The Value of Good Middos:
A teacher of Torah has one goal in mind: that the Torah’s
message should have an overriding influence in the class. However, this is only
possible if the teacher has succeeded in developing a class atmosphere which
emphasizes good Middos and fulfillment of Mitzvos.
This we learn from Chazal’s explanation of the posuk (Bereishis
27:22) "…הקול קול יעקב והידיים ידי עשיו." ("…the voice is the voice of Yaakov,
but the hands are the hands of Esav."), that one comes at the expense of the
other. In Midrash Rabba (Bereishis 6:3) Esav is compared to the sun and
Yaakov to the moon. Rav Nachman explains that just as when the sun is shining,
the light of the moon has no effect, so too when Esav is dominant, Yaakov’s
strengths are hidden and when Esav’s light dissipates, Yaakov’s light (Torah)
Esav represents deceitfulness, dishonesty, light-headiness
and cruelty. These, and other negative traits, have the power to uproot the
Torah of Yaakov. Therefore, in order for a Rebbe to successfully transmit Torah,
he must make sure that the above traits and their like are eradicated from his
classroom, even before he actually begins to teach.
Benefiting the Few
When a teacher decides on a new policy aimed at improving his
students’ learning or behavior, he naturally wants all his students to
benefit from it. However, from the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 6:1) we learn
that even if only a handful of students benefit, the course of action is deemed
In the Midrash we are told, according to Rebbe Azaryah, that
Hashem’s original intention was to create only the sun to enlighten the world.
However, when He saw that in the future people were to worship the sun, He
created the moon, as well, as a source of light. This additional source of light
would diminish the godlike nature of the sun, He hoped, and people would realize
that neither was a true god. Even though G-d saw that this would not keep them
from idol worship, He still created the moon, for He saw that if there was only
the sun, idol worship was certain to increase.
The commentary "Yefe To’ar" (on this Midrash) explains that
the creation of a second source of light could help, at least, the more
intelligent observers. From here we learn that a course of action which will
reduce negative behavior, even if only for the more astute students, has great
value. It would seem that if we would be correct to make a kal vachomer
(a logical extension) and say that it would be worthwhile to develop a plan
which could help even a few of the students improve either their learning,
Middos or Yiras Shamayim.
The importance of a teacher’s seeking advice from others in
order to improve his effectiveness in the classroom, cannot be underestimated.
Rashi explains that the Torah used the plural form "We will make man", even
though Hashem made man alone, in order to teach us that Hashem, in His Supreme
Humility, asked for the input of heavenly beings before He actually made man.
Lesson: Before implementing a plan in the classroom, one
should be open to the input and insight of others; especially those more
experienced or more capable than himself.
Where should a teacher look for advice? The Midrash (Bereishis
8:2,3,7) mentions a number of possibilities:
From the Creation of the World – As we mentioned last
week, a master plan is required for a year of successful teaching. A teacher
should constantly refer back to his original plan to see if he is on track.
From each and every day’s Creation – Each day’s
lessons, relationships to students, staff and administration should be
reviewed to look for areas which call for improvement.
Asking those who came beforehand – Each teacher likes
to feel hat he has a full understanding of each student. However, it takes
time to build up this understanding. Meanwhile, the teacher, not fully aware
of a child’s personality, needs or situation at home, may have a somewhat
faulty appreciation of his student. It would be advisable to talk to the
child’s previous teachers and take advantage of their insight and experience,
so that he can more quickly gain a fuller understanding of the child.
The Torah – The Torah is not a book of laws, but a
guide to life! It abounds with lessons on how to relate to others, how people
think and feel and what generates these thoughts and feelings. It’s wisdom and
revelation is a constant source of direction and inspiration.
Tzaddikim – The adage "sagely advice" has its roots in
the Torah. "Ask you prophets and they will tell you; your elders and they will
say to you…", advises the Torah (Devorim 32:7). The advice of the
righteous is not only logical and wise, but it stems from true Yiras Shamayim
and Ahavas Hashem. This not only gives the teacher clarity, but imbues him
with a deeper sense of purpose and an enthusiasm to succeed in the classroom.
Ask staff members / experienced teachers – A teacher
should take full benefit of the fact that he works in the vicinity of other
teachers and staff members who see his work at close range, and be open to
hear their positive criticism. In addition, a teacher should choose a mentor
from whom he can seek advice on a continual basis.
נמלך בלבו (He asked his heart) – What is commonly
called "man’s intuition", is actually his innate level of sensitivity and
resultant sense of logic in analyzing a situation. Each Rebbe or teacher feels
inside which approach works well with one child and which with another.
Sometimes the teacher is unable to express his feeling in words, but he knows
that what he’s doing is right. Alternatively, we can suggest that ‘turning to
one’s heart’ means setting aside time for of introspection to see if one’s
approach to a student is based on honest and constructive motives or perhaps
it partially stems from personal needs, wants or personality imperfections.
This introspection will help return the teacher to the path of a sincere and
honest relationship with his class and each student.
Relating to Students’ Requests
וירא …האור כי טוב ויבדל…" (בראשית א:ד)
רש"י – הבדילו לצדיקים לעתיד לבוא
Question: If a student requests something from his teacher,
is the teacher obligated to oblige?
Not necessarily. He should take the time to consider the
request and see if it is actually for the student’ s benefit or not.
Even if the student’s request is for something which
appears to be objectively good, the teacher should still consider whether the
correct time has arrived to have this good reach his student. It may be, for
example, that this particular student has not prepared himself to appreciate
this good and thereby will lose its effect, or it may be that good given to
one child, might lead to harm to another.
Regarding the first point, a student who is quick to
understand may be quick to forget, explains the Tana in Avos (5:15).
Therefore, a teacher’s job is to help his student build up the ability to
maintain what he learns through those means he feels are necessary for the
particular child. The child may either be slow in learning, have a weak
background, have other interests which occupy his mind and memory, or may be
having social, emotional or psychological problems which prevent him from
concentrating on his learning and retaining it.
Only a teacher who is truly concerned with his student’s
progress, will be able to help him improve his understanding and retention.
Thus, a teacher should agree to a student’s request only if he feels it will not
interfere with his development.
Regarding the second point, we find Hashem concluding, after
reviewing His creation of light, that "Although the light (clarity, awareness)
that I have created is Good, I must remove its essence from this world, lest
wicked people get a hold of it and cause harm to My World (Rashi)." So too, a
benefit to one child, may cause harm to another. A caring and sensitive teacher
will take each and every child’s interests into account before acquiescing to an
individual student’s request.
To be continued…