Showing posts from 2012

Positive Reinforcement

Sometimes the silliest things make us happy.

The school I work in takes report cards very seriously. Let me make that really clear: The school I work in takes report cards very seriously. I had never seen anything like it before, and it hit me like a ton of bricks on a clear day the first time I had to write them.

When I was in school, I got an "A+" (most of the time...) and a little footnote "1" for "pleasure to have in class" and "23" for "too talkative". That was it. Clean and simple. Probobly took a grand total of thirty minutes for a teacher to fill in the appropriate letters and numbers. Oh yes, there was an option to add an additional comment on the back, but there was never more than a scentance or two between my 20-odd teachers.

Anyways, the report cards I have to write are from a different planet entirely. Here's a sample...
Yah. Intense. The part that didn't make it onto the screen (!) was a course descriptor I wr…

Make learning compulsory and attendance optional.

When I first started teaching, I modelled my style after a favourite High School teacher of mine. Like me, she was young, with-it and taught Jewish History. Thing is, she didn't quite have the best classroom management techniques. She prepared short lessons, designed to fill only 1/2 to 3/4 of the allotted time. Then we'd gather 'round her desk and chat. Sometimes she didn't prepare at all. None of us minded. We felt very close to Ms. Young - we were her first students ever, we celebrated her engagement, wedding and the birth of her first child throughout the four years she taught us. But I was never scared of her. Not the slightest. My head told me that I ought to be modelling after my Math teacher instead. Mrs. Math was scary! We did our homework nightly (though it meant schlepping home a textbook and notebook), studied hard for our weekly tests and were silent as the grave in the classroom. There was a stretch when I tutored a fun-loving classmate for a few months - …

Yummy and Healthy

"Lollies," my son fondly stated, "we can only eat one. It's not healthy."

I could almost hear a deep sigh. Such trauma for a three year old. He wasn't finished. Daniel had prepared an entire thesis on the subject that he was preparing to expound on the topic, right there, in the back seat of the car.

"Some foods are yummy, but they are not healthy."

Yes, my son, such is life...

"We can only eat them on Shabbos. Like lollies and cookies."

"Daniel," I asked him, "What about strawberries? Are strawberries a treat?"

"Yah." a little wag of the finger accompanied the next injunction. "But only one."


"It's not healthy."

The laughter bubbled up inside of me, but I squeezed down the lid to maintain a straight face.

"Sweetie, strawberries are yummy AND healthy."


"What about watermelon?"

"Yes, honey, watermelon is healthy."

He thought he could …

Experienced and Sparkling

The girls simply sparkled that night! They wore white caftans speckled with a shimmery gold design that glittered and sparkled in the reflection of the disco lighting above. Though I only taught a sprinkling of them, my heart sang, dance and cheered them on. An entire grade put on the most beautiful production, with their topics of learning interwoven between sparkly scenes of drama, music and dance. Truly an event to make a teacher's heart sing with nachas.

It was endearing to watch the girls as they bit their nails, threatened to throw up/faint and just plain freaked out in the wings. "I feel like we haven't rehearsed enough!" Shainy* confided as she waited for her cue.

Their sweet nervousness over a short-lived performance cast my mind back to my first days of teaching. I was never prepared enough. There was always one more source to look up and one more worksheet to write. Ah, the sparkly confidence that piggie-backs on four years experience... Lessons that I t…

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

It could take a good two, three hours to prepare a solid 45-minute lesson. What about when you up the ante? After researching, writing the lesson, preparing worksheets and a follow up quiz, I decided that my Jewish History lesson on the life of Shlomo ibn Gabirol needed some more pizazz. It was late enough, trust me, but the perfectionist in my soul must've had a good dose of coffee because there I was, enhancing the lesson.

I gave my eyes a vigorous rub, and clocked in another hour or two to create the slideshow, animation, or interactive activity that would really help my students take home the learning in a very real, long-term way. (Amen!)

If you are lucky, you teach two parallel classes and can use the same lesson twice. And then it's over. All the materials get filed away neatly (I wish!) into a binder or digital folder and hibernate for another year.

What's the point? I spend all this time in resource creation, and it gets used once. Shoin.

So I think about sharin…

Squeaky Clean on Shabbos Morning

The children dawned before the sun that fateful day. I rubbed my bleary eyes and schlepped my aching muscles out of bed. No point in two of us being zombies, I figured. I shut the door behind me, leaving DH in his nice, comfy bed. I gathered up the children, and together we dined and played for nearly two hours.

By 7:15, I realized that I was squinting at the clock through bleary eyes. I held on until 7:30, then gratefully headed back to bed, "your turn!"


At a quarter to nine, DH came in to tell me that he was on his way to shul. "Don't worry, I'm getting up." The little ones came in a few times, tried to cajole me out of bed. I sent them off for a banana, Lego, crackers, anything really, and rolled over. At one point, he asked me to open a bottle of long-life milk, and I told him they could unpack the box into the shelf.

At 9:38 (!) I heard some strange noises. "Is she ok?" I asked the big brother. No response. Yikes! I rushed out, cau…


Have a lookie over at my new page. I've posted a slideshow I made to show in the classroom tomorrow. Parsha Class.  If you'd like to use the original file shoot off a quick email.

Catch you later,
"Red-rover Elana, red-rover, Dina. Batya started so Elana came. Elana started maybe."

The chanting grew louder, quicker tempo. "Red-rover Elana, red-rover, Dina. ..."

What were they on?

I peered over the top of my scuffed list and stared at the girls in front of me. There were five of them now, enthusiastically chanting a string of nonsense. "Can't I study in here? There's a quiz in a few minutes!"

"But we are studying!" they retorted and continued with the inane chanting.
Or so I thought.

My classmates had discovered the Magic of Mnemonics.

Fast forward a few years.

I am at the door of my Jewish History classroom, test piles tucked under my arm, when I hear it. Strange tunes being repeated, from one girl to the next. I listen closely - those words sound familiar. Ah, of course. They are studying for my test. A surge of pride electrifies me. I've made it! I've presented my students with a course of study serious enough to promp…

She was dancing before she could walk

My little one buggied and cheered through her morning music session. She totally digged the instruments - shakers, triangles, tambourines, you name it. She went through them one by one.

Most importantly, she walked across the room to retrieve those items. I find it intriguing to note that only when she really, really, REALLY wants something, when there is an all-important (fill in the blank) then she'll go for it. She hardly notices that she is walking. And that's when she makes her best efforts.

A Test of Integrity

I tapped my foot impatiently. The bell had already rung, and the other class would need all the time they could get. 'Thorough Student' hurriedly scanned her last sheet, and gave me a sheepish grin as she handed in her test paper. At last!

I hurried up the aisle, set to gather my materials and head into the next lesson. And stopped. Two students from the other class, Dafna* and Miriam* were reading something in the front of the classroom. I could almost feel the niggling question mark hovering in front of them. As I neared my desk, the corners of my mouth turned down into a grimace, a frown, and then a terribly astonished face. I actually felt this transformation, bit by bit.

The girls sensed me approach and guiltily fled the room.

What to do?
What to do?
I slowly piled the completed test papers and made my way into the hall. What to do? I met a teacher on the way, and whispered my dilemma. "I would fail them," she recommended, "just a full-out zero." I c…

A Finger-full of Fresh Values

A visit to the emergency room should be enough to give a mom a fresh perspective on life and fill her with gratitude on account of her family's good health.

My initiation that fateful Monday was emotionally taxing. It is a rite of parenting, they tell me, but it took at least a full week of chiropractor visits, sick days from work, tehillim, public weeping spells, countless emails and probing phone calls for me to recover. It was a minimalist Shabbos, just challah and tuna, and most often I was curled up on the couch or rejuvenating undercover.

By the next week I was sufficiently back to normal. When friendly/curious/nosey people queried after her finger, I was honestly responding, "she's fine, B"H. Its just a cast, it doesn't bother her at all." At that point, it wasn't bothering me either.

Then Thursday dawned. Time to trek back to the hospital... I decided to travel by public transport, and I'm glad I did, since I was able to write the next segme…

On a Guilt Trip

The moment I pulled the car into park, Guilt knocked on my door. Actually, she just barged in unannounced.

"You should have picked up Daniel!" she accused.

I reached out to switch the car back on. A quick look at the clock told me it was a futile effort. 12:28, the little guy would already be nestled in his cot by the time I'd arrive. Waking him and transferring him to the car would spell the end of this nap time. Been there, done that. The result? Frustrated mother. Sort of defeats the purpose of early pick-up, if you ask me.

So I snapped up Mussy's coat and headed into the house with a clear conscious. Well, almost.

Guilt wasn't quite through with me yet, "Then you should leave a few minutes earlier!"


Why do I go through this again and again? As soon as my work hours have ended, I speed out of school fueled by Guilt.

Why do I feel like a bad mother if I am not mothering all day? Why do I feel a need to be constantly ON? Maybe it's a good t…

My Flame: two perspectives

Large red flames dance towards the heavens. As they cavort about, I wonder. What is the fire in my life? Where is my passion? Where is my focus? A fire is concentrated light. It is a force to be reckoned with. I want some of that energy in my life!

Lag B'omer is a mystical day. A celebration of the passing of the Rashbi. Really? To celebrate death?

But the Rashbi is about light, life and whisperings of the soul. The Rashbi helped access those secret whisperings of G-dliness and bring them to the light of day. I need more of that in my life. I need the oil of Torah's inner dimensions to fan my flames and keep me going. I need more Chassidus.

The highlight of the day was visiting a real bonfire. My son expressed concern about fire, so we spoke about good and bad fires all day long. Actually, we've been preparing for this day for months with these sorts of discussions.

While frying eggs: "It's fire, Mama!"
While lighting Shabbos candles: "Don't touch th…

Young Avraham

They finally convinced me. My students asked several times for permission to watch the Young Avraham Animation Film. This would be during class time, naturally. Though I was personally interested in seeing the film, I was rather reluctant to give up class time for it. Trust me, it was worth it.
Avraham's birth

A video captures the heart in a way that it is hard for text to emulate. Videos speak to an emotional level; texts to the intellect. Young Avraham really brings the medrashim to life. We watched the video after learning the material, so the girls' questions were based on the material they had studied. I only wish there was a viewers guide listing the meforshim the film is based on. I would love to use that as my curriculum, then highlight our learning with the final viewing. Alternatively, we could watch and query (as they were) and WRITE DOWN the questions. Then, they should be motivated enough by their own curiosity to research the answers on their own.

Theory aside, t…

Four More Questions

1. Why is this student different from all other students?
2. How does one tolerate her incessant queries?
3. How could I diffuse her classmates' frustration?
4. What can I, personally, gain out of this experience? [Credit to Rochi and Rivki]

Shoshi* is in Seder-mode all year long. She doesn't miss a thing and questions every detail of my lecture until it is absolutely clear to her. Most teachers and classmates are bothered by her endless queries. Not me. She charmed me on day one with the most gorgeous smile ever, so I am completely won over. Besides, I admire her sincerity (and focus!).

Pirkei Avot teaches that the shy student will not learn (לא הבישן למד). I've seen it time and again. Students are too often afraid to raise their hands. I wonder about it...

Perhaps they are lacking poker chips that day and are afraid of sounding dumb. I've tried to assure students that asking is harmless, to no avail. Teachers may be known for giving pat answers, or simply missing the …

The Same Path

I walked from the main building to the school's entrance twice today. The first time as a teacher, the second time as a student. Well, to be totally accurate I was chatting with my collegue, but as I was seeking her advice it was more of a mentoring situation.

This morning Vicki* brought me to the art room (located near the entrance) to show me her canvas-in-progress. Vicki is a student in my 11th grade Chumash class. This is my third year teaching her, so I already knew that she would have a hard time remaining focused. I also knew that she liked to doodle in her notebooks. Two years ago, I encouraged her to take illustrated notes during my lessons. I just wanted her to have an idea of what was going on in class, really. At the end of the year, Vicki wrote a lovely note thanking me for "encouraging [her] artistic side".

When I saw Vicki's name on my class list, I knew what my action plan would be. Vicki would research the details of Noach's Taivah (Noah's Ar…

Like Mother, Like Daughter

It was two and a half hours of one family after the next. Some mothers came alone, other parents came as couples and still others brought their daughters along. It was parent-teacher evening, one of the most tiring yet most productive events in the school calendar.

"Esther* has a hard time staying focused..." my voice trailed off.  I smiled a sad smile as I watched the mother's eyes wander off to the corner of the room. My audience had lost focus. 
Like mother, like daughter.
Does she stand a chance?

Family connections are a funny thing. Students are regularly compared to their siblings (and mothers!). Younger sisters are often "figured out" before they've had a chance to prove themselves one way or another. It is almost expected that they will have similar scholastic and social abilities.

The funny thing is, I don't see it. Last year I taught two sisters concurrently, but I did not uncover their familial relationship until parent-teacher evening. I finishe…

The Joy of Writing

I sat down on a long winter night
And watched as my tasks piled up to great height
I let the pen in my hand just flow
Will it go fast of maybe quite slow?

Then a saying popped right into my mind
It shattered my thiughts and its message did blind.
הלשון הוא פולמוס הלב “the pen is the tongue of the heart”
Let’s look at that line and pull it apart:

To me it does mean that when I sit here like this
With a pen and paper, overflowing with a writing bliss
Really what’s flowing on all these lines,
Is what’s lying in my heart much deeper than coalmines.
Then when the words quickly fill till room there’s no more,
I could understand what the tool called writingis really for:

To express what lays deep down within
And letting it out as if pokingwith a pin
To tell you my most deepest thoughts
And fill it all up till we’ve filled all the spots

Shoelaces and yiddishkeit

It was ten minutes into the lesson. The door creaked open as two girls headed apologetically towards the back of the room, "Sorry, Mrs. Shore* just dismissed us."

Rochi* looked frustrated. Mrs. Shore is an opinionated teacher, always sure of herself, who excels at lecturing her students into oblivion. Rochi is a thinker. She always has her own perspectives and is not too shy to share them.

They must have had another confrontation.

"What's up, Rochi?"
"Have you heard of this shoe thing?"
"Tell me"
"I mean, who cares which way I tie my shoes?!?"

I allowed myself a small smile. "Interesting. The shoe-tying business reminds me of a fascinating story. There was a young boy in a Gan Yisroel camp..."

I love watching how their ears perk up at the promise of a story. The actual story is irrelevant, as is the whole how-to-tie my shoe business. What really grabbed me was how the rest of the lesson panned out.

I knew there must be a …

To quench the thirst

"I have a headache" "Did you drink too much?" "No, I didn't drink enough."
Purim was lovely, thank you for asking. We spent several hours driving around to extended family members to share the simcha. Each stop was only a few minutes and followed a similar script:

"Look who's here!" "What a darling duck costume / princess crown." "Say cheese! Snap, snap. [Pass around Shaloch Manos packet] "Have a lovely day!"
Then, we'd walk back to the car and buckle up the babies. I would gratefully sink in to my seat... and then the pounding would commence. "I forgot to ask for water again!" We had a whole laundry basket full of packages to distribute in the back seat. There were forty cans of soda, but not one bottle of water. 
Why do we spend so money on junk food and forget about fruit/veges/water? Hey, if you're giving a basket full of chocolates you can count me in! But bamba, chips, pretzels... not my …

Menorah: just on time

"There are images of dragons carved into the base."

"The steps are attached!"

"The branches are curved."

My year eight Jewish History class was examining the details on the Menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus. After listing the various descriptions on the board, we turned to a posuk describing the original Menorah.

I read the source aloud, "יוצאים מצידי-ה" I read the source aloud, then paused. "Hang on, what parsha is it this week?"

"Terumah!" they chorused.

Wow! Talk about timing...

The posuk we were referencing was in this week's Parsha!! That was just too perfect. Hence, I have a wee little Dvar Torah to post here.

What was the shape of the Menorah' branches? Huge debate. Rashi described the branches as protruding from the center of the Menorah at a diagonal. In his words, "לכאן ולכאן באלכסון". Rambam concurred with this view in his famous sketch of the Menorah. His son, Avraham, explained that his fath…

My Mayonnaise Jar

Ever tried scooping the dregs of mayonnaise out of the jar? Never fun. Some useful techniques are spoons, spatulas or turning the jar upside down so gravity can work in your favor.  Technique Two requires a bit more time, but saves dinner every day. Just grab the vinegar, olive oil and some spices and turn an "empty jar" into a gold mine!

Dietitians hate it, men love it... it's the  mayonnaise-based dressing. Preparing a salad is part of my daily dinner preps, so having a dressing handy is a great bonus. I'll give you the official recipe that I follow, though I generally just pour 'till I'm bored. Turns out different (but yummy) each time.

1/2 cup mayonnaise  1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 tsp. lemon juice (vinegar is a good substitute) 2 Tb sugar (I usually skip) Freshly crushed or powdered garlic salt and pepper to taste Oregano or 2 Tb soy sauce*
*This dressing is really a two-for-one. If you want Caesar Salad Dressing, use the Oregano. If you'd prefer a diffe…

Australian Words (part one)

Australians use the word nappy for diaper. When D was little I insisted on calling it diaper. Since he started creche (there's another word!) Australian words are slowly creeping into his speech, and mine by extension.

At first I thought the word nappy was related to the word napkin. You know, keeping clean and all.

Then I noticed another new Aussie word: serviette (pronounced so-vee-eht). Serviette is the British term for napkin, adopted from the original French. Sounds rather glamorous for a piece of disposable cloth, I would think. Formally, the napkin is the term employed by the upper class, whilst serviette was firmly lower or middle class. Funny, no? To my American ears serviette sounds more pretentious than the plain napkin. I've heard people call it serviette'kah, but that is just a yiddishism for the originally French word.

Either way, serviettes, napkins and diapers all serve to keep my children clean and home tidy. Who cares what they are called, so long as the…