NLE Resources invites rabbis and educators from around the world to contribute guest posts. Here’s a insightful blog posted, cross-posted from YUHSChinuchCommunity.org. It is penned by Rabbi Moshe Schochet, a Rebbe at Weinbaum Yeshiva High School, in Boca Raton, Florida.
A question that seems to always surface both internally and with other educators is: “what exactly is the role of a Jewish educator outside of the classroom and more importantly outside of school?” It is very obvious that effective teachers play a vital role in the classroom. We are there not only to impart critical knowledge but to hopefully inspire our students through meaningful and impactful dialogue to lead observant lives. I think that it is equally clear, that we have a responsibility to our students outside the classroom as well. What is much more ambiguous is attempting to identify what exactly that role is.
For example, if a teacher is in the mall and sees his or her student engaged in behavior that is not consistent with Halacha, how does one proceed? Is it appropriate for the teacher to approach the student at that very moment? Is it right for the teacher to speak to the student in school when the scenario took place outside of school hours? If the teacher decides not to say anything, what type of message will be conveyed to that student? Will the student interpret the lack of response as some sort of approval by the teacher? Will the student be disappointed if the “awkward” situation is never addressed? These are all really difficult questions…
As Jewish educators, we went into this profession to help our students recognize their academic and “religious” potential and to assist them in bringing that potential to fruition. We try through genuine and authentic discussions to communicate to our students that Torah Judaism is not just confined to the walls of the school. Our observance encompasses our life, from how we tie our shoes to what we are allowed to eat and everything in between. Just as all meaningful relationships require constant attention, our relationship with Hashem needs our ongoing participation as well. As I tell my students, Judaism is not a spectator sport!
I think that conversations between teachers and students about “life outside of school” must be addressed. These interactions obviously must be well thought out before being verbalized, but are integral to Jewish education. However, we can’t speak “to” our students; instead we must speak “with” our students. Students can and will be receptive to our thoughts and perspectives (and sometimes even constructive criticism); they just need to sense that those who are sharing it with them care deeply about them and are not simply trying to give them mussar. As a school guidance counselor, I have heard from so many kids how much they desire rules. Students have looked back and have articulated that rules that parents and teachers “enforced”, communicated to them how much they cared.
Do we have a role outside the confines of the school? In my opinion, YES! However, what needs to be considered is how to go about it. An effective communicator must know his or her audience. They have got to be able to evaluate if they are the right person to speak with that particular student. We are absolutely required to address our students with the utmost respect, dignity and care in order to be successful. In my experiences (and with many educators who I have spoken with about this issue), it is those important conversations that have concretized some of the longest lasting relationships that I have had with some of my students. Nevertheless, it is certainly easier said than done!