is Rabbi Ross. I’m a Rebbe in a Yeshiva (I prefer not to give the location.) I’m asking the following questions not only as a third grade Rebbe but also as a parent of a few kids. What is the goal of a Rebbe? More and more parents have been asking me to shower their kids with love, and even the administration explained that we need to focus a lot on giving the kids a happy day. I’m scared to bring this question to the administration since I’ve already brought it up a few times. Is it all about giving over happiness and love or should I still try to push the kids in learning? Can you share some insights? – A Chaver
You’re asking a dangerous question. I recently listened to a wonderful therapist explain the importance of giving our kids love. When he finished, I felt like I was at a Hippie convention. I will gladly share my thoughts, but please understand that there are many people that disagree with me. I have spoken with Psychologists, Rabbonim and Menahalim, and although many think I’m correct, there are those that don’t. In layman terms, before changing your methodology of teaching, make sure that those that are paying you are on board.
Here goes. As parents and Rebbeim, we have a responsibility to these children to prepare them for the world. We also want to teach them Torah and about Yiddishkeit without pushing them too hard. It’s a very challenging job as a Rebbe and even more difficult as a parent.
It’s not really just about giving love. You can’t teach love! Hugging your children all the time won’t help them succeed in life. Sure, it’s very important to give them constant hugs and tell them how awesome they are. However, they need much more than that. Children need structure and discipline. Consequences are important, and good role models are one of the keys to success.
The fact is, as a Rebbe you have one main job. Put the “warmth” back into Yiddishkeit. When you teach a child Torah, you should do it with a smile. Chumash shouldn’t be taught as a subject, rather as a life lesson. Davening isn’t a requirement, it’s a way to communicate with Hashem. Halacha isn’t a burden, rather it’s a way of establishing our identity.
As a Rebbe, you do have a responsibility, but it’s not to the parents or the administration. It’s to the children in your class. You have to give over a love of Yiddishkeit while simultaneously giving over the skills these Bnai Torah will need for this year, the next year, and for life. If every Rebbe realized that they have the ability to shape the future of each one of their Talmidim, it would be fantastic. Here are a few things to keep in mind every day.
There is nothing wrong with telling off a student, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. You can act upset, and you can even give a consequence. However, that child must know that you still think he’s a wonderful Ben Torah. I like to walk over to any student that I disciplined and whisper, “You know that you’re awesome right? We all make mistakes, and I’m sure it won’t happen again!”
Learning Torah is key. Children love to accomplish. One of the biggest mistakes many Mechanchim make is not pushing the kids enough. With all the distraction going on in the world, many children LOVE to accomplish something real. I like to hit the ground running, so on the first day, I spend almost the entire day learning. At the end of the day, I tell them, “Do you realize how much you boys accomplished in 4 hours? You’re all so amazing!” Even the ones that don’t understand the learning, still appreciate that they were involved. Actually, those kids are the ones I like to reassure. I’ll go over to an obviously weaker student (every Rebbe or teacher can usually spot them in the first ten minutes) and say “You were a huge part of our day today! Thanks!”
Nevertheless, there are some days that you have to change it up a little bit. If the class is off, I can assure you that they won’t be able to focus very well. Is it snowing? Is it very hot outside? Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to teach some impressionable minds what it means to be flexible. You can tell them, “I was going to teach these Pesukim and Rashis, but instead I want to tell you an amazing story about what happened to me.” Share with them any story that you feel imparts a life lesson. Not only will they appreciate that you understand them, but they’ll probably pay close attention to what you’re saying.
One last thing that’s super important to understand. Calling a parent shouldn’t be reserved only for issues. Actually, it should probably be the opposite. When these kids get home, it’s been a long day. Their parents probably also had a long day, and this can be a real recipe for disaster. What would happen if you call the mother of a struggling student and tell her that her son is the greatest kid? Can you just imagine the smile and the happiness it’ll bring to her and her kids? I assure you that when he comes into class the next day, he’ll be so grateful. It doesn’t have to be a generic call. Every child has something special. Perhaps she held the door for a friend or picked up garbage that she didn’t drop. If you can’t find one positive thing in a child, you’re not looking hard enough!
There are many other things to keep in mind, but these are some of the crucial ones. To summarize, your goal as a Rebbe is to teach a lot of Torah, discipline the kids with love, show that Yiddishkeit is Gishmak, be flexible and read the room, and make sure the parents appreciate how awesome their kids are.
Hatzlacha Rabba and have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.