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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Learning As I Teach


This was my first teaching job. I was standing in front of a classroom of eighteen delightful third graders. I had tutored and taught small groups of children over the years but this was my very own class. I could barely believe it. I was all of nineteen years old and I was so nervous. My stomach hurt and I hardly slept the night before the start of the school year. Eighteen pairs of sweet, adorable eyes followed my every move, every day.

I had spent the past two weeks decorating my classroom. Creating a bulletin board that would be exciting and interesting, yet clear and informative. It was bright and colorful but defined and organized. I wanted my students to understand my routines, yet be curious to find out more of what I had in store for them.

I prepared and worked hard on my lessons. I taught with enthusiasm and energy. I brought in visual aids and props galore. I acted out stories in an intense and dramatic way that surprised even me. I captured my students’ attention and piqued their interest in learning. I honed in on their skills and challenged them in new ways. I built their confidence and motivated them to want to learn more.

But like every new teacher, no matter how much I prepared I still had loads to learn. And my students taught me. I remember the first time I announced, “Everyone, please hand in your homework from yesterday,” and eighteen worksheet papers went flying in my direction. Many of them falling slowly to the floor and bedlam ensued. The next day, I instituted the “Homework Collection” system which worked wonders.

Well, there I was, deep into a Chumash lesson, sing-songing the pesukim and translating word for word, adding my creative hand motions that connected to each word and hanging up sentence strips on the bulletin board; when I learned yet another valuable lesson from my students.

Tami G. was a tall third grader. She was only nine years old but she reached my shoulders and maybe a bit higher. She was almost double the height of some of the children in my class. Tami was the type of girl who had an easygoing smile and was happy to go along with whatever the class was doing. Her notebooks, loose-leaf binder, papers, and pencil case were always shoved into her desk and something, inevitably, was always poking out in a haphazard way. She was still able to find whatever she needed and as long as she was okay with it, I didn’t mind either. Naturally, as the tallest in the class, Tami sat in the back of the room. She had an extra tall chair and desk. Her legs were almost always restlessly moving trying to find a comfortable spot. She was involved in the class lessons and always had great comments to share.

As I said, there I was, in the midst of my captivating and well cultivated lesson when Tami moved her feet a bit in the wrong direction bumping her desk. Her whole desk knocked over and fell forward toward her. She caught the desk before it crashed to the floor but everything inside of it came tumbling out. Everything. And of course, her pencil case wasn’t zipped – so there was a nice mess on the floor and whole lot of noise. All eyes turned toward Tami. The room was silent.

There went my lesson.

Tami with her half-smile, hand raised, called out, “Clean Up in Aisle 4!”

And I burst out laughing.

Tami’s smile stretched further and happily joined mine, laughing. My class was pleasantly surprised to see their teacher laughing and started giggling, then laughing along with me.

That’s when I learned my favorite lesson of all. I realized that it is wonderful to find little moments of good, healthy, wholesome laughter. It puts a whole different spin in the classroom atmosphere and sprinkles the air with such a special happiness. It is a marvelous way to show that we enjoy learning and life.

Over the past number of years teaching, I learned so many lessons from my students but this one I treasure most. And I have found incredible, exciting opportunities to smile and laugh together with my students and it brightens the whole classroom.

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