This is the time of year when Jews all over the world ask God for a second chance. We pray that our records will be wiped clean and that we will be given an opportunity to start anew. Hopefully, God will answer our prayers, and we will have another year to learn from our past experiences to try to do better. Life after all is the greatest learning experience for which we could ask.

The new school year is just a few weeks under way, and here too, we have the opportunity to start with a clean slate. Whether you are a student, parent, or teacher, this is the time to learn from those past mistakes and to improve for the new year. With a little bit of commitment and an open mind, we can learn from the past, in order to improve our futures. So, whether you are a student, parent, or teacher, this is your time to start fresh…

Student- As a student, it is easy to fall into patterns and habits that may not always yield the best results. It is easy for students to become lazy, especially in smaller schools where many of the teachers and expectations may be similar to the previous year. One of my students came into my class room at the beginning of the year and announced that since I already knew he was lazy, he was not going to do anything to change my mind. I immediately explained to this student that it was a new year, and that I did not know anything that had happened in previous classes. This was not entirely true, but I wanted to let the student know that there were no pre-conceptions in place. I as the teacher, was prepared to judge him on his current actions, not on what happened in the past. The student was actually a bit shocked at my response and asked again if I had spoken to his teachers from last year. When I told him that I had not, it started to dawn on him that he actually was starting with a clean slate. So far, after a few weeks of classes, this student actually has a solid “B” average. Many of the other teachers are shocked at how well he is doing, but because I gave him that chance to start again, he was able to put last year, which was not the best academic experience, behind him. Students should be reminded that the new year is a chance to break those bad habits.

Parent- While we as parents, always want to make sure that our children are learning from their past mistakes, it is also ok to let them know that you too consider the new year to be a new beginning. It can be very demoralizing for a student to constantly be judged by past mistakes. This can also make it less likely for the child to change his ways. As parents, we want to encourage our children to learn from their past and to do better in the future. While we should always remember past events, we can also give our children a chance to improve.

One year, a parent came to “Back to School” night and told me that his son was “beyond help” and that I should not expect anything. The parent went on to tell me that his son was a “bum” and that I should not waste my time. Almost instantly, I realized why the child had so many issues. His own support system had given up on him.

If our children see that we are no longer supporting them, the chances of them succeeding will be far lower. While we should not lower the demands we place on our kids, we can raise the level of encouragement and support that we provide. The same philosophy holds true when communicating with the teachers. While some may say otherwise, teachers are not miracle workers. If your child does not meet expectations, he will most likely do poorly. Your child’s teacher should be your partner, and not your adversary. You are better off working with the teacher, rather than placing blame when your child does not meet expectations. Sure, some teachers are better than others, but in most cases, we are stuck with who we get. So, do not go into the year with a strike already against the teacher. Start with the clean slate and try to move forward.

Teacher- From the teacher’s perspective, students often start off as “damaged goods.” Many teachers enter a new class already knowing what took place in last year’s classroom. A lot of unofficial chatter in the teacher’s lounge, can often do more damage than teachers realize. While this is completely unfair to the students, it is often a reality.

This makes it extremely difficult for the teacher to really have an unbiased view towards each student. If a student is already labeled a “trouble maker” before they step foot in the room, what chance is there for building a productive working relationship? You would be surprised by how many students with poor track records are able to find success with a different teacher and change of scenery. Sometimes, personalities just do not mesh, and other times, students gain some maturity during the summer months.

A colleague of mine who teaches math in an Israeli high school in the city of Shoham, told me how worried she was as the principal assigned her what had become known in the school as the “bad class.” While of course we never like to generalize our students, the fact was that this class had more behavior infractions than the entire rest of the school combined. I told this teacher to look at this assignment as a compliment, and that I knew, that because she was a good teacher, she would find a way to work with them. Three weeks into the year, and my friend reports that it has not been nearly as difficult as she had anticipated. She said that she kept an open mind and told the students that if they tried, they would succeed. She said that most of the students, who are in 8th grade actually have averages in the 70’s and 80’s, which for them is a vast improvement. While sometimes information from previous years is important, teachers must try to give every student a fair chance and let each student create his own path.

This is the time of year when we have a chance to learn from our past and improve our future. Kids are not perfect, and they need the guidance that parents and teacher bring. We also need to remember that we can all learn from our past experiences and that this year can be better.