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Jewish World Review
Sept. 3, 2008
/ 3 Elul 5768
Productive school years don't just happen
Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg
A seasoned educator offers advice on maximizing your child's learning experience
I don't want to debate the pros and cons of having school all year round, but I'd like to preface this article by stating one definite reason for not having school all year long: We'd lose the thrill of starting a new school year.
Year after year, I hear from parents that their children couldn't sleep the night before school started, as they were so excited about the first day.
There is something special about the start of a new school year. If handled correctly, that special feeling can last for a long period of time.
I recall the excitement I had as a child the night before a new school year began. My clothes were prepared, my shoes were shined, and I just couldn't wait for the morning to finally arrive. I couldn't wait to meet my new rebbi (religious instructor), receive my new books, and greet the friends that I hadn't seen all summer. Of everything that I remember positively, however, the one aspect that stands out the most is the way my parents felt that first day of school.
While my daily ritual as I was sent off to school included receiving wishes in Yiddish such as, "Lern gut," "Folg alsdinks" and "Ales hundred" ("Learn good," "Pay attention" and "All hundreds"), the good wishes I received from my parents on that first day of school were extra special. They gave me such a positive feeling and I remember it to this day. In fact, I encouraged my own children to call their grandparents before every school year to receive their good wishes.
In a healthy family, it is not only the children who are excited about the new school year. The parents are also excited. The parents' excitement is not because their children are no longer under foot and will now be supervised by someone else during the day. Rather, they are excited because their children will now embark on another year of growth and development. Parents must never forget that, in reality, a school is doing the parents' job, as the obligation of chinuch (preparing one's child for life's challenges and instilling a sense of morality, building character and nurturing faith) falls on the home and not on the school.
I have heard some parents say that the reason they don't get excited at the onset of a school year is because they've been doing it for so many years already. If these parents would know the negative results of not being excited about the new school year, they would force themselves to display that excitement for the benefit of their children.
In preparation for the new school year, you made your tuition payment, you outfitted your child with new clothes, and you made sure that your child has all his school supplies. School begins and, in a very short period of time, you realize that something is not right. You can't put your finger on it. All you know is that there is a problem.
Your first suspicion is that something is wrong with your child's teacher or his classmates. You do some initial probing and you hear that your son loves his teacher and he has a good rapport with his classmates. So what is the problem?
If you would present me with this type of situation, my first question would be, "What attitude do you, his parents, have towards the school?"
When a child hears negative comments about any aspect of his school from his parents or he picks up a negative vibe, he will have a very difficult time being successful.
As an aside, I want to make it very clear that, as parents, you have the right and the obligation to demand the best for your children. However, there is a time, place and way to get that done.
First of all, your children should never hear you say anything negative about the school. Secondly, you should never feel the need to get together with other parents before deciding whether or not your issue is one of genuine concern and whether or not you should bring it to the attention of the teacher and/or principal. If you have an issue, it should be dealt with. You don't need the same issue to be of concern to other parents before you deal with it.
A parent called me and began our conversation by saying, "Rabbi, several parents have an issue with…" I was 100% sure that there were no other parents who shared the same concern. My rejoinder was, "You may be the parent of several children, but that doesn't make you several parents."
Before the school year even begins, parents should take positive steps to create the right relationship with their child's school. The parents who get excited about the new school year and let their child see, hear and feel that excitement are doing a great service to their child.
TRY THESE SUGGESTIONS
Allow me to offer several ideas for you to consider in order to start the school year on the right track for your children.
- Beginning at least one week before school is set to start, make mention of how excited you are that school is getting underway. If you have previous experience with your child's teacher, mention how excited you are that your child will have the great privilege of having such a great instructor. If you haven't had your own experience with that teacher, seek out someone who has and learn something about the new teacher that you can share with your child.
- Join your child on the trip to the store to purchase school supplies. Participating in that activity shows how important it is to you and how excited you are.
If called for, personally get involved in covering your child's school books and other preparations that can demonstrate how thrilled you are with the upcoming school year.
Have a special dinner with the family the night before school begins and make sure that everyone knows that the special dinner is being held in honor of the new school year.
Even in situations where children go to and from school via bus, if it is possible, drive your child to school on the first day and pick him up at the end of the day.
Take pictures before the child goes to school on the first day. If possible, take some pictures of your child standing in front of the school building.
Write your child some special notes expressing your excitement and place them in several locations where you can be sure he will see them. Try his lunch bag, his binder, his pencil case, etc.
Be ready to be totally available for your child at the end of the first day of school, ready to hear all about how the day went. If you are not able to pick the child up the first day, if when he comes home you are on the phone, immediately hang up and show your excitement regarding his first day in school. Be prepared to respond to any concerns your child may raise at that time. Don't promise that you will make any changes. Just be a good listener and try to point out some positive aspects of the issue. If, for example, your child complains that his teacher said that this year the work would be really hard, try to turn it into something positive by saying something like, "Wow, this year you will really have a chance to learn so much!"
We all know that success breeds success. Therefore, we have to set things up to create the success we desire. Many parents say that their children complain about some aspect of school and they don't have the opportunity to say anything positive. My suggestion to parents is that instead of allowing the opportunity to present itself for the child to say something negative, ask questions in a way that even the negative sounds positive. For example, instead of asking, "What did you like about school today?" and risk that the child will say, "I didn't like anything," ask the question differently. Perhaps, ask, "What was the best part of school today (besides recess and dismissal)?
In conclusion, as you prepare for your children to return to school, I strongly suggest that you begin by instilling a positive attitude about school. Make that your top priority and you will be amazed by the results!
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JWR contributor Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis and a columnist for Yated Neeman.
© 2007, Yated Neeman