Thanksgiving, Then and Now

When I was a child, my association with Thanksgiving consisted of symbolic gestures, like hand-traced turkeys and the annual kindergarten re-enactment of first Thanksgiving. (For the record, I played the part of an Indian, which, considering my temperament at the time, now seems apt.) Over time, these associations changed and became physical – the neighborhood game of flag football, raking leaves, my mother’s stuffing. But now, as an adult, I want more. I want more than just Black Friday and the Macy’s parade and the NFL. I’m searching for a new association, a new meaning. And I think I’ve discovered it through the eyes of Governor William Bradford. Continue reading

Ten things I learned while flying

I usually find air travel a nuisance – crowded cabins, interminable lines, and unavoidable TSA pat-downs. But flying back east the other day for a family visit, I actually found the experience educational. About halfway through the three-hour journey, the teacher in me started to notice similarities between flying and learning, two experiences that seem worlds apart but actually share quite a bit in common. My top ten discoveries: Continue reading

Getting Kids Passionate About Prayer

I watched silently as two dozen 4th graders trickled into my classroom, dropped their backpacks by the wall, and obediently took their places. Time for our daily morning ritual: the feigned prayer. The scene doesn’t draw much attention from passersby; it’s easy to miss the mechanic looks on the children’s faces or the way their bodies seem to sink into their seats. The optics can be deceiving. My students sing along. They have their fingers on the place. Most of them even read the words aloud, some with great devotion. But I know better. My students are present and absent, all at once. There may be a rhythm to their singing, a familiar ring to their cadence and beat. But beneath that façade lies a starker feeling, one that is at once apprehensive, mystified and defeated. When morning tefillah rolls around, I get the feeling that my students are ready to leave just as soon as they arrive. Their siddurim are open, but their hearts are closed. Continue reading

What teachers can learn from Lincoln

He presided over the most tumultuous period in United States history, blazed a path for freedom and human dignity, and shaped a new vision for a still-young union. One hundred and fifty years after his death, Abraham Lincoln looms larger than life, a man who, according to former British prime minister David Lloyd George, “was such a giant figure that he loses his nationality in death.” What can 21st century educators learn from a 19th century president? Continue reading

The Hurried Teacher

If a tree falls in a forest…would teachers even notice? Today’s pressure-cooker schools have made our students more hurried than ever before. Over-scheduled and over-worked children are breathlessly chasing elusive goals, as the powerful film Race to Nowhere documented. That, of course, needs to stop. But I’m also worried about how hurried teachers have become. I should know – I’m one of them. In almost a decade of classroom teaching, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel hurried. Hurried to make lesson plans. Hurried to grade homework or assessments. Hurried to make the most of an instructional minute. I am hardly alone. I see colleagues dashing off in different directions, moving at a frenzied, frenetic pace. But we probably don’t even realize. We are all probably too busy running to realize that we’re rushing. Continue reading

Let’s talk about God – in class

It’s fashionable these days to question the future of Jewish education, particularly because of its price tag. Amid much communal hand-wringing over cost and sustainability, day schools have slashed operating budgets, sought efficiencies through cost-sharing, and even pioneered blended learning with hopes of taming the public outcry over affordability. But to some observers, there’s a larger crisis looming, and it doesn’t concern the cost of Jewish education, but its value. What is a Jewish education worth, broadly speaking? What return on investment can parents expect to receive after a dozen years of paying day school tuition? Aside from developing Jewish literacy, knowledge and skills, will students who graduate from our Jewish institutions absorb the value-added elements of belief, commitment and morality? Are educators even conscious of this mandate for meaning? Continue reading