It’s never been easy to be a teacher, but the current moment counts among the hardest. Over the last two years, teachers have adapted to fundamental changes in the way they work, teaching first online, then in a bizarre and ever-shifting mix of online, in-person and hybrid. They were asked to reinvent the most basic tools of their profession overnight.
But their incredible adaptiveness, flexibility and resilience weren’t met with gratitude. Instead, partisan political debates, as they always have, continue to question teachers’ qualifications and commitments. Those on the political right push legislation making clear they don’t trust teachers not to indoctrinate their kids. Those on the left raise concerns that teachers represent an uncritical cog in a structural machinery that perpetuates social inequality.
In some ways, the lesson of the past two years is that many still seek to “teacher proof” our schools. This attitude leads to scripted lesson plans, panopticon-like surveillance of teachers and a seemingly endless parade of new rules, regulations and procedures.
Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom teaching children knows the truth. Teachers spend most of their time on their own with children. They make thousands of important decisions a day. Indeed, they do the most important work of anyone in society. They make people into people. They help our children navigate social relationships and overcome intellectual challenges. They model how to act with kindness and empathy, passion and confidence.
To our community’s teachers, those working in Jewish educational settings and those working in general educational settings representing the best of our Jewish community: We want to thank you! We want to thank you not only for the importance of your sacred work, but also for remaining committed to that work even when others doubt you. You insist on remaining reflective practitioners who respect and study your work and the work of your colleagues. You embody our tradition’s words (Pirkei Avot 4:15):
רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן שַׁמּוּעַ אוֹמֵר, יְהִי כְבוֹד תַּלְמִידְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלְּךָ
Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua said: “Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own.”
You take your practice seriously as an extension of taking our children seriously. You know that, in the end, our future depends on you. Thank you! We hope we can adequately show our appreciation this week (and every week).
Ziva R. Hassenfeld is the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Assistant Professor of Jewish Education at Brandeis University. Jonah Hassenfeld is the director of learning and teaching at Schechter Boston.
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