Oct. 5 marked World Teachers’ Day, also known as International Teachers’ Day. This day was established in 1994 as a day to commemorate UNESCO’s signing of the Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers. On this day, we stop, pause and express our immense gratitude to our teachers worldwide.
Additionally, in this country, the first Tuesday of the first full week of May is National Teacher Appreciation Week, when we are reminded, yet again, of the powerful impact a teacher can have on the life of a student. In my humble opinion, every day should be a day for us to stop and pay homage to our dedicated, relentless and incredible teachers at JCDS and across the globe.
The value of teachers is not new to our tradition. In Ethics of our Fathers, פרקי אבות, Chapter 1, Mishna 6, we learn: יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה וְנִתַּאי הָאַרְבֵּלִי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר” “וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת. “Yehoshua said: Make for yourself a Rav (a teacher); acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person on the positive side.” What does it mean to “Make for yourself a teacher?” Many scholars have tried to make sense of this wording, especially when it stands closely juxtaposed to the word “acquire” as it relates to a friend. The Maharal, a 16th-century Talmudic scholar and mystic, echoes the teachings of the Rambam, the 12th-century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, in asserting that the word “make” should be understood as making a teacher the way you would make a sukkah.
This interpretation caught my eye. We are in the middle of our week of the Sukkot celebration. I’ve seen students earnestly learning and robustly eating in our sukkah, its decorations adorning its walls and hanging from the poles above. I’ve seen how parent volunteers, along with faculty, staff and the eighth grade students, helped build the sukkah, working as a team, assisting each other with schlepping the heavy walls and securing their respective corners. Sukkot is clearly not a passive holiday; it is an active endeavor of constructive engagement.
Each year, people are improving upon their sukkah, making adaptations and adjustments, finding better lighting and beautifying its walls. Each year, people get to know the shortcomings of their sukkah and work to creatively address the particular needs and nuances of their constructed structure. They are in relationship with their sukkah, working to perfect its form, function and relevance to their lives.
Perhaps this is what the Maharal and Rambam were referring to when they said “Make for yourself a Rav”; a teacher is like “making” a sukkah. The act of creating a sukkah, this temporary sacred space, is much like the process of creating the special bond between student and teacher. These relationships require attention, adjustments, renewal and, ultimately, work.
Furthermore, just as it takes work to create the holy space of a sukkah, teachers play a critical role in creating spaces where deep learning can happen. JCDS teachers are empowered to design their classrooms as spaces for open inquiry, where diversity of opinion and perspective are respected. Students have the freedom to make connections, which grow their thinking and expand their horizons.
I look forward to witnessing the growth and development of your children as they connect more deeply with their teachers throughout the year and continue to thrive from the deep relationships they will develop. They will, indeed, make for themselves a teacher and, in doing so, experience the wonders such a collaborative relationship can bring.
Shira Deener is head of school at JCDS.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.
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