Sunday, May 6, 2007

Teacher Appreciation 2007

[These are the remarks I made at this year's Teacher Appreciation Luncheon, on behalf of the P.T.A. It was delivered on March 7th, 2007, which was during the week that we read the Torah Portion of the golden calf. This is long and geared toward an audience of teachers at an Orthodox Jewish day school. A lot of people request copies of it; now I can send a link instead of a file. ]

I’d like to thank all the parent volunteers who made this event possible:
[snipped long list of wonderful volunteers]

I used to have a bad attitude about saying piyutim – those alphabetical liturgical poems sometimes found in the back of the machzor) – especially the “additional piyutim” at mussaf on Yom Kippur. I’d think, “somebody worked out a crossword puzzle a thousand years ago, and I have to stand here -– hungry, remorseful, teeth not brushed, smelling peanut butter on my hands from preparing the kids’ lunch, and try to say these unfamiliar, quirky, enigmatic, difficult words…”

I’d work my tongue around the poetic Hebrew acrostics, grumbling internally: “What is the point of this activity? I’m standing in G-d’s presence, and I’m presenting him with… word games?!”

I though this way, until the meaning behind saying alphabetical piyutim was explained to me. We are supposed to honor and praise HaShem, yet we are incapable of comprehending Him or the magnitude of his impact on our lives. How can we, finite people, clumsily using our limited language, based on imperfect understanding, ever praise or give honor to HaShem, who is infinite, perfect, unlimited, unbounded and beyond definition?

Instead of allowing the realization of our inadequacy to paralyze us, we acknowledge our limitations in the format of a piyut. By confining our expressions to the letters of the aleph bet (or to someone’s name), we allow the format of the praise to give testimony to its insufficiency.
Since the format acknowledges our limits, we are free to put forth our best efforts, without allowing our limits to become a distraction or a stumbling block to prevent us from honoring and praising HaShem.

L’havdil, (but similarly,) we parents use Teacher Appreciation week as a format to acknowledge our limits in expressing our appreciation for what you do for our children and our families. Your impact on our children’s lives is far-reaching beyond our ability to understand, let alone express.

One week is two percent of a year. We are limited to lunches, speeches, and trinkets. We do these things not because we imagine them sufficient to express our thanks or to honor you. Rather, they are a humble representation of our focused best efforts, despite and within
our limitations.

Any non-teaching parent who has run a birthday party begins to get a glimpse of this. Once a year, after months of preparation, we entertain (not teach) a chosen group of motivated children with a relatively favorable adult to child ratio for an hour and a half scheduled at our convenience, with no curriculum requirements or supervision, an outrageous and flexible budget, exciting and enticing refreshments (without input from a Nutrition Committee), the option to delegate or outsource the entire activity, and send them away with goodie bags and
presents instead of homework.

When we’re done, we tell each other we deserve a bubble bath and a glass of wine.

We joke about pre-medicating before volunteering in the classroom, for school events, or recess duty.

And we begin to get a hint of the gift you deliver daily to our children.

Despite ice on windshields, holidays looming, your own family life, and personal struggles, (I’m not going to attempt an alphabetical list…) you incrementally increase our children’s potential every day.

We are called a stiff-necked people no fewer than three times in this week's parsha, as we read the episode of the eggel hazahav – the golden calf. We sinned so greatly, yet we received the gift of HaShem’s greatest lesson – teshuvah - in response.

We were taught this, through our teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu. Without Moshe, our story might have ended with the Eggel Hazahav, at the nadir of our people’s history. Instead, we learned to surpass ourselves – he learned and taught us the 13 attributes, how to access HaShem’s gift of
teshuva, our path forward from darkness and ignorance to light and growth.

Perhaps this is why we call him Moshe Rabbeinu – Moshe our teacher – because this is what a teacher does. A teacher gives the student his future. Moshe taught us – he didn’t design the curriculum, but without his interpretation, his love for bnei Yisroel, his wrestling with his
personal frustrations, we might not have had access to it. He had frustrations, he made errors, he loved us and cared for our future, learned and taught by example, and he believed that this stiff necked people CAN learn and grow.

On behalf of the [name of our school] PTA, I want to thank you for your efforts, for your time, for your frustrations with stiff necked children and stiff necked parents. We thank you for loving our children, believing in their future, and for giving them access to the Torah and the means to use it in their lives. We can’t express it adequately, but please accept Teacher Appreciation Week in the spirit of our best efforts within our limits.

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jerseyteachermom said...

Very nice. Much appreciated. In 20 years of teaching in Yeshivas/day schools, I have never experienced a teacher appreciation week, or even a day. In fact, this year, my first in the particular school I am now teaching, I did not receive an end of the year teacher's gift from the PTA. I was told by my colleagues that the Junior High teachers in our school do not get these end of year gifts. Of course, I gladly chipped in for my children's teachers as the PTA solicited. I have to admit something. While the greatest satisfaction I have experienced this year was born of some very heartfelt and specific thank yous by a few difficult students and some small successes by those who struggled all year, the lack of formal acknowledgment by parents and PTA hurt. Thanks for showing me that others get how difficult the job is even though we teachers absolutely love doing it. Have a great summer.

Juggling Frogs said...

JerseyTeacherMom, your comment breaks my heart.

I wish I had a way of communicating with the parents/PTA at your school. I'm so sorry.

We also don't give the Upper and Middle School teachers a formal class gift from the PTA at our school. Only the Elementary School classes have a formal end-of-year gift. We set it up this way, because the Elementary school teachers have the same class all day, while the Upper and Middle school teachers have many different students in a complicated mixed-up-roster of a schedule. Organizing parents to donate to the teachers separately at the end of the year isn't practical.

However, throughout the year, we do teacher appreciation activities, we have the Teacher Appreciation Week, various lunches, mishloach manot, Hot Cocoa Day, etc. from the PTA.

Are any of your PTA parents approachable? Is there a way you could communicate this to one sensitive PTA volunteer, in an off-the-record way? If you feel this way, then there is likely a whole bunch of teachers who feel similarly. Often, just one sensitized, informed and determined parent can change the atmosphere at a school.

Thank you for all you have done for your students. They need you and your devoted efforts. You are giving them the tools to repair the world.

I just wish I could make this better. {sigh}

jerseyteachermom said...

Thanks so much for your kind words and practical suggestions. I was thinking about approaching someone, but you know how the frum world is--you tell someone, she tells someone and so on and so on. What was it--an Alberto VO5 shampoo commercial? I am getting old. Anyway, I think your post has made it easier for me because I will use it--minus my comment--to show the PTA Presidents what a great idea teacher appreciation week or some form of it is. I am a parent at this school too, after all. I will suggest the Hot Cocoa, etc. It's about Spirit and unfortunately many do not get that a school is a small culture in itself. The tone is set from above in so many ways and we can do so many positive things within a school culture in addition to the classroom learning. Yashar Koach to you and to your school! Have a great Shabbos.

Juggling Frogs said...


Our school did not have a huge budget for this, and I'm notoriously frugal, especially with PTA funds. (Hey, after cramping my hands cutting out and sorting 'Boxtops for Education' for hours on end for every dime, how could I waste even one of those dimes on something frivolous?)

It's so important to do this. The parents are modeling hakarat hatov, and respect for the teachers.

Even something free, like plastering the school with educational quotes on regular paper, makes a difference.

If there is any way I can be helpful, please don't hesitate to have the PTA leadership (or one interested parent) contact me.

All the best,

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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