Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Days of Jewish Juvenescence

Juvenescence, a synonym for 'School Age'
Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.1.1)

Meryl Yourish is writing about her experiences teaching (Hallmark’s got nothin’ on my students), which gave me the idea of digging up a couple of my memories from teaching. I taught for 11 years in a Jewish Day School that followed the Open Classroom philosophy, and had only enough walls to keep the ceiling from falling. Out of curiousity, I once timed how long it took the 1st - 8th grades to do a fire drill, and because of the way the school is structured, it took less than 30 seconds. There's also an electrical socket on the outside of the Aron Kodesh, which I always thought provided an interesting symbolism.

I remember during my first year I was walking down the long staircase that passed by 4 different grades, and saw 2 fourth grade boys handcuffed to each other. There they were in the grade area, walking around handcuffed to each other, with other students and teachers in the area. I had been teaching there for about 4 or 5 months, and I think it was a credit to my ability to adapt to the nature of the school that I was not the least bit surprised--but just a tiny bit curious. I had to get to the bottom of it.

Me: Are those real handcuffs?
One of the two boys: Yes.
Me: Well, where's the key?
The same boy: My mommy has it. But that's OK--he has to come to my house tonight anyway...

I didn't teach them and lost track of them. After a while I forgot who they were. But I made a point every year at graduation to keep an eye out. I can assure you that when the 8th grade graduating class entered the auditorium walked to the stage, not once were any of the students handcuffed to each other.

I guess his mommy did have the keys afterall.


One year I was assisting the 6th grade Chumash teacher--taking out students who needed some one-to-one to catch them up on a topic. One day, when I was walking by in the back of the area, one of the students motioned me over. She did not understand one of the words in the Chumash and asked me what it meant. The word was 'slav'--quail. I figured that being a teacher, I was not going to just give her the answer outright, and being that the president at the time was George Bush Sr., I instead asked her, "Well, what is the name of the Vice President." I figured that was a good hint, assuming she was up on her Social Studies.

In response, she looked at me, her eyes wide and whispered, "it means idiot!?"

I mentioned this to her mother at the Parent-Teacher conferences, and she assured me that they didn't discuss politics at home. Maybe that was the problem.


Once a week we had teacher conferences. Towards the latter half of the year there were more and more discussions about helping students getting into High School. One time I remember the principal was concerned about how to write a recommendation for a particular girl. She was a shy, quiet student--whose grades were a little less than average. She had not yet started to hit her stride. I recall the principal agonizing on what kind of recommendation he could write for her. He needed to be able to describe her and her strong points in a way that would make a good impression. I thought a bit and suggested that he use the Boy Scout motto. He looked at me puzzled and asked what I meant, so I recited it for him:

A Boy Scout is:
1. Trustworthy
2. Loyal
3. Helpful
4, Friendly
5. Courteous
6. Kind
7. Obedient
8. Cheerful
9. Thrifty
10. Brave
11. Clean and
12. Reverent

Stunned, the Principal asked me to repeat it why he scribbled it down.

The girl got into the High School she wanted.

Lots of good memories from those years.

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