By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

My fourth-grade son has been complaining that his class goes “crazy” every morning before yeshiva starts. They throw things around, pick on kids, and are extremely silly. Apparently, the rebbe arrives at the exact time when yeshiva begins. He then proceeds to punish the entire class because of their behavior. My son refuses to speak to anyone about it and insists I stay out of it. My questions are: Should I listen to him and not tell the school? Should I send an anonymous email to make the school aware? Is it fair for a rebbe to punish a class because of a few boys?

Chaim S.

Answer:

I try to keep this blog focused on parenting, but you are bringing up a few topics that are worth discussing. I’ll try to answer your questions as best as possible, but I’m sure that the rebbeim that read this blog aren’t going to be happy with me.

As with every other job, there are pros and cons to being a rebbe in a yeshiva. The pay isn’t that great, and you definitely need to bring the work home with you. On the flip side, most rebbeim finish in the early afternoon, which allows for a second job, and, most importantly, teaching Torah is the most rewarding feeling.

When a typical job begins, an employee needs to be there on time. A rebbe however, should be in his classroom a minimum of 15 minutes before yeshiva begins. I say minimum, since I know many rebbeim who arrive a half-hour early. It gives the rebbe time to get settled, organize the class if needed, and keep the early arrivals calm. When the kids trickle in early, the rebbe has the opportunity to schmooze with them and see how they’re doing.

There are rebbeim who travel from Brooklyn to the Five Towns, and they arrive on time. There are even a few rebbeim who travel from Lakewood every day and, somehow, they manage to be early. It’s baffling to me that certain rebbeim show up at the last second. Not only is it hard for the administration, it’s really not good for the class. I’ve heard all types of reasons. “I have to bring my kids to the babysitter” or “I only get the car 10 minutes before yeshiva begins.” It’s just wrong. The children need to have a rebbe or morah in the class when they walk in.

I also had that issue when I had younger kids and my wife worked. Somehow, we figured out a solution. You might think it’s OK, but I can assure you that the yeshivos keep good track regarding which rebbeim arrive early and which ones arrive at the last second. The kids need a rebbe (or morah) to be there as they arrive. Some yeshivos have the kids meet in a common area, which is a great idea. Nonetheless, it’s still so important for a rebbe or morah to arrive at least 15 minutes early.

Should you get involved in a school issue if your son doesn’t want you to? That’s a difficult question. Typically, if your child asks you not to say anything, you shouldn’t say anything. Trust is a two-way street, and if you want your child to trust you, you need to keep your promises. If your son is speaking to you about his day, that’s a good thing. Violating his trust might cause him to stop sharing information with you.

Understandably, there are times when you need to make some crucial decisions. If your child is being bullied or there are other serious issues, you would need to call the school immediately. In this case, I wouldn’t call the rebbe and ask him to verify; rather, I would contact the principal directly and let him know what’s going on. You can preface your call with, “This is what my son told me; I’m leaving this in your capable hands.”

Whether you should ask permission before calling the school depends on your child. If you think he’ll comprehend that you need to take additional steps to protect him (or other children), go for it. If you don’t think he’ll understand, just make sure that the school handles it correctly and discreetly. The proper way to deal with bullying incidents is beyond the scope of this article, but most yeshivos do have training in place to guide the rebbeim.

Is contacting the yeshiva anonymously the answer? I learned years ago that anonymous correspondence isn’t worth the paper it’s sent on. (This was obviously when people mailed things.) I receive a few anonymous emails every month, and once I realize it’s anonymous, I delete it immediately. I don’t even read it. Sending an anonymous email to your school will accomplish nothing. Actually, they might find out it was you (it’s hard to remain anonymous), which can backfire.

Should a rebbe punish the whole class for one or two offenders? I am not fond of punishing in general; I’m more of a fan of consequences. In any case, it doesn’t seem fair to punish an entire class because of the actions of a few boys. If a large amount of kids are misbehaving, that’s a separate story. One or two boys should not be causing an entire class to suffer.

One rebbe told me that when he punishes the class because of one boy, they all “glare” at the offender. His (warped) logic was that since he’ll make the class upset, everything will magically work itself out. There are many issues with this. First of all, the ones making trouble are already suffering from low self-esteem. Making the class upset at them won’t help them at all. Second of all, if a rebbe needs the rest of the class to help him with class management, perhaps it’s time he found alternative employment.

To answer your question, you should sit your son down and have a serious talk with him. Find out if he’s exaggerating or if things are indeed out of control. (Resist the urge to ask, “Does anyone else think the classroom is crazy in the morning?” on the class chat.) If he’s not exaggerating, tell him that you need to call the yeshiva and find out what’s going on, but you won’t mention his name, and you’ll make sure it doesn’t get back to him.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.

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