Dealing With Authority In Our Schools

Q: I have mixed feelings about my son’s fifth-grade rebbi. I don’t feel he is a good fit for my son. I don’t have the option of transferring him to another class and want to help my son succeed with this rebbi. I would appreciate your input.


A: In our generation, those who teach are those who truly desire to toil in the field of chinuch. The chinuch arena is very stressful, and those who want to remain “klei kodesh” are sincere in their motivation.

It is crucial for the parents, rebbi and talmid to work together as a team, as everyone’s main goal is the child’s success and wellbeing. Parental cooperation empowers the mechanech  to use the tools and skills at his disposal to help the child. Knowing that he has the support of his talmid’s parents will bolster his confidence and allow him to better engage the child.

However, even the most capable and motivated mechanech cannot be expected to acquire and master all the tools and methodology that may prove useful in the classroom. Although teacher training is more available nowadays, many schools do not have on-site support and training due to the excessive financial strain they operate under.

Clearly, our goal as parents is not to merely maintain the “status quo” when a situation is problematic. Advocating change is often necessary. However, sometimes change cannot occur, and we need to help our children work within their given circumstances.

Occasionally, a rebbi and a talmid simply don’t click. In such a situation, teaching a child excellent coping skills is perhaps one of the greatest gifts one can give him. Parents can offer encouragement to their child by explaining that one can learn and grow from all types of personalities. Someday the child may have to deal with all types of incompatible personalities, be it a boss, a colleague, a neighbor, et al, and this early lesson will be helpful in developing strategies to succeed in future relationships.

However, an extremely incompatible student-teacher relationship can have a traumatic effect on a child, and must be dealt with promptly. This is a sensitive issue, as emotions, sense of self-worth, and reputation all come into play. Rather than give way to irritation over the perceived limitations of a school or a teacher, parents should be proactive and explore what options are available to help their child. They need to communicate appropriately with members of the school’s administration and staff and be specific with praise and complaints(whenever possible). If criticism is offered in an overly harsh manner, staff members may become uncooperative. When parents give way to resentment and overt criticism of a school’s authority figures, children are often quick to pick up on this and mirror their parents’ attitude. In extreme cases, they can become disrespectful towards religious authority figures. A parent cannot afford to compromise the already limited emunas chachamim that exists in our generation. In colloquial parlance, parents need to work out their “issues” with authority figures themselves and not allow their negativity to spill over into their interactions with their children.

We need to daven for siyatta diShmaya to make the correct choices so that our hishtadlus to help our children should be sufficient and they should continue to grow successfully in the ways of the Torah.