have their owm light bulb moments.
    Take some deep breaths. Enjoy some relaxing time. Try not to worry endlessly about the things you have no control over.
    I hope you have a great summer.

  8. Enjoy your rest and recuperation. Remember the humour that is in your photo captions and probably in your teaching. Those children will never forget you.

  9. Really enjoyed, Rachel. And as a retired teacher, I understand completely. Thanks, BTW, for continuing to read my bird blog. I always look forward to your ‘likes.’

  10. There is only a limited amount of what a person can accomplish in the short amount of time that we are allotted. It seems that you have used your time to teach quite well.

  11. It sounds like you had a highly successful year in spite of the anxiety and energy it took! Successful people always feel like they haven’t done enough, that they are behind the curve somehow, and that they must do better and more. It’s what keeps makes them successful and keeps them getting better and better. It sounds like you. Ok, now go take a nap; you’ve earned it. 🙂

  12. Teaching is so tiring and one always feel that one should have done more, but you are only human and can only do so much – enjoy a rest!

  13. There is a quote by William Butler Yeats that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I love that you share the interesting and unexpected with your students thereby igniting their passion for learning.

  14. Just as you are looking forward to your break (with some trepidation) from teaching, Pretty and I are dreading the end of Ella’s first school year at the Jewish Day School. The week off for Passover just about killed all of us! Having 2 1/2 year old Ella all day with her 4 month old sister Molly made us all appreciate the time and what Ella had learned at school.
    We are signing her up for all summer school activities we can!
    Enjoy your summer – catch up with yourself!

  15. At least you know you’ll have good company for that much-needed nap!

  16. I homeschool my 11 year old; and I homeschooled her 2 older sisters. But it wasn’t like I made the decision lightly. Our oldest was being bullied, and as a young wife to a man 7 years my senior, I also was being ostracized by the other mothers. We clearly were doing something wrong and deserved their judgment. Anyway, teaching is difficult. We made a LOT of mistakes. First, we didn’t do enough, or chose the wrong kind of materials. Then we did too much. But eventually we found our rhythm. Now our oldest daughter is nursing school. And our 19 year old took a year off after graduation, but she’s enrolled for college in the fall. She wants to be a psychiatrist. And she scored a 29 out of 31 on the ACT.
    My point is, you’re doing great. More than you know. And definitely more than you think.

  17. I hope you manage to nap, rest, recuperate, and rejuvenate over your summer break. While I know you have concerns about next year, there’s nothing you can do apart from revising lessons and enjoying your break from it all.

  18. Rachelmankowitz your blogs is awesome 😎

  19. Pingback: End of the Synagogue School Year – This is a product blog site.

  20. Slow down and live. Dogs know best.

  21. that was a very sweet read, thanks for that! helped me feel better as I couldn’t sleep tonight and reading about you being a teacher and your student’s really made me feel warm & fuzzy inside. I also taught different kids of all ages different things, most recently I did a cooking class it was a lot of fun. The kids really can inspire you! I hope you get your much needed rest

  22. Your a good writter

  23. The teaching profession from my thirty years experience is all about change, You seem to be adapting well to this challenge.

  24. Love the stories about your dogs

  25. So beautifully expressed! I keep coming back to this post and gaining courage to continue from rereading it:

    I am having some similar struggles as I homeschool my daughter, and much of my downtime I also spend worrying about whether I’m doing enough, doing it right, doing a good job of presenting each thing, helping enough or too much, underestimating her capacity, as well as whether she is is benefiting from the lessons, and so on and so forth. I spend a lot of time planning lessons and seeking out better ways to interact with her. And every time I feel like I’m almost getting it right, she changes some more and I have to re-calibrate everything. I never feel that I’ve done enough or done it well enough. But when I think back to a year ago, I realize that amazing progress has happened for my daughter, despite all of my mistakes and my inadequacy for the task. It seems like the tiny droplets of learning do add up when we hang in there and keep trying.


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