Recognizing our everyday heroes: Our teachers - opinion

Saying thank you to teachers is not an act that only needed to happen during COVID, it is something they deserve every day.

 CHARLES E. SMITH Jewish Day School: The learner-educator relationship is at the very core of all of our schools, says the writer. (photo credit: COURTESY OF PRIZMAH)
CHARLES E. SMITH Jewish Day School: The learner-educator relationship is at the very core of all of our schools, says the writer.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF PRIZMAH)

In the middle of the “bitter” month of Heshvan, with no holidays to liven up our weeks, as our daylight hours get shorter and shorter, perhaps the return to routine can prompt us to recognize seemingly ordinary moments of light and daily sources of energy. While Tishrei was a season of awe and we look ahead to the miracles of Kislev, now is our moment to take stock and embrace the everyday.

Even in today’s hyper-polarized environment, nearly everyone still celebrates the people who tend to society’s most basic needs day in and day out. Call them first responders or front-line workers, these individuals deserve all the expressions of gratitude they receive and more.

We need to include in this category our teachers and school leaders who dedicate their lives every day to helping students learn and grow so that they, too, can help make the world better in the future. We recognize the power of individuals to serve each other through urgent needs, as well as during blessedly calmer times. 

Starting the day appreciating teachers

At Prizmah, we began this school year as we always should, with a deep sense of gratitude for all that teachers and school leaders do, day in and day out, with an appreciation for their incredible commitment and service. So many dedicate a lifetime to their students, and their teaching resonates through subsequent generations. According to Rambam: “There is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater awe than that due a teacher.”

 JANET KUPIETZKY trains English teachers in a class at Herzog College. (credit: HERZOG COLLEGE) JANET KUPIETZKY trains English teachers in a class at Herzog College. (credit: HERZOG COLLEGE)

In a world where constructive discourse is profoundly challenged, we can honor our teachers and school leaders in a meaningful way by taking steps to interact more constructively and support educators – recognizing their dedication and service. Saying thank you to teachers is not an act that only needed to happen during COVID, it is something they deserve every day.

What sustains educators is the knowledge that according to the Talmud (Shabbat 119b): “The world only exists because of the breath of schoolchildren.” Our children are our future, and, when they are engaged in learning, when they are literally breathing in an educational atmosphere, we imagine that the whole world itself can continue turning.

WITH CHILDREN in mind, we celebrate a changing tide among Jewish day schools, as more parents are seeking out a day school education. We know that our schools, on the whole, are strong and well-equipped to continue delivering their missions, notwithstanding the stress and uncertainty associated with changing economic realities.

We see this through the enrollment patterns and research among parents that Prizmah provides, the growing financial health evidenced by incredible new philanthropic investments in schools to strengthen excellence and address affordability challenges, as well as data from schools participating in the valuable Data and Analysis for School Leadership program.

We are inspired by day school alumni, who volunteer to speak about the impact of day school on their lives through our new #JDSalumniproud video campaign, from whom we draw in critical energy and information in order to continue delivering value in support of day schools across North America. In every video, teachers are remembered as central to the joy and success of each person’s education and their life more broadly. 

Prizmah is honored to support the field and offer a wide range of programs and services throughout the year, with a key highlight being the return of the Prizmah Conference, January 8-10, 2023 in Denver. The theme of the conference is “Creative Spirit.” Together, we will celebrate the spirit of creativity that teachers and educational leaders bring to their work every day, and explore the creative competencies that we can apply to impact students, schools and communities.

The process of learning – at any age – depends upon a conducive environment and, perhaps even more critically, a caring guide. The breath, the oxygen that provides fuel, of learners is literally coaxed, modeled and moderated by their teachers. Educators themselves gather energy from those breath-taking “ah-ha” moments when a child figures something out, perpetuating the inspiring feedback loop that is at the core of all learning.

When students are learning, teachers are gaining what they need to remain motivated and to refine and improve their own practice. The learner-educator relationship is at the very core of all of our schools.

When we place teachers at the heart of our thinking, when we open up lines of communication and deepen the possibilities for educators to facilitate learning, we aspire to the vision of the Talmud. The breath of our children will truly ensure a vibrant Jewish world.

We wish the teachers and leaders at all our schools our heartfelt gratitude.

The writer is the CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.