#IWishMyTeacherKnew: Teen Edition

If you’re one of the sage people who avoids Twitter, you may not have seen these striking statements by one 3rd grade class in Colorado. So let me tell you: a teacher, wanting to understand her students’ lives better, assigned them this sentence to complete. “I wish my teacher knew…”

Holy heartbreak, the responses that came back. She, and a gazillion websites, have been sharing them on Twitter. Take these two:

WishMyTeacherKnewdeported

 

WishMyTeacherKnew

When I taught kindergarten in Watts, months after the ’92 riots, I didn’t have to assign that sentence to understand the world my kids lived in. They offered up their innocence on the altar of the classroom carpet, sitting crisscross applesauce, hands raised obediently: “They shoot a lot at night here.”

I can’t help but imagine what a high school teacher would learn if they assigned this sentence, “I wish my teacher knew….” Even in our gleaming public high school, kids face all kinds of stresses: poverty, abuse, brokenness. Perhaps: “I wish my teacher knew I have nightmares every night,” or “I wish my teacher knew I woke up at 4 a.m. to ride the public bus to get here,” or “I wish my teacher knew I haven’t seen my parents in over a year.”

But what difference would it make for teachers to know this? Their job is just to teach, right?

Half-right. As educator/humanitarian/visionary Chaim Peri writes in his book The Village Way, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescence can be a time of great healing. And kids without loving adults at home need to look elsewhere for their mentors: to teachers.

Peri, founder of Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, works with traumatized teens — orphans, immigrants, exiles, and survivors of war in their home countries. They succeed like crazy, becoming productive adults, by re-creating the sense of “village” that Hillary Rodham Clinton brought into the American lexicon a few years back.

“We need to offer [teens] an aura of togetherness,” says Peri in his book, “a sense of inner coherence and emotional solidarity that defies the swirling chaos around us. We must recreate, intentionally, through the messages that we constantly broadcast to our children, the sense of belonging and togetherness that once defined human existence.”

“If I could tell every educator just one thing, it would be that each hour of the teenage years is precious, each experience as potent in its capability to heal or to wound as countless hours of childhood experiences.”

His call to action: each of us has it within ourselves to become a mentor and heal a child.

My husband and I heard Chaim Peri speak when we were in the midst of deciding whether to become stand-in mom and dad to an 18-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala. His talk sealed the deal.

Between stepping up and her move-in date we were scared as hell, worried that we were going to ruin our family’s happy life. We have never more wrong.

I’m not saying you have to welcome a stranger into your home to do a world of good. You can go to 826LA. Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It takes a village, and we are the village.

What other groups do you know that offer the chance to mentor? Share in your comments.

 

 

Introducing Spring, and Maria

The bees are having an orgy with our bottle brush tree. It’s blooming like mad. Needle thin magenta red flowers are exploding all over the place. They land in my hair as I trim its branches to unblock the backyard gate – … Continue reading

Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.

Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.