Teaching: Creating a future

Often, when people meet, they ask each other “What do you do?” The implication of that question is “So, tell me, what do you do, to make money/income?” Almost never is the other person inquiring as to what type of parent are you or what kind of charitable acts do you do. No, bottom line, they want to know what you do in order to deposit money into your bank account.

So, it was with a little bit of glee that the other day I had a conversation on the bus with a stranger that led to an eye-opening discussion. Sitting on a bus on the way out of Jerusalem, I knew I would have a couple of hours to read, learn, nap or just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the Land of Israel. As people boarded the bus, I said the Traveler’s Prayer. No, not Tefillat HaDerech, rather the words that many utter under their breath at this point: “PLEASE don’t sit next to me! PLEASE keep moving to the row behind me! I want to sit alone”

In spite of my prayer (or perhaps because of it!) I found myself next to a person I will call Michael (because that was his name). ¬†After sitting in silence for about four-and-a-half seconds, he turned to me, extended his hand and said: “HI, my name is Michael. What’s your name?” After a few minutes of pleasantries, the ubiquitous question arose: “So, what do you do,” he queried. I paused and then looked him straight in the eyes and said: “I create the future.” At that moment, he probably was saying the OTHER Traveler’s Prayer, the one in which you PRAY there is another empty seat to move to when you discover you have sat down next to someone who perhaps is a bit “off.”

But, taking the bait, he asked what I meant. Now, to be honest, I had no intention to engage in this conversation, but something possessed me to proceed. I told him that the SHORT answer was that I was a teacher. His mono-syllabic reply of “Oh,” led me to believe that he had no idea what I meant by my initial reply, so I decided to give HIM a little education along the way.

And this is the gist of what I told him…

There are SO many noble professions in the world that one can engage in, in order to make a living. But the realm of education is a world unto itself. For, you see, when you teach, you are planting the seeds of the future.

I have the amazing opportunity to teach both children and adults all forms of Limudei Kodesh (Judaic subjects) both privately and in classroom situations. Opening the minds, especially of children, and giving them an opportunity to THINK and to USE THEIR MINDS and not to merely sit there and absorb what is spoon-fed to them has amazing long-term consequences.

Face it, we have all had teachers who were good and some who were not so good. But what made a great teacher (those whom *I* considered great) were the ones who let me grow and to think for myself. The ones who challenged me and the ones who told me not to accept something on face value just because it was declared by the teacher. And, while I didn’t realize it at a young age, what those teachers were doing was planting seeds for the future of the Jewish people. It enabled me to grow up to become a teacher who tries to instill these ideals in his students

And it is this idea that a teacher must keep in mind especially when teaching younger children. What you say will have a profound long-term impact not only on that child but on the Jewish People as well (and it can be positive or G-d forbid, negative!). It is likely that you may never actually see the results of those lessons learned by your students at a tender age. Yet, do understand that you are indeed planting the seeds of the future of the Jewish People. You are truly creating our future!

So, to Michael and to you I say when I am asked “what do you do?” I think from now on I will say that I am in “the business of creation” and see where that takes the conversation.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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