Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

To Be a Teacher

I sometimes think that the experience of Moshe Rabeinu with the Hebrews in the desert is akin to a classroom teacher’s experience. Moshe juggled so many balls at once, that it was difficult to keep them all in the air. His students were sometimes unruly and he was called upon to teach a way of life and a set of laws to people who were not always eager to learn. He had many constituencies to answer to, including HaKadosh Baruch Hu, but at the end of the day Moses was alone as a teacher and the desert was an enormous classroom whose school year extended for a very long and tumultuous time.

At the outset of Parshat Devarim we find Moshe beginning his speech to the kehillah. Tradition says that Moshe taught the Torah four times, to his brother Aaron, to Aaron’s sons, to the elders and then to the Kahal.  One can Imagine Moshe the night before his talk reviewing material, organizing his thoughts and struggling to find the right way to present material so that the people might hear and remember. 

It is said that Sefer Devarim, the final book of Torah, is the book where Torah commentary began. We see this in the way that Moshe’s presentation before B’nai Yisrael is not quite the same as it was reported in other books of Torah. This adds one more of the traits of a teacher. Teachers bring themselves into the equation. They bring their own life experience, their own unique magic to teaching. Moshe brought his wise and modest self to be a teacher.  He brought his own voice, ripened with age and experience, to teach his students.

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To Be a Teacher

To be a teacher is to be detective, searching for the learner who is sometimes hidden under layers of negativity or fear or lack of confidence.

Teachers are gardeners, planting new seeds each year. Teachers may not be there for the final harvest, but the seeds are carefully planted and tended.

Teachers are searchers, scroungers and savers who are on constant hunt for just the right thing to excite their learners.

Like Moshe before them, teachers are problem solvers who come armed with the wisdom of Solomon and the calming harp of King David. They are like the judges of old, adjudicating disputes.

Teachers are managers of time, content and space and teachers are perpetual students, striving to continue to build and grow.

Teachers are mentors, pointing out paths and possibilities and opening doors.

Teachers are builders of character and knowledge and thus they become the architects of the future.

Teachers are risk takers. Sometimes they are successful, and other times they are not, but one thing teachers are not, are quitters.

Teachers are most definitely not quitters.

They get back up and try again.

To be a teacher is to be a kindler of lights and for each small accomplishment, for each new skill or insight, a teacher has helped light that light.

Teachers are cheerleaders and challengers.

They are huggers and hand holders
and awesome high-fivers.

To be a teacher is to be a catalyst for change,

devoted to the art of understanding how individuals learn;

recognizing that no two people learn the same way.

Teachers are soldiers on the front line of creating tomorrows.

And this is just the beginning of a list.

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And so Sefer Devarim begins Moshe’s teaching. As we read this parsha and hear his words we can begin to appreciate the art and the devotion to the art of teaching.

Beginning with Moshe Rabeinu and extending to this very day, Ad Hayom Hazeh.

If you can, make a point of thanking a teacher today in honor of Moshe Rabeinu and Sefer Devarim.

Teachers deserve it.

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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