Good lessons from bad teachers

This week marks one year since the launching of my ScaVentures’s Jerusalem book.  The  night before the book launch, I sat down to write the dedications that would not feature in my book – because there is a time for everything. That time has come, so here are the dedications:

When I was in middle school (umm…almost 30 years ago), I had a Jewish History teacher who would Xerox chapters of Cecil Roth’s “A Bird’s Eye View of Jewish History.” She would read the chapters out loud, and we had to use our markers to highlight the important information. Every few weeks, she would quiz us on the highlighted paragraphs. Those lessons drained the life out of a narrative I happened to love. Lessons that should have been bursting with exciting conversations, fascinating dilemmas, and astounding facts felt like they emerged from a curriculum designed in hell. Being the kind of student who needed to feel excited about what I was learning, I did not excel on those quizzes.

This teacher was in charge of the International Bible Quiz at the time. Some of my friends signed up for the quiz, and I was very keen to join them. However, she told me that my grades were too low. I begged her to let me join anyway, to give me chance to prove myself, but repeatedly she told me that I would not be able to succeed in the quiz. No, she would not let me try. I was devastated. Her words to me: “You can’t do this, you’re not a good enough student” became a part of my own self-talk, and at times I still hear them.

Yet my failure in her lessons — was not really my failure. It was hers.

When a new quiz was launched, I managed to circumvent the teacher and I signed up. As a part of this quiz, I learned the “Pillar of Fire” book by Yigal Losin off by heart. This book covers Jewish history from the rise of Zionism in the 1800s to the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. I drank up the information as if I couldn’t get enough. I knew every chapter, every picture, and every footnote by heart. I completed the quiz as a national finalist.

I never stopped learning Jewish history; it was the subject of my BA. My entire adult life and career has been centered around teaching Jewish History at first in the classroom, and later in an experiential way on the streets of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities.

Last year, my book, ScaVentures Jerusalem: The Experiential Guidebook, hit the shelves. It tells the history and narrative of the Jewish people and Jerusalem. When I first wrote my acknowledgements for the book, it occurred to me that I needed to thank my middle school teacher, for not believing in me, and for inadvertently sparking an inner battle to prove myself to others, and to myself. But I questioned using up valuable book space for a teacher who made me believe that my default is failure, so I left it out. A year later, blown away and gratified by the public success of my book, I am ready to share the dedications that were never published alongside of those that were, at the very least to acknowledge that stories are always more complex than they seem. Here goes:

  • I would like to thank my middle school Jewish History teacher who told me I was a failure. Her words never left me and they echoed within me over and over again, making me fight to prove her wrong.
  • My book is dedicated to my matriculation Afrikaans teacher, Mrs Bothas, who spent hours with me to help me achieve a great final grade in a subject that I didn’t identify with and consequently struggled to learn. Just before my final exam she gifted me with a book of Jewish letters that she found in a second-hand shop. She saw me for who I was and for the potential I had.
  • My book is also dedicated to a school librarian called Gerrard Chaiken, who created a magical island of story and love, and welcomed me, and every other student, to enter it on our own terms.
  • My book is dedicated to the kids who went through school with undiagnosed learning disabilities. They thought they were stupid and were never were told otherwise. Some of them learned great coping techniques that sparked them to success in later life. Some did not.
  • My book is dedicated to sports teams, school plays, and youth movements – and the people who ran these activities that promote individuality, creativity and values-oriented leadership. They were a lifeline for me.
  • This book is dedicated to my parents who always believed in me, and sparked in me a crazy notion that I can achieve anything that I set my mind to doing. This book is dedicated to my husband who has to put up with the side effects of this crazy notion.
  • And this book is dedicated to my children: Ayelet, Eliana, Na’ama and Shai. My wish for you is that your strengths are seen by others and by yourself.  My wish for you is that you find your passion and you allow it to lead you to shine as bright as the stars that you are!
About the Author
An experienced teacher and informal educator, Tali has developed curriculum, teacher guides, educational websites and experiential programs. In 2010 she founded Israel ScaVentures, a tour game company that aims to educate, engage and inspire people in the story of Israel. In its first 9 years of existence more than 30 000 participants participated on 20 ScaVenture routes all over Israel (and abroad). Today Tali continues to develop routes, trains and manages a team of more than 20 guides and oversees scavenger hunt programs for groups of all sizes and types. Tali is author of the ScaVentures Jerusalem: The Experiential Guidebook. Tali made her way to Israel from Cape Town, South Africa. She is wife to Daniel and mother to Ayelet, Eliana, Na’ama and Shai.
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