This weekend I was back east keynoting a beginning of the year teacher’s conference. My reward was a chance to spend an hour with the madrikhim (high school teaching aides) that were at the conference. A few observations before I tell you the story. We had the usual “Jewish” percentages, twenty or so girls, three boys. We had eighth graders but no seniors. I doubt that there were many juniors. Fourteen of the twenty-five came from one school, about six from another. About two thirds of these kids were tutors, not classroom assistants. Many of the remaining kids work as “shadows” for students with special needs.
Now, here is where the real learning comes in. Few of these kids have had “bad” experiences they could recall from Jewish education. The most interesting confession was Josh who admits that the problem was what he had missed by attending his congregational school. Likewise, there are few succinct good experiences in their Jewish education. When we look at what they have had to say, most of the good experiences and most of the bad experiences have been teachers. Sometimes groups of kids, but most of the time, teachers. The surprise answer, however, was that these kids who have given up chunks of their own limit free time to work as madrikhim, have no great memories of madrikhim. They have no bad memories of madrikhim, either. The madrikh, for them, was the guy who sat on the window still bored while the teacher taught. I suspect that is not unique.
All of a sudden, I threw out the rest of my workshop and begin talking about how their work as a madrikh or madrikhah can change the way their teacher teaches, and change the way their teachers work with them in the classroom. Here are the things I taught them.