Last week I was a guest teacher in Gilroy, California. (Yes, the garlic capital.) In a very quiet way it was a life renewing experience. First, I sat with both students in the Bet class. These were two boys who, in a very quiet way, alternated between competing with each other and supporting each other. Then I taught all four students in the Alef class; three girls and one boy. There is something amazingly renewing about teaching students one, two, three, or four at a time. It reminds you that education is a conversation, not a chain of presentations. It cues you that teaching is as much about listening, and listening well, as it is about speaking. But most of all it clarifies the truth that a classroom is a few people sitting around a table talking, not an audience watching and evaluating a performance.
It is easy to cite Jewish texts up the gezipke that suggest that teaching is a relationship and establish a teacher’s obligation to students is not be entertaining, but to facilitate growth. But this is all clearer to see when you are sitting at a table with two students. We live a reality where our classes are held against the clock, where we are rushing with too much to accomplish in too little time. Our world is one where teachers are graded on entertainment value, and perhaps on niceness, but rarely on quality of communication, depth of knowledge and honesty.
Where most of us teach, our classes (depending on our pace) are either wind sprints or slow crawls through a desert hunting for the oasis. It is import for us to have a moment of renewal, of going back to sitting at a table with twos or fours and remembering that teaching is about is more about listening than it is about talking. Most of all, in the rush between music and dance, between late carpools and leaving early for soccer, it is important to remember that teaching is about knowing each student and learning with them. There is in good teaching, moments when the clock stops. All this is a truism, a too simple reality, till you sit again with just a few kids and remember.