Monday, June 01, 2009

Breeding Disrespect

I'd like to focus some attention on one answer given to a "hardball" question at the Torah U'Mesorah convention. The question being addressed is if a Rebbe can take a kid out of morning Torah shiurim for a diversion such a trip to the park for singing, commiserating, playing ball, etc. The second speaker (I am unable to pinpoint voices) mentioned that if the Rebbe and principal decide it is necessary to partake in a diversion for a particular class, that the time should be taken away from limudei chol, not limudei kodesh. [Updated: A reader pointed out that perhaps I am interpretting the answer as too broad and pertaining to what I address below. As such, I'm striking this part of my post, but my comments about the practice on the ground still stand].

Anyone who has ever taught in a classroom, given a shiur, or coached a sport is well aware that diversions are sometimes necessary for health of the class, group, or team. I used the word "diversion" only because that is the way the question was posed. I see no reason to micromanage competent, hardworking, or prepared teachers, instructors, or coaches. If their gut feeling tells them that a *regrouping* is needed, I think that their should be a respect for their instinct. On top of that, when a class needs regrouped, it generally needs regrouping in the present, not later that afternoon during math class, and certainly not on the cheshbon of another staff member.

I'm not sure that Rabbonim who share the opinion of the speaker (and by what I've witnessed, I'm afraid this opinion is not uncommon) understand just what impinging does to the morale of limudei chol staff and to the behavior of the students in class and towards staff. I have no major objection to spending more time on limudei kodesh than limudei chol, so long as a standard quality is maintained vis a vis general studies. If a school decides to dedicate 70% of the day to kodesh studies and 30% to chol, that is the prerogative of the school.

I do have an issue with the casual treatment of limudei chol in general. Such casual treatment is what leads kodesh teachers to impede on the time of fellow staff, infringe on the authority of other staff, and it ultimately leads to a lessening of respect, job dissatisfaction, and high turnover, all of which lessen the quality of the school as a whole as well as cause greater expenditure.

As far as I am concerned, every adult worthy of employment, deserves to be given a certain level of deference and authority. Their opinion should be valued as they are in the front lines. Their discipline should be supported. Their subject should be respected. Their time should be respected. They should have the authority to enforce their own (perhaps approved) classroom policies. In other words, their classroom should be as sacrosanct as the next.

I know it is very popular today to "teach middot" and I do know that many limudei kodesh staff are quite appalled by the level of behavior and chutzpah in many classrooms. I think the best place to start teaching middot is to review school policies and the environment and make sure that they are not undermining the lessons being imparted. As it has been said, "actions speak louder than words."


Anonymous said...


I always love coming to your blog and reading your thoughts on every topic, as well as the commenters feedback and thoughts. However, in this intstance I really have to take issue with this post. The comment itself, and I agree with you that it was wrong, took a minute or 2, but the rebuttal by the Novominsker Rebbi lasted for 5+ minutes. He took the time to point out why Rabbi Levine was mistaken and why the Rebbi himself should take the boys out and play with them. The Novominsker Rebbi is well in touch with waht goes on and what children need, he was very strong about his points. So why not take the opportunity to highlight his strong words of encouragement and his disagreement with the 2nd speaker? Afterall he is the head of the agudah and has the final say. Take the time to show what was right in the message rather than just highlight one misguided comment.

alpidarkomama said...

I was a classroom music teacher for 15 years. There was a classroom teacher who would frequently ask to take a student out of my class for one reason or another. One day, there was a student who had to make up a math test, and we were preparing for a large production. I told her no. She said, "But this is math!" and I looked right at her and said, "But this is music!" Different subjects, but the feeling is the same. I never let a student go again after that. If the class is a good class, every student is important and must be in that class. I do think it is disrespectful to remove a student from another class, unless arrangements have been made in advance, it will not be communicating the message that the subject being skipped is not important, and the student and/or classmates will not lose out by that student not being there.

And I think the BEST place to teach middot is in the home (I'm sure you agree!).

therapydoc said...

This is really to the point, thanks, that the brain needs to rest once in awhile, probably often during the day, not just the kid-brain, but the rebbe brain, too.

Anonymous said...

Most in the crowd being addressed do not take limudie chol serious at all and, I dare say, if it were not for government funding there would be no limudie chol at all. To many in the charedi community it is seen as a burden and nothing that will ever be used so why bother. Regardless of the (lack of) parnasah crisis that we are currently experiencing, they still see no need for a secular education. I am not equating Limudie kodesh and chol, however limudie chol needs to play some kind of an important roll in our children's lives or they will be in for a rude awakening when faced with "the real world".

Neil Harris said...

GREAT POST! (and I don't us all caps that often)

DAG said...

I taught Chol at a RW yeshiva. The policy was that the kids had to behave and engage in their studies, BUT, the fact that Chol teachers were not allowed to give ANY homework (even pre-reading a story) and the fact that the Rebbeim kept all of their things strewn over the teachers desk throughout Chol hours gave the kids another impression.

DAG said...

I should also add, that the Chol schedule was changed scores of times over the course of the year. Kids NEVER knew which class they were supposed to attend and at what time.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous-I appreciate your comments and critiques and I take such comments seriously because I don't want to be a nitpicker. In this case, my comments were prompted by the talk, but more reflective on personal experience and experiences of others who have stood in the role of general studies staff.

No Rav on the podium, no matter how high up in the Agudah, has a "final say" in any school despite having a voice. Each school is responsible for establishing an environment, and if the administration creates an environment where there are first and second class subjects, first and second class teachers, teachers with authority and teachers without authority, teachers who infringe upon the territory of other teachers, etc, then we have a problem.

I was glad to hear a dissenting voice, but I am addressing a different topic which I don't believe was address by the Novominsker, and that subject is the "casual treatment" of limudei chol. The treatment comes from limudei kodesh staff and administration, respected Rebbeim such as the speaker, parents, and students alike. In all of these Qand A sessions the focus is almost all focused on limudei kodesh. Here the question was whether or not the Rebbe should be allowed to take the kids on outings. The Novominsker paid attention to the issues facing Rebbes, but I have yet to see someone take on the issues facing general studies staff. That is where I am stepping in.

Thanks again for your comments.

Orthonomics said...

alpidarkomama-Thanks for bringing in some real life experience and great response.

My main focus of this post in on school policy and how that sends signals. In my own (public) school, whenever there was a school event the scheduled would be shortened equally for each class. I think this type of policy is far better because it does not undermine any teacher or subject matter.

I also agree that middot are best taught in the home. Unfortunately school policy can undermine what is taught in the home. We (baruch Hashme) have a school that feels like an extension of home. The expectations of the school are very much in line with the expectations of our home. I wouldn't want it any other way. If I were to ever have to go through the choosing a school process again, I would ask about issues such as authority of all staff, lines of command, schedules, etc.

Orthonomics said...

DAG-Your examples are exactly what I am addressing. Actions speak louder than words and despite the "rules," the kids get a different message.

ProfK said...

I've taught across the spectrum of religious schools. The kodesh/chol problem becomes worse the further to the right you go. In one such school I taught at the two divisions of teachers were those who taught limudei kodesh and those who taught goyishe subjects. By extention there were the moros and there were the goyishe teachers. Mind you, every teacher teaching secular studies was frum, three of them being the daughters of well known talmidei chachomim and roshei yeshivos and the elementary English studies principal being a Rosh Yeshiva's wife. The names used tell the story.

Students stood up when their moros walked in the room; they did not do so for their secular studies teachers. Students addressed their moros in the third person as a sign of respect; they did not do so for their secular studies teachers. Students were expected to give shalach monos to their moros; they did not do so for their secular studies teachers. We were tolerated and that was about it.

Honestly Frum, it's not government funding that keeps secular studies in the program (although it does play a part) but the fact that without chol classes these yeshivas would not be considered schools. The law says that all children must be educated according to governmentally approved standards and curriculi. Sure, a lot of yeshivas are resentful of the government's dictates, but they can't dispense with chol classes without running into legal trouble. Interestingly enough, it's why a lot of the boys high schools have virtually no senior year classes in chol, and a few of the chassidishe girls high schools as well. A student can, with parental permission, sign themselves out of high school, I believe after 16 years of age. Once there is no possible legal violation some of the yeshivas flex their anti-chol muscles.

Anonymous said...

profk --
then how can so many high schools in lakewood not have secular studies?

ProfK said...

First I'm hearing that some high schools have no secular studies at all. I can only guess. 1)because there are no state regents exams as there are in NY, they won't get caught if they say they do but they don't 2)they file a curriculum with the state that they don't actually teach, and states don't send around inspectors to see if learning is actually going on 3)they have a chol studies program but teach kodesh as the subject matter, i.e. they show History as a subject but are teaching Jewish Historia instead 4)they do what some of the Brooklyn yeshivas do, which is to have a one-week crash course before any state required exam, 5)they've got someone from the ed department on their "payroll" who looks the other way 6)they have a girls school division with secular studies which fronts for the boys division which doesn't have it 7)NJ has a younger age at which a student can sign themselves out of high school with parental permission 8)they do have secular studies but it's something like 1/2 hour or so a day 9)they do have secular studies until the age they can abolish it and it's an urban myth that they don't have any secular studies. Would be interesting to know the real answer if anyone does know it.

gavra@work said...


A relative of mine had this question, & called the NJ DOE.

The NJ Dept. of Ed does not set any curriculum, so the private schools can do whatever they want.

Anonymous said...


Sorry to keep this going, but then your post has little to do with the statements made in the Q and A session and should not be using it as an example. You'll forgive me for supporting kovod hatorah here.

The question posed was whether or not the Rebbi should go out with the boys and play ball. R' Levine, perhaps insesitively responded that no, the secular studies teacher should. Who know's? Maybe he was referring to the gym teacher as "being enough"? The Novominsker Rebbi, who as Rosh of the Agudah, is the one that most RW yeshivos listen to, corrected him and said that the rebbi absolutely should be the one to go out and play.

It was never a question of who is more important, but rather which teacher should go out and play with the kids and whether or not if the Rebbi goes out it is considered bittul torah. I am sorry if you took afront to it, but there is nothing wrong with the question and the response highlights the fact that there are different opinions, non of which were dissenting towards secular studies teachers. I appreciate the Novominsker's response and am always happy when my children come home and tell me that their rabbeim play with them during recess and other opportunities.

I have no problem with discussion about the disrespect and abuse that secular studies teacher are subjected to, I was an english teacher in a yeshiva for 1 year and swore never to do it again. I just feel that the example being used is twisting the discussion in ways that they were never intended to be twisted.

It's worth another listen.

ProfK said...

gavra@work, yes and no about the curriculum setting. If by curriculum you mean that the state does not give out set lesson plans with precise listings of exactly what must be taught in each grade and in what order, then NJ is not the only state not to do this. NY also does not do this. However, a quick call to a professor of education in a Jersey college brought out that the state does have mandated standards. There are certain types of subjects which must be taught--math, English, social studies, science, health ed etc.both in elementary school and in high school. For a school to qualify as a substitute for public school it must offer at least the basics.

Orthonomics said...

I've given the tape a number of listens and decided to strike the first paragraph, but leave the discussion up since I think there are highly problematic practices. I don't want to misinterpret the words as an endorsement of what goes on on the ground.

Seems you would agree that there are major problems on the ground since you too have sworn off ever stepping foot to teach in yeshiva again. (Join the club.)

Anonymous said...

ProfK - 4)they do what some of the Brooklyn yeshivas do, which is to have a one-week crash course before any state required exam[space]

This reminds of something that happened when I was in High School at MTA. One of the Brooklyn yeshivas "released" the regents exams the day before they were given. Somehow copies also ended up by us at MTA and late that night (I lived in the dorm) I was directly asked by some yeshivish types to solve the math exams for them in advance of them taking it the next day (they were directed to me by some classmates because I was known as the math whiz of the class and would give them 100% correct answers). I wasn't the best behaved student, nor was I the most moral, but I told them to screw off, and even tried to get the other students to avoid helping them. Perhaps at the time I was just being ornery, and might have been annoyed at the utter unfairness of what they were doing, but later I realized what a huge chillul Hashem it was (especially when the regents leak news hit the newspapers). I think after that, the Regents tightened up and didn't release the exams to the yeshivas until the day of the exam shortly before it was scheduled to begin. This was sometime in the mid-to-late-70's


Anonymous said...


Appreciate it.

Absolutely! I was an 8th grade english teacher for a rw boys yeshiva for 1 year. I met with rabbeim and parents throughout the year to discuss the tremendous lack of derech eretz the boys had towards the secular studies teachers. I begged the rabbeim to take some initiative and speak to the boys about it and tell them what they expect from them in the afternoon. I got nowhere. I was well paid and I think that they expected that I would come back the next year because of it. I refused. They went and found some other "babysitter".