Wake-Up Call

I just read the excellent roundtable in Hamodia with Menahalim in regards to reopening our yeshivos. There was a lot of wisdom there.

I wanted to share my perspective as a mother of mostly daughters.

Dear Teachers,

Firstly, thank you. Thank you for prerecording many lessons, talking to the walls with so much energy and without even getting feedback from your students.

Thank you to the teachers who used live systems and gave each girl a chance to speak up, ask questions and engage.

Thank you for taking the time to create and email Yom Tov sheets!

Most of all, thank you for doing whatever you did while managing your own homes and families.

Some of my children’s schools have already opened. I admit that I was quietly worried about the transition back.

My children had spent nine weeks taking notes while sitting on pillows in their room or putting phones on speaker and walking around the house … it was learning but quite a different kind. Could they be plopped into seats again with three bathroom passes, and 15-minute breaks every two hours?

The night before they left for school, I davened harder than I ever had. I knew this was a situation where you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. I davened that the teachers they so loved would help them along.

I have four children currently in school. One in high school, two in a Bais Yaakov elementary, and one in cheder.

I gave tzedakah as they left the house that they be matzliach, much as I try to do on any first day of school.

My son came back ecstatic. The Rebbi took the first hour to hand out prizes to every kid for all the learning programs. Then he told stories about the boys and how they stretched beyond limits. Then they davened. Then they learned for about a half hour. Then they had a short break and learned some more. Then they had a little grape juice and cake to celebrate the zechus to learn Torah in person. … It was the most uplifting and exciting day!

My next daughter came in thrilled, too! Her teacher had spent the first hour asking the middle-school girls to share what their best moments in quarantine were and what some challenges were. She asked about how they found the remote learning. Then they learned and then she did a quick chazarah game and kept it light. She gave the girls opportunity to socialize, and pointed out how our lack of face-to-face made us realize the value of classmates.

The next child came in, also elementary, and was a tad less excited. Her teacher had told them that the first day back sets the routine and dove right in to learning. No conversation. What a lost opportunity to learn about talmidos — who were so eager to connect and to share! At dismissal, when she asked the girls if they were happy to be back — the response was lukewarm. Chaval.

My high school daughter came back in tears. “One day. Three periods. And two tests scheduled. Wow.”

She, too, experienced a first period where the teacher said, “Let’s continue like prerecorded lessons — let’s not get into chit-chat,” and taught with little engagement. Then she scheduled a test.

The next teacher thankfully came in saying, “I’ll teach for 15 minutes and then we will talk about your experiences for 30 minutes.”

The girls felt so understood. So heard.

The last teacher came in saying, “I’m sure you all discussed your experiences with other teachers so you have heard it all. Let’s not waste more time.” She taught. And again scheduled a test. The girls happen to have not discussed much about their experiences, but even if they had — she hadn’t heard them. Didn’t she want to learn more about her students?

I felt sad as I quietly listened. I told my daughter that probably just as she wasn’t sure how it would go, the teachers were just as confused too.

My daughter felt angry and misunderstood. “Ma, we sat through days of ‘Can anyone hear me?!’ on hotlines, and we did more than our best. I really thought these teachers cared, but today they proved that they don’t think about us, because if they thought about us and our experiences, they would know that you can’t expect to come back day one and teach as usual, and test on material you taught on lines that were forever crackling. Oh and mind you, she could have shared her experiences and what she learned, so we could learn that way.”

She was crying so hard that I knew there had to be something there, and I probed.

“Ma, I really believed they cared about us. I really did. And I kinda still do. But how do you come in and pretend half the grandparents didn’t die, and five kids had siblings’ weddings in backyards, and the rest of us sat in cramped apartments with a million kids and no place to be?! I’m not a teacher, but when I met a friend I didn’t see in three months my first order of business would be to at least ask politely how are you? How was your quarantine? Kinda like how was your Yom Tov. Is that too much for a teacher? And if I, a teen, has to tell them that, well, Ma, that makes me cry so hard because I want them to teach me, not me teach them. That’s not normal.”

I know I will get flack from many for writing this because we should be only expressing hakaras hatov, and I should realize that teachers can make mistakes. It’s true. But there are mistakes made that have a very heavy price. This is one of them.

I write this since many of our girls’ schools have not yet opened, and I hope this will be the wake-up call that is needed.

And I would love to hear from our girls’ principals as to how they are preparing their staffs and how they would respond to a scenario like this.

* Mrs. Klein is a devoted mother of a young family who lives in the greater New York area. She is using a pseudonym in order to protect the anonymity of the parties she is describing.

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