Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Tazria-Metzora 5761
Lessons For Our students

I never cease to be amazed about the way Gd and Torah weave their way into our lives. Last week, I wrote about lessons learned from students while teaching them about parashat Shemini.

This week, the tables were turned a bit. Here's my tale:

Now, I'll be the first to admit that classroom management is not my forte. My teaching style can often be like my musings. Out front, declarative, histrionic, creative, exploratory, challenging, etc. As any educator knows, when one runs a classroom in a high energy style, the challenge of classroom management usually increases. When a class is always working on that ragged edge of chaos, it's necessary to make darn sure they know how to behave to insure that the class doesn't drop off the edge and into the abyss. Most of the time, we manage to walk that ragged edge successfully. I think the students deserve most of the credit for that, for, as I have stated, classroom management is not my best skill.

But, I do try my best. Like many teachers, I do have and use systems that help students and teachers understand the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and action. These tools help the teacher focus on the important job of teaching and learning and minimizing the time spent on other things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.

Well, today the system worked. A student crossed the boundaries, and, following the system, was given appropriate warnings and consequences. The Sadly, the student did not learn from this, and as a result the highest consequence-the trip to the Headmaster's office, was brought in to play. Now, my students know that I am fairly easy-going, forgiving, and not very harsh or strict. But they also know that I will use and follow the rules and procedures we all agreed upon for the class.

After the no-longer-manageable distraction was gone from the classroom, I resumed the task at hand. Teaching Tazria-Metzora. We discussed the brit milah (always fun with 1st graders-NOT!) and then moved on to tzara'at. As I stared at my notes I realized what an opportunity I had in my hand. For right here in the Torah was an example of the exact methodology I was using in my classroom. What an opportunity to show Torah in action.

"The rabbis," I told them, "were curious as to why the Torah mentions tzara'at of people, then of clothes, and then of houses, and why in that particular order. Some of them concluded that Gd was acting just like a parent might. First, the parent gets angry at a child for doing something wrong, and wants to inflict a harsh punishment. But, after some thought, the parent decides that they really love their child, and perhaps a less harsh punishment will get the message across. And even yet more thinking, the loving parent reduces the punishment even more, hoping that it will show the child compassion, and be enough to teach them the lesson." Most students nodded agreement that this is often how their own parents behave.

"That's what you do, Mar D," said one. "That's true," I replied. "We have a three step system here for most things, don't we? We have our two warnings and then a consequence, and then a second consequence for a repeat, and finally that last one - the trip to the office, for that third time of failing to learn the lesson."

"But you're always so nice, Mr. D." "You almost never punish us."

Just at that moment, the Headmaster walks into our class, with the recalcitrant student in two. He returns the student to the class, reminding him of the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Then he speaks to the class about the importance of not paying attention to the students who are misbehaving and trying to get attention. The class, by this time, was rapt with attention-both because of what we had been studying, and, of course, the "Headmaster in the classroom" effect. He completed his speech and left. And I returned immediately to the parasha and the lesson I was teaching.

"Actions have consequences," I said. "You can see that students in this class will have consequences for breaking the class rules.:

Again, another chorus of remarks on how usually easy-going I am.

"Yes," I said. "Just like your parents, but more importantly, just like Hashem, I am always hoping you'll get the message without my having to give you a tough punishment."

The I realized time was up. And with that, I dismissed them to line up at the door and head for their next class. I'd never see them do that one simple thing so quietly and politely (and I may never again see that.)

But, seeing them line up so nicely, and standing so quietly, I couldn't resist the opportunity to finish the lesson with a point.

"And, you know what, talmidim?" I said, loudly.

"What?" they almost all said in unison.

"If it's good enough for Hashem, then it's certainly good enough for you and me!"

There's so much in the Torah we can use. Sometimes we look at a parasha and wonder what it means to us. After all, who is dealing with tzara'at these days? Well, maybe no one in a literal sense. But, figuratively, it's there-that disease of the soul that is brought about by self-knowledge of improper action or behavior. And, once again, we realize that modern education and psychology didn't really invent anything new. All these ideas and notions are there-right there in the Torah, if we but look for them.

Look at her this weekend and see what you can find.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester

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