NOTE: This is an article I wrote for our school Newsletter. The article contains my previous blog post "No Words Just Feelings"
I had planned to use my article this week to share with you all of the amazing activities that we did over Chanukah. The spirit in the school and the excitement was really something spectacular to behold. One teacher told me that the students had a really good time and it made learning about Chanukah special. At the same time, as a school principal, educator, and parent, how can I not address the tragedy that occurred last week in Newton, Connecticut. Below is a blog post I wrote Monday morning entitled, “No Words Just Feelings”.
I like many others sat in shock as the news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut hit the airwaves. Since our school is housed in the Jewish Community Center, my first phone call on Friday was to the JCC Building manager to find out if there is anything that we should be aware of. Although we had no school on Friday and our students were not in the building, my thoughts turned towards Monday morning when students would be returning. Over the weekend, I read more and more and read blog posts and stories about modern day heroes and felt a growing need to respond. Late Saturday night, I sent out an email to the faculty asking for their input. I also initiated dialogue with other administrators and professionals, as we are currently a K-7 school with the majority of students 10 year old and younger. Once I had a plan, I sent an email to our parent body as well.
By Monday morning, I had revised my plan of what I was going to say to the students, and sent out an email to the faculty reviewing some basic safety procedures. I was drained and tired, but I thought I was OK. Then came carpool.
One of the highlights on my day (usually) is when I get to greet over 100 smiling students as they come to school. However today was different as my thoughts kept on drifting back to Newton CT. What did those parents think when they dropped off their kids on Friday? Even more moving were the thoughts about what was happening today as parents in Newton CT face a new week. My eyes started to well up and I took a bit more time to actually watch the students as they walked into the building, trying not to think about the unimaginable that for some became reality. As we began our morning routine with the Pledge of Alliance and the singing of Hatikvah and the Israeli national anthem, my eyes filled once again with tears.
There are no words just feelings.
"We must feel the pain of our fellow Americans; we must beseech Hashem (G-D) to end this plague of violence and we must work hard to ensure that all of our own actions are befitting the descendants of Avraham Avinu. (Abraham our Father)" - Rabbi Ron Eisenman
How can we connect this tragedy to the activities and connections we made with our students last week during Chanukah?
I have one possible answer - connecting and caring. Yes, it is a teacher’s job to impart information and ensure that students are given the tools to succeed in the world; however, there is so much more to being an educator. There is that feeling of being entrusted with a responsibilty to educate and enlighten children as well making a personal connection with each of them. Last week during Chanukah, we had a chance to make those connections and relate and interact with our students not by just giving over information but by forging a personal connection.
Many of us have read about the true heroes and heroines in Sandy Hook Elementary who gave up their own lives to save the lives of their students. Why would they risk their lives for their job? Because teachers are more than just vessels that impart information - we connect, we care and we protect.
Today people have access to more information in the palm of the hands through smartphones, ipads, etc.. than can ever be learned or taught. Education is about caring, connecting and inspiring our future leaders, and represents a tremendous opportunity and responsibility.
My family and I lived in Detroit, MI from 1992-1996 and we returned a few years ago to visit old friends. There was a Kiddush that Shabbat for a young family that recently moved in (the wife had grown up there). At the Kiddush, I went over to say hello and realized that I had been the wife’s teacher when we had lived in Detroit. During our conversation, she mentioned that she is now teaching in that same school. Then she added that one of the reasons she became a teacher was that she remembered the parties and Shabbat lunches at my house.
I tell this to you not to pat myself on the back; rather, to illustrate that although learning is the primary objective of education, it will not make an impact on a child unless teachers can forge strong bonds with students and show that them that we care.