Working with Middle School students is a delicate dance of showing a lot of love, providing structure, empowering them with knowledge, more structure, and yet another dash of structure. All too often, people think being a Middle School teacher is close to impossible and I often hear the words, “good luck to you!” when I tell others what I love to do for a living.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: It all comes down to two words; classroom management. It’s up to the teacher to create a safe learning space that is going to inspire and challenge students to be successful in the end. It’s my belief that to be their very best, students need order and clear guidelines.
Interestingly enough, God applies a similar approach in Parashat Yitro with B’nai Yisrael. God sees the way B’nai Yisrael acts and treats one another; furthermore, God witnesses the ways in which B’nai Yisrael exhibits its disrespect and calls into doubt its own redemption. So, God essentially does what any effective teacher does knowing that students need structure in order to be successful. In Exodus Chapter 20, God gives B’nai Yisrael (think Middle School students) expectations they need to meet in order to successfully navigate God’s “course” and ultimately “graduate” in order to enter Eretz Yisrael.
God’s expectations are clear and fundamentally easy to follow and there are only 10 of them. True, most of us call these expectations, עשרת הדברות, or the 10 commandments, and we don’t refer to them as “rules.” Ask any Middle School teacher and they will tell you that as soon as you give a Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth Grader a “rule”, their first instinct is to see how quickly they test the limits by breaking that rule and undermining your entire enterprise. But here, God enumerates 10 expectations in order for B’nai Yisrael to succeed in God’s classroom.
In both cases, the “classroom” is the place where it all happens. There is so much that is accomplished in a robust learning environment – not to mention the numerous opportunities a teacher is afforded with students for building relationships and personal connections. Here at Schechter Bergen, we strive to make sure our learning spaces are safe places for students to voice their concerns, to respectfully disagree with one another, argue for what they believe, and truly personalize their learning – an experience that as teachers, we have the honor to be a part. This only happens when learning is managed well and students are meeting the expectations that we as teachers set forth. The same holds true for B’nai Yisrael and its connection to God as it truly begins the process of being a freed people and ultimately finding the way to Eretz Yisrael.