By Naphtali Hoff
I recently visited a Brooklyn yeshiva where I would be providing educational coaching services with an emphasis on supporting student writing. The boys in the school were Hassidic, native Yiddish speakers who attended a dual curriculum school that taught both Judaic and general studies classes.
As the principal walked me through the building, I noted the well-mannered young men. I was impressed with their studious approach and quiet decorum. The principal proudly talked about the seriousness by which both parts of the curriculum are approached.
There was one thing in particular, though, that caught my attention. Upon our arrival, one teacher decided to "show off." He told the boys that they were going to do a synonyms challenge, by which he would say a word and give the students the opportunity to offer multiple synonyms of the word. Knowing the culture of the students and the fact that English is not their native tongue, I was surprised by the fluency and mastery that they demonstrated, particularly as the offerings that they shared were not simple or commonly used.
I noted the teacher's tone and body language. He was beaming, justifiably so. His students did great! But it was really a demonstration of love more than anything else that came across during our short visit. He genuinely appreciated his students and gave them much energy and encouragement, not to mention strong pedagogy. The students clearly reciprocated, as evidenced by their desire to talk with him outside of school following class (something that I also observed), a rarity in schools in general, particularly in one with a dual curriculum and a 5:45 pm dismissal.
Recently, I penned an article in which I shared an encounter with a student years after I taught him. The young man shared that he had written about me in a 12th grade essay because "I was always having fun" when I taught.
Surely, there are many important qualities necessary for good teaching. They include preparedness, clarity, creativity and many others. Nor can we necessarily suggest that this or that combination is what ultimately makes for a GREAT teacher. However, we can certainly agree that teachers that are passionate, believe in their work and in their students, and make learning exciting and (dare I say it) fun, make for transformative learning that transfers readily to the children. Just ask the kids. They'll tell you!
I will say that my visit to this new school left me with a positive impression, one that I hope grows as I have regular occasion to work there. I am sure that I will appreciate the aforementioned seriousness and structure and commitment to learning. But I KNOW that I will enjoy working with that enthusiastic, loving teacher, perhaps as his much as his students do.