I have taught Sunday school a few times for the synagogue over the years. My first class was amazing. I had twin boys, a young man with an incredible sense of humor, and overall some amazing kids. My second class was another great group who met every challenge I threw at them- whether it was reading passages in the Torah or writing an essay on what was happening in the world to be read at services that Friday night. These kids chose to write about the Iraqi war, and compared it to one of our own stories. I can’t remember what story it was but they did an incredible job of writing a mature response that was very thought provoking. We also had great times in class, talking about everything with some judiasm peppered in there.
The class I have now is very different from the other two. The maturity level is definitely not the same. I can’t get them to settle down most of the time and when I do, it isn’t for very long. They come from a different place than the other two classes. They come from more mixed families and seem less connected than the previous classes. I can’t treat them like I did the others because frankly, I am not sure if they have the same potential. I hope I am wrong, but yesterday was a complete mess.
The units of curriculum I am given are either too juvenile or above their heads. I need to find a compromise that engages them so they can retain the material we are using. The last unit we had- Hanukkah- was great. We were able to do activities together, word scrambles, and cross-word puzzles. We also colored in Thankgiving-hanukkah themed coloring pages thanks to Sheila Finer, which also was a good source of connecting gratitude with the holiday. It was a crazy two hours which ended with a not-so-great performance by my kids doing the Hanukkah Goblin play we did a few weeks earlier.
I tried starting the class off with talking about gratitude. None of the kids took it seriously. No one stopped joking long enough to hear me and I was getting frustrated within the first 5 minutes. I read a synopsis of the story of Hanukkah and some of the meaning behind the metaphors in the story. Crickets. I could hear crickets. We then moved on to the hanukkah themed word scramble. This is where it got interesting. Half of these kids had no idea who the Maccabees were. Note: The Maccabees were a band of brothers who came up with a cool plan to overthrow the Powers of Oppression so the Jews could have their Temple back and pray in peace. They were like the Jewish A-Team without the van, thousands of years ago.
I couldn’t believe it. Have we become so assimilated that our children have no idea who our kick-ass Jews were? Or how our traditions came to be? I can’t imagine bringing my girls up without knowing the basics of our holidays- especially one like Hanukkah! I don’t know what to say about this. Why bother sending your child to me if you aren’t going to reinforce this at home? Do you realize your child isn’t as knowledgable about these things as you were at that age? Have you no shame???
Ok that was just a rant because it is frustrating for me as both a Jew and a teacher, to teach things that these kids should have known in first grade. I am praying that they were just being difficult and that this improves over the year. I do love what they come out with when they apply themselves. That is a blessing and brings me back every sunday.
There are a few students who I know will do well in the class and get that connection I am trying to provide to them. Grades 5 and 6 are tricky because this is the time when the “Am I done With Sunday School Yet?” attitude starts. I see my biggest priority- my main job- is to provide these kids with a connection to Judiasm that they can relate to. Otherwise, they won’t obtain a single fact I am giving them. They won’t care about how much our people struggled to be where we are today. They won’t understand how important it is to have faith and believe in something that can carry you during tough times. Yes- in spite of how angry I was at God for giving me a child that has such a severe condition, I have learned that I was blessed in spite of that anger. I want to pass that on to these children.
One of my former students went from hating Sunday school to becoming involved with Temple Youth. She even spent a high school semester in Israel. ISRAEL! Seriously? I am not taking credit for that by any means, but I will say that I am glad I was part of her education that helped her gravitate towards that path. She is an amazing young woman and I was thrilled that she loved her experience so much.
I get a lot out of teaching these kids. As frustrated as I am at the moment, I am still grateful for the opportunities I know lie ahead. They did great with the Hanukkah play we performed at a Friday night service. They showed me that they can rise to the occasion when provided the right outlet. I think I got more out of that experience than they did.
Today I am glad we have a few weeks off so I can regroup from the last Class of Mayhem. It’s not fair to the kids when I get frazzled because one of them feels like being a jerk. Yes, I am being that politically incorrect, because frankly, he did feel like it. I won’t let that get to me. I want to come back and raise the bar a little, and see what happens. I’ll let you know if it works, or if I am standing on a cliff somewhere. Either way, I know this experience is good for me.