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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’m not proud of it, no sir. Therefore, before the world, I shall confess. After these many years of teaching and tutoring, I am most suspicious of the kid who always volunteers to erase the board.

Not to be completely misanthropic, but keep in mind that empathy is a learned, and not congenital, trait. So a child who perpetually volunteers to do some chore in the classroom is not one I emphatically trust. I’d even go so far as to say that they’re doing it for, dare I say, ulterior motives.

Then again, you’ll never know what those motives are until you give into them, no? So I let them erase the board, or clean the papers off the carpet, rearrange books, what have you. And they do it until the day they take liberties, i.e. turnarounds.

I turn around, and there’s the kid:

  • sharpening every pencil down to a nib;

  • erasing the board after I’ve filled it with info for the next project;

  • putting their feet on the desk, leaning their chair precariously back on 2 legs;

  • making countless suggestions for improving the environs, including offering to open a window, close a window, move the thermostat, make paper fans for everyone;

  • and more!

But should I worry about this kid? What do they really want, overall, holistically? They want attention, sure, but also recognition of some sort, maybe even a closer relationship with the teacher. I usually see the repeated behavior as a cry from a student who feels they’re not going to be noticed for the usual expected classroom interactions, like raising your hand and having something cogent to say. So they’ve practically given up on participating and think I’ll give them equal standing for doing some light cleaning around the room.

They’re wrong.

I’m not upset when they offer to help. I’m pleased, I encourage it, and I share my gratitude. And I certainly don’t consider the kid to be rude or duplicitous or even cavalier in expecting me to fawn over them just because they’re tidying up. In fact, I figure that if they want to be noticed, and they want to be put to work, I’ll make them an example.

Stop the class 5 minutes before the end of the day. Announce that they have 5 minutes to clean up. And put the eraser kid in charge. Then sit back and watch.

Do it every class for a week, a month. And watch the eraser like a hawk. Sometimes, they’ll become proud of their leadership role, which in turn might get them in better standing with their classmates, despite their possibly falling behind in their studies. Because when that kid connects with another who knows what they’re doing, suddenly they become a chevrutah, and voilà!, you’ve solved another problem.

Sometimes, though, the eraser doesn’t like the attention drawn to them. They want your confidence, not the spotlight. Gradually, you might see them regress from helper mode and maybe even start finding reasons to leave the room, e.g. bathroom, water fountain, left my _____ downstairs and my parents will kill me if I don’t get it.

I let them go. I don’t stop the class. And if they’re finding joy in finding success in avoiding the classroom, that’s when my boss tells the parents, and we try to conference to find the source of the kid’s behavior and how to amalgamate them into the room again.

It’s all for the best, in the end. The eraser doesn’t really bother anyone with their cry for help and acceptance, and if I let it go and see where it leads, it almost always leads to the kid find the appropriate way to handle their particular situation, or properly articulate on their particular complaint. Heaven knows I was an eraser kid for a while years ago, that is, until I ran into the teacher who saw through me. But I survived, persevered, graduated…and his chalkboard never looked better.

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