FRONTAL FREE: In the Car
Dave Smolar is co-founder of Kikayon Productions, creating turn-key solutions for Jewish education. Our “TORAH TIME LIVE!” Parashah Play series is now for sale! From Creation to Mt. Sinai, click on “Our Store” for more!
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I just want to add my voice to the clarion call for teachers to send regular emails to the parents of their students. It’s possible that, while Hebrew school is in session, the most crucial time of the day occurs when the student is in the car, on the way home. The parent justifiably asks, “So, how’d it go/what did you learn/what did they teach today?”
What comes out of the child’s mouth next, if it’s verbal and above a grunt, could serve to make or break your career, the synagogue, and the Jewish people. So this week, I’m strongly suggesting sending emails home to the parents, even if it’s quick, friendly, and scant on detail. Here’s a typical yet nightmarish scenario.
Imagine that, at some point when you’re trying to conduct a nice, provocative conversation in class, a student, either in a bad mood or a sugar low or just wanting to be more active at that moment, will hold against you the fact that you’re not letting them run around outside. Now, you can’t please everybody 100% all the time, but it’s always possible that you’ll respond to this particular student with annoyance when they keep jumping up or throwing things across the room. So just in case your seemingly innocuous teaching method rubs them the wrong way, the child is bound to misrepresent that day’s classroom proceedings, even going so far as to misquote you, exaggerate your reactions to them, and generally create more mayhem than they’d imagine and anyone can afford.
There’s another overarching reason to stay in contact with families. It’s so important for tweeners to feel a part of what’s around them. As you play to these needs by emphasizing how they’re part of the legacy of the Jewish people, the ultimate goal would be to build empathy within the student. While sympathy might mean the child feels good or bad for a person or a story or a situation, empathy occurs when the child feels like they’ve actually been through the same thing being discussed. We recall the traditional sentiment from the Passover seder that we should each feel as if we ourselves had been present at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. This is key to everything I do with kids in class and at home.
To that end, you’ll invariably want them to personalize your lessons by sharing something from their own family or background. You’ll want to tell them to find something that means a lot to them, something with a story attached to it, something unique to their family, something of accomplishment or gravity to them. And the most effective way to get this to happen is to email parents of your plans, and spread those plans over a month or so, thereby giving students 6-8 days of Hebrew school, 6-8 opportunities to remember to bring in the thing and have their story ready to tell. Emails will emphasize the creativity in your method and help parents feel a connection to what’s going on in school.
And make yourself approachable by sending emails. Emails might not be talking to a parent face-to-face, but they are a prime way to connect with parents. Finding your comfort zone might not be easy in an email, as you’re trying to remain professional while not appearing too stiff. But an attitude of kindness will always show through in your writing tone. Coupled with your retelling of the out-of-the-box activity you did and how the kids built on those ideas, your words should endear you to parents and alleviate any concerns.
So if you don’t already, please start sending out emails on a regular basis. It will only take ten minutes or so after class, and it’ll improve relations between kids, parents, teachers, and admins. As you continue to become more creative and allow students to expand on your lessons, emails become a chronicle of classroom activity, a great way to remember what you did that day. They’ll help you recall the past, connect with the present, and plan for your class’ future.