Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teaching My Own

For years I have been hearing the question, "Are you going to teach your own kids?", and for years I have had what I felt was a pretty good response, "That's such a New York question." By that I did not refer to any particular stereotype of Gothamites, but rather to the fact that if someone is a teacher in a Jewish day school outside of the metropolitan New York area, it is highly likely that they will eventually teach their own child, as many schools simply do not have enough students to have multiple classes. However, in the NYC area, and particularly in Bergen County, New Jersey, where we have 4 Yeshiva day schools with 700+ students each, it should be fairly simple to teach a different section or even teach in a different school.

However, I happen to think that the school that I teach in provides the best education in the area (you are free to disagree, but, hey, it's my blog), and it also is very clear about its Torah U'Madda orientation, and so my kids are in the school in which I teach. However number two, we track students in our Middle School and I teach the top track. As thus, if my own kids are deemed capable of making it at that level, we are going to enter the situation of me serving as Rebbe to my own kids.

My chavruta, who grew up as the son of his teacher/administrator, said to me, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that my only choices would be to either favor my child to the point that the rest of the class hates both of us, or go completely in the opposite direction, so that my child hates me. It seems to me that there must be a middle ground.

Part of that middle ground is due to a flaw in the question. I am not only teaching my son, but also all of his friends who have spent the past seven years in my house, in my car, and interacting with me in all sorts of ways outside of the framework of school. So now not only is my son my student, but so is his entire chevra.

A week and a half into the school year, all is going fine thus far. Part of the reason is because my son and I are both very conscious of this arrangement and thus we are both invested in finding the right balance between father and teacher. He does call me Abba in class (it's not as if this is a secret to the other students), and I try not to always call on him first but also not to always call on him last. I have taken up the practice, which is probably a good one anyway, of having students write their names on the backs of their papers so that, even if I more or less learn their handwritings, I do not instantly see who I am grading and favor or disfavor my own progeny as a result.

I recall that in my senior year in college one of my professors, Alan Charles Kors, informed us one day that during the previous lecture his daughter had been sitting in the back of the room, the first time in his almost three decades of teaching that any member of his family had attended one of his classes. He shared some of her observations with us (something about his using multiple accents for foreign languages). I am not sure if his case was by accident or by design (if your father taught philosophy, would you go to hear him lecture just for fun?), but he did seem to be genuinely pleased and gratified to have had his child as his student for even one day. In that spirit, and contra the warnings of my chavruta, I see this as an opportunity for father and son (with daughters looming in coming years) to see sides of each other that we do not otherwise see - and hopefully another facet to add to our relationship.

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