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Rosh HaShana, Back-to-School, and Teacher Super Powers

Posted by: Susan Kardos

September 6, 2018

By: Dr. Susan Kardos
As the heat of summer loosens its sticky grip, we naturally turn toward two major events on the calendar: Rosh HaShana and the opening of school. My favorite time of the year.
Rosh HaShana is a time, first, for reflection. In our tradition, this day is Yom ha-din, a day of thoughtful review and evaluation. It’s a time for looking back at the past year—and perhaps what preceded it—to assess choices and their consequences, friends gained and lost, family appreciated or taken for granted, days seized and opportunities missed.
But our tradition also holds Rosh Hashana to be Yom harat olam, our world’s beginning. It is thus also an occasion for looking ahead and for creation—for envisioning the person we want to become and for new opportunities to become or create that person. Perhaps we envision a less flawed or more virtuous version of our current selves, or perhaps we envision a new model, not with minor upgrades, but with core features or functions radically transformed. Indeed, I’ve often thought of Rosh HaShana as God’s annual bequest to us of our own chance to create ourselves.
Likewise, as schools open, teachers and students return to school with new plans, hopes, and dreams. Students, with new backpacks or new shoes, carry to school empty notebooks and sharpened pencils, ready to fill the lines with “do nows,” spelling lists, or practice problems. The whole year lies ahead, an eternity until next summer, or so it seems. Students have an opportunity to create themselves anew at school. Gone are the habits or trappings of last year. Gone are the old expectations and familiarities. As students fall into the routines and rhythms of the new school year, they have yet another chance.
Teachers also show up to school with their new stuff: books they found in a museum store over the summer, ideas to make tefillot more relevant, methods to build a culture of kindness in their classrooms, and maybe even new shoes. They, too, have likely resolved to return graded work to students sooner, have more patience in their last period class, or show more enthusiasm when teaching quadratic equations. They may have even resolved (and scheduled in) more self-care during the school year. Second chances. New beginnings. Creation. This is the promise of this time of year.
I remember a new teachers’ boot camp I did the August before I started my first year of teaching at an independent school years ago. In one of our sessions, the instructor, an experienced teacher herself, urged our group of young, novice teachers to try to begin every single day, every class anew: “Never assume that Joey will forget his homework again or that Lucy is again the one in the back distracting others.” She urged us to adopt the mindset that every day, any day, can be the day that a child re-invents herself, and a teacher can never foreclose that child’s opportunity for her own self-creation.
So yes, Rosh HaShana and Back-to-School offer us unique and special times for reflection and renewal. But our teachers have special super-powers. Not only during the first days of school, but every day—even the dark days, deep in February—they cultivate the environments in which children can partner with God in the act of creation.
Shana Tova U’Metukah to students and their families and most especially to all of the teachers out there who will spend their days this year, as they spend their days every year: giving children second chances, occasions for renewal, and opportunities for creation.

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