To Be A Rebbe, Part II
By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Occasionally, the article I write generates a lot of conversation (which is a polite way of saying controversy). The last article I wrote regarding young rebbeim was one such article. Although many people agreed with what I wrote, I received quite a few interesting e-mails over the past few days. I will respond to a few of them this week, and we’ll continue the regular article next week.
Q: I am what you might call a young rebbe. I spend hours preparing and learning from other rebbeim, and B’H I have been having an amazing year. I felt that in your article, you were generalizing tremendously. There are many fantastic aspects that fresh blood brings to the table.
A Local Rebbe
A: During an average week, I have one or two boys come to me, complaining that “Someone called me stupid.” After reassuring him that I will deal with it, I ask, “If someone called you a three-legged mongoose, would that bother you?” When he says “no,” I continue: “That’s because you’re not a three-legged mongoose. Now, since you’re not stupid either, that shouldn’t bother you either.”
The same applies here. The article was not focused only on young rebbeim. It was directed at yeshivas that allow parents to run the school, parents that are overprotective, and young rebbeim who don’t yet have (or are attempting to acquire) classroom-management skills. You seem to be an excellent rebbe and are constantly improving yourself, and therefore the last topic doesn’t apply to you.
Regarding the “generalizing” point, this is an article that is read by thousands of people, B’H. I am discussing the general topic of parenting and Yiddishkeit, so yes, I will be generalizing. It’s not ever intended to insult or offend anyone, chas v’shalom.
Q: I’ve noticed that you seem to be defending older rebbeim. My son had a rebbe in yeshiva that turned him off to Yiddishkeit. These rebbeim need to go if they can’t understand children and the importance of showing love.
A: You brought up a number of points in this e-mail, and I’ll try to respond to each one.
Q: If my memory serves me well, you taught my son in seventh grade, when you were 20 years old. He had a great year, but you did not have a green thumb. What steps did you take to improve over the years?
A: I remember your son well. First of all, it was a different generation 20 years ago. The parents were less involved, and the administration was more supportive of the rebbeim. I spent my summers meeting with professional mechanchim, and my afternoons sitting in on other classes. I worked on my curriculum continuously, always looking for ways to improve the lessons in a way that would most benefit the class.
Being a rebbe or teacher is not just a static job, it’s a lifelong commitment. It requires continuous preparation, effort, and the ability to adapt to each new class (and generation). Additionally, while it’s always advisable to do what you love, it is an absolutely fundamental requirement in order to be a successful rebbe or morah. You must be enthusiastic about your role as a mechanech and love teaching children in order to be able to do your job.
Q: I’m a parent of three children in various yeshivos. Are you suggesting that I not be involved in their education?
A: I wrote, “Parents call and complain that their children are not coming home happy.” The problem is threefold.
There are so many things wrong with the above scenario.
Q: Last week’s article brought up an issue that I have as a rebbe. What if I don’t love a boy in my class? Somehow, he gets under my skin, and I don’t think I’m giving him a fair shake.
Anonymous in Far Rockaway
A: I am trying to stay away from these questions. However, it’s surprising how many questions I received that were similar to yours. The answer to your question is long, and I won’t go into detail in this article. I will, however, share my initial thoughts.
Part of being a rebbe is finding the beauty in every talmid. While there are children that can act annoying, and even those who drive you crazy (or their parents do), you need to search for their special talent or middah. I can assure you, the child knows he’s not loved. You need to go out of your way to give him positive attention, and make him understand that you care. If you just can’t do it, this may sound harsh, but there are a lot of jobs out there that may be more suitable. Being a rebbe is a privilege.
Rav Dessler says in Michtav M’Eliyahu, the root of “ahavah”—love—derives from the word “hav,” which means to give. The more you give, the more you come to love someone. That’s why Hashem created babies to be so dependent on their parents. The more we give them, the more feelings of love are created. At first, the giving might be “forced,” but the more you go out of your way to help this particular child (calling on them, extra smiles, a pat on the shoulder, etc.), the more you can learn to, and will, love them for who they are. You can be the one who will start him on the path to success!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.