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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

Regards From Down Under

By Rabbi Sender Haber

With report cards due this week I realized with chagrin that, once again, my Middle School students had achieved straight A’s. Where is my bell curve? Where are my weak kids? Why don’t my students dread their weekly tests?

The answer lies in an email that I received yesterday from my eighth grade rebbe. He had come across some of my teaching material online and sent me a compliment and a bracha. He added an interesting post script: “I always knew”, he wrote, “that you would be a great rebbe”.

My mind rolled back to eighth grade. I had switched schools about a year earlier and was still catching up. In my last school we learned about one parsha a year; here we were expected to know the entire parsha every week – and it wasn’t even our main subject. The classes were in Yiddish and I was behind in many skills.

Rav Hochhauser gave me my first 100%. I remember, because I burst into the house that night and woke my mother to tell her the news. It was not the 100% of a teacher who had mercy or taught to the test. It was the 100% of hard work and determination.

Rav Hochhauser truly loved me and wanted me to succeed. I sat right next to him for the one hour Chumash & Rashi class each night and I probably pestered him for the other twenty-three hours of the day. He never complained and I took him for granted. No matter where he was, he would stop to explain a Rashi again. He would go through my tests with me and show me where I had gone wrong. He fully expected me to get a 100% one day - and I did. It was a tiny test and probably not a very hard one, but none of that mattered. I had gotten 100% on the same test as everybody else. I had caught up.

It was the day that I stopped being the ‘kid from Buffalo who is behind’.

When I began my career as a teacher, I attended a class by Rabbi Liebenstein of Chicago. Rabbi Liebenstein insisted over and over again that the most important job of a teacher is to ensure that each student ‘achieves success daily’. I thought of Rav Hochhauser and knew that he was right. Success is the most powerful tool available in Chinuch and it is the greatest gift that a teacher can give to a child.

I measured my success by grades, but many students do not. Students are thrilled to be able to read a posuk, give an original answer, ask a good question, or help a friend with a worksheet. It is cruel to allow a child to sit in school for eight hours a day without helping him or her feel at least one moment of success.

Rav Hochhauser taught us that “מען טאהר נישט אויפהערען מיט א שלעכטע זאך”. It is forbidden to end learning with a bad taste in our mouths. We would never end class with a sad Pasuk. Rebbe would just keep on going until we found something happy. I have tried to follow his advice. I keep teaching my students until they have all succeed in some way. Perhaps I will merit to give them Rav Hochhauser’s confidence and their own priceless feeling of success.

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