Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Spot On

Someone told me that he's into blogs and gets greedy in regard to them, meaning that if he likes the blog he'll check anxiously and often. If there's anyone out there that feels that way about this blog why not let me know? You might just make my day.

Recently, a kid came into my room and said that Rabbi X wanted to borrow a pencil. I gave her a pencil for her teacher. A few minutes later she came back and said in her giggly and disarming way, "Rabbi X said to tell you that by pencil he meant chalk." I sent her back and told her to tell her him that when I said yes I meant no. (At the very start of the period I myself sent a student on a mission for chalk.

When I was in ninth grade I was asked by my teacher to bring a note into another teacher's classroom. It was the Rebbe of the shiur one level up. It was early in high school and there were still openings in some of the cool clicks. I wanted to look cool when I walked into that room. So I strutted and tilted side to side in what I thought was a cool way. And then I gave him the note. He took it and then shook side to side in a very exaggerated way, mocking me. It generated a big laugh from my grade mates. Is it only me for whom such slights still sting?

When I was in eleventh grade, Rabbi Chaim Margolis asked a kid to get him chalk. Just after the student left the room he opened the desk drawer and found a piece of chalk. Within all of a few seconds he picked it up, stared at it, and then put it back inside and closed the drawer. I absorbed that he didn't want the student to feel that they went for nothing. A minute later when the kid came back with chalk Rabbi Margolis thanked him profusely. And that stayed with me.

When I was in ninth grade my Earth Science teacher (yes I spent a year studying Earth Science and took a regents on it) made an announcement on the first day of school, as a plane was flying over head. He said deliberately and dramatically, "This is a major rule; when a plane flies overhead, I STOP." About a week later a plane flew overhead and I watched as he kept talking inaudibly. Planes flew over many times after that and he never stopped talking when they did. The next year I noticed that whenever a plane flew by Rav Chaim Margolis paused till it passed. There was never a speech but there was always consistent behavior.

A few years ago Rabbi Fischel Schachter spoke in the Carlebach Shul and I was there. He spoke about the power of positive and negative words. He recounted that when he was a bochur he was driving a choshuv Torah VaDaas lay leader. He missed a key turn off and the guy tried to correct the error, but in a second it was long gone. As they continued on the highway the choshuv man muttered under his breath, "Shlemazel." And today, as a truly choshuv Rebbe in Torah VeDaas, He sees that man on occasion, and the memory re-emerges every time.

Rabbi Fischel Schachter, in that same talk, shared that when he needs to say words of admonishment or criticism to a student he always sandwiches it between two positives. I find that remarkable.

In the embryonic stages of my teaching career I did a model lesson at an off the radar, tri-state area day school. After I finished, the principal spent some time with me. I was a bit put off by his saying that he expected my demeanor and style in the classroom to be weaker than it was. (Something I've negotiated my whole life is that certain people experience me as timid in a one on one context and then feel the need to tell me how surprised they were when they see me teach, recite poetry, lecture, lead a Seder, do stand up, do improv, act in an off Broadway show, etc.)

His parting message to me was that Jewish education has been known to take nice people and eat them up and spit them out. After the interview I told an acquaintance who taught in that school what the principal had said to me. His facial reaction indicated that the words struck him. When I asked, he said, "that's what people say about him."

In thos same eary days, I interviewed in a school where the principal required that I sit in on four different classes and then tell him (with no prompting) what I saw in each class. (I recall that on that day, I bought a stuffed animal for a young woman I was dating at the time and named the plush little character after the principal that I had spent the morning with. The girl said that wasn't right so the name was changed.)

When I got my first full time job, the principal required that I take a range of summer courses through Torah U'Mesoarah in Brooklyn, the mandatory centerpiece being courses taught by him. One decent class was taught by the man who had made me sit in the four different classrooms. He told us to notice the common comment before the news breaks for a commercial; "stay with us." I guess the point was to sprinkle our patter with lines like that.

That same man was asked "what's wrong with a teacher saying 'I don't know'?" He said, "Nothing's wrong with saying it now and then. But if you find yourself saying it all the time it means that you're not sufficiently prepared. I think that his answer was spot on.

Some people write about running out of things to say on their blogs . I can sit and free associate for hours. It's just a matter of time.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Bob said...

"anxiously and often" - that would be me.

March 28, 2006 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

You're on my bloglines, so I check quite often too.

I felt a bit like a teacher today. On my new job, I am (as I have been before) providing technical support to sales agents who are out in the field, working on their laptops, with our without network connections. It's tough to do over the phone. One sales manager had been calling me every day with complaints. He thought I had set his computer up wrong. Today I walked him step-by-step through configuring his internet browser. At the end, it was working, and he said, "You're wonderful!" The funny thing is, I know he said it sincerely, even though a few hours earlier he probably thought I was a complete nincompoop.

March 28, 2006 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

P.S. What you'll notice about good sales people is they'll never say anything negative about you to your face. You may hear it in their voice, but they are smart enough to choke back the words. That way, the next day they can say, "You're wonderful" and all the previous tension is forgiven and forgotten. Words stick.

March 28, 2006 at 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Pesach said...

As a felow mechanech (MTA), I find your words powerful and profound. We one communicated by e-mail, but I love to meet you one of these days.

March 29, 2006 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger Shoshana said...

It's so interesting what memories stick with us - it's often not the big events, but the small occurrences of daily life that make such impressions upon us.

Through the process of becoming religious, I have quite a few memories of small interactions that occurred - one here of someone in Israel telling me that I wasn't tznius, and another of the incredibly kind woman who I used to sit next to in shul who would always show me where we were in the davening.

I hope that the positive memories stand out and imprint upon you for longer than those negative ones. And that the negative ones are at least ones from which you learn what NOT to do.

March 29, 2006 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I really enjoy the free association posts.

March 29, 2006 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Did you like Earth Science? I always felt cheated that i wasn't able to take it, so i took a few Geology courses in college.

March 29, 2006 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger ליפא שנילצער said...

"Rabbi Fischel Schachter"

is that the one i know or the one from Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation?

March 29, 2006 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks all for the feedback. Dick Van Patten was right.

Bob, much appreciated.

Mirty, good points. Words that leak sometimes stick and then sometimes we get stuck.

Pesach feel free to email or call. Poweful and profound. High praise. The bar is high.

Yes Shoshana - 'tis the little things that add up, like the drops Rabi Akiva commented on that over years bore a hole in a rock. There is a lot to learn from others and often how not to be (cynical as it may sound to some) is the lesson at hand.

Jack you reminded me of your many comments from over the summer and how I then read what you called a confession in a post (or comment)of yours how you sometimes leave people a lot of comments as a way of couting them to your blog. And that reminded me of the time that Governor Mario Cuomo mentioned a certain politician on his call in radio hour and how a woman said "he wants to be a judge." And Cuomo said, "so what? just because someone has an ambition doesn't discredit what they do."

Steg - Earth Science was not enjoyable for me. It was the dummy science class for the average kids not taking Bio in ninth grade. It was actually hard, and like many a science and math class that I took over the years the main reason of the hardness was the inability (or lack of will) on the part of the teacher to relate the material effectively to people who were more English People than Science People. (I was going to refer to the two types of the brain thing, but being so much the creative non -technical side of the brain type of person I can never remember which side is which).

Lipa - It sounds right that he'd be connected with the Chofetz Chain heritage Foundation.

March 29, 2006 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Keep free-associating. It's a gift of sorts.

I call my own version streamofconsciousness writing.

March 30, 2006 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger AnneD said...

I check your blog every day. Really! As a shiksa I sometimes get lost with the Hebrew or Yiddish terms, but that's fine... occasionally it's good to be a little bit lost in the world. Keeps you on your toes.

I love the pencil-chalk anecdote. You are indeed a funny rabbi.

March 30, 2006 at 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is deep. It sometimes pains me to read but I identify with your words.

March 30, 2006 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

You give pieces of yourself to your blogging. It is at times raw, but it is real.

March 31, 2006 at 1:10 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

anned. i like what you said and how you put it. thanks.

anonymous - thanks.

jack -thanks

April 2, 2006 at 12:08 AM  

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