by Carol Oseran Starin
Names are important in Judaism. Our names connect us to previous generations, to the Torah, to the Jewish people. Names are our hopes for our children and wishes for who we want them to become.
It used to be the case that all Jewish babies were given Jewish—either Hebrew or Yiddish—names. Ashkenazic Jews named their children after a family member who had died. Sephardic Jews named their children after a living grandparent. But children with Jewish names can no longer be taken for granted. Many of our children come from interfaith homes and don’t have Hebrew names. Other families aren’t very connected to Judaism or Hebrew names weren’t on their radar screens or weren’t important to them at the time their children were born.
Many teachers in Jewish schools want to use their students’ Hebrew names, but find that some students don’t have them. How can you handle this situation sensitively and respectfully? Here’s what some teachers do:
by Joel Lurie Grishaver
To be a little crass, classroom management has both offense and defense. Defense is when we are forced by a situation to create a response. Offense is the atmosphere and framework we set up in class to encourage participation and to set limits. Classical teacher wisdom states, “a teacher should start strict and then loosen up as the year goes on.” Jewish wisdom will teach,” start cheerfully.
A Case Study
This letter came to us via e-mail from a teacher who taught in a one room school house with fourth to seventh graders in the same class.
The class was looking and acting tired so I had everyone pretend to go to sleep and then say the Shema, provided they wake up and sing Modeh Ani to get them moving. They were mostly excited and into it, but a few kids basically didn’t get up when the “alarm” rang. So 75% of the class was singing Modeh Ani, and the others were lying on the floor being difficult. The whole class was looking at me to see what I’d do about it. My instinct was to be hurt and angry that they had taken advantage of my flexibility in lesson planning, but then I tried to smile and ask someone to tap them gently. Eventually they got up but I ended up feeling embarrassed, like I had lost face.
I often bring this case into workshops and ask people to suggest what this first year teacher should do. The single most popular answer is “chocolate.” Many teachers are into bribing the students who respond positively. The next most popular answers all have to do with other (non-food) modalities of positive reinforcement for the students who are behaving. When I got the letter I ask just one question, “Were the problems the twelve year old boys?” I got back a diatribe on all the things these boys and their families do to make this particular teacher’s life uncomfortable. I sent my diagnoses that I will share with you now. “Greet all students at the door as they come in every day.” This may seem over simple, but I will explain. The problem here is a relationship problem. Until she fixes the relationship issue with this group of students one incident after another will occur. But to explain how saying hello fixes things, let’s start with some Jewish thinking.