Q. I’m a rebbe in a yeshiva (I prefer not to give the location.) I’m asking the following questions not only as a third-grade rebbe but also as a parent of a few kids. What is the goal of a rebbe? More and more parents have been asking me to shower their kids with love, and even the administration explained that we need to focus a lot on giving the kids a happy day. I’m scared to bring this question to the administration since I’ve already brought it up a few times. Is it all about giving over happiness and love, or should I still try to push the kids in learning? Can you share some insights?
A. I recently listened to a wonderful therapist explain the importance of giving our kids love. When he finished, I felt like I was at a hippie convention. I will gladly share my thoughts, but please understand that there are many people who disagree with me. I have spoken with psychologists, rabbanim, and menahalim, and although many think I’m correct, there are those who don’t. In layman’s terms, before changing your methodology of teaching, make sure that those who are paying you are on board.
Here goes. As parents and rebbeim, we have a responsibility to these children to prepare them for the world. We also want to teach them Torah and about Yiddishkeit without pushing them too hard. It’s a challenging job as a rebbe and even more difficult as a parent.
It’s not just about giving love. You can’t teach love! Hugging your children all the time won’t help them succeed in life. Sure, it’s important to give them constant hugs and tell them how awesome they are. However, they need much more than that. Children need structure and discipline. Consequences are important, and good role models are one of the keys to success.
As a rebbe, you have one main job. Put the “warmth” back into Yiddishkeit. When you teach a child Torah, you should do it with a smile. Chumash shouldn’t be taught as a subject, but rather as a life lesson. Davening isn’t a requirement; it’s a way to communicate with Hashem. Halachah isn’t a burden; rather, it’s a way of establishing our identity.
As a rebbe, you do have a responsibility, but it’s not to the parents or the administration. It’s to the children in your class. You have to give over a love of Yiddishkeit while simultaneously giving over the skills these bnei Torah will need for this year, the next year, and for life. If every rebbe realized that he has the ability to shape the future of each one of his talmidim, it would be fantastic. Here are a few things to keep in mind every day.
There is nothing wrong with telling off a student, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. You can act upset, and you can even give a consequence. However, that child must know that you still think he’s a wonderful ben Torah. I like to walk over to any student that I disciplined and whisper, “You know that you’re awesome, right? We all make mistakes, and I’m sure it won’t happen again!”
Learning Torah is key. Children love to accomplish. One of the biggest mistakes many mechanchim make is not pushing the kids enough. With all the distraction going on in the world, many children love to accomplish something real. I like to hit the ground running, so on the first day, I spend almost the entire day learning. At the end of the day, I tell them, “Do you realize how much you boys accomplished in four hours? You’re all so amazing!” Even the ones who don’t understand the learning still appreciate that they were involved. Actually, those kids are the ones I like to reassure. I’ll go over to an obviously weaker student (every rebbe and teacher can usually spot them in the first ten minutes) and say “You were a huge part of our day today! Thanks!”
Nevertheless, there are some days that you have to change it up a little bit. If the class is off, I can assure you that they won’t be able to focus very well. Is it snowing? Is it very hot outside? Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to teach some impressionable minds what it means to be flexible. You can tell them, “I was going to teach these pesukim and Rashis, but instead I want to tell you an amazing story about what happened to me.” Share with them any story that you feel imparts a life lesson. Not only will they appreciate that you understand them, but they’ll probably pay close attention to what you’re saying.
One last thing that’s super-important to understand. Calling a parent shouldn’t be reserved only for issues. Actually, it should probably be the opposite. When these kids get home, it’s been a long day. Their parents probably also had a long day, and this can be a real recipe for disaster. What would happen if you call the mother of a struggling student and tell her that her son is the greatest kid? Can you just imagine the smile and the happiness it’ll bring to her and her kids? I assure you that when he comes into class the next day, he’ll be so grateful. It doesn’t have to be a generic call. Every child has something special. Perhaps she held the door for a friend or picked up garbage that she didn’t drop. If you can’t find one positive thing in a child, you’re not looking hard enough!
There are many other things to keep in mind, but these are some of the crucial ones. To summarize, your goal as a rebbe is to teach a lot of Torah, discipline the kids with love, show that Yiddishkeit is geshmak, be flexible and read the room, and make sure the parents appreciate how awesome their kids are.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for his weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.