In retrospect I was lucky I made it out of that year feet first. It was a miracle I made it that far.
But I was young and idealistic, and I finished off the school year on a disappointed note, wishing I had accomplished more.
I was a very young, very inexperienced and supremely confident 19-year-old when I landed the job that still stands out in my mind as a job of horrors.
I was fresh out of seminary, looking for a teaching job and insistent that I would not compromise on anything.
I was only going to teach junior high. I was not going to be an assistant or teach first grade. Not me.
It was a week before school started when I saw the message on my phone.
“Hi, my name is Rabbi X. I’m the principal of a kiruv school in Hallandale (about a 20-minute drive away), and we’re looking for a seventh and eighth grade teacher for limudei kodesh.”
Seventh and eighth grade! Limudei kodesh! It was a dream job, a plum job, almost at the height of my dreams.
They hired me the minute I walked into the interview. They were desperate to have a breathing soul in the classroom. I was naive, untried and clueless.
I walked into school the next week, thinking that a week ago I’d never heard of this place.
It should have been a disaster. And truthfully, for the first few weeks it was. My class was composed of 17 teenage girls from homes that ranged from marginally observant to totally assimilated. They were moody, indifferent, uncontrollable and a total shock for an FFB like me.
They had zero interest in the subject matter. Besides for two sweet earnest girls who were largely regarded as nerds by the rest of the class, nobody cared about Jewish studies.
It was a difficult situation. Half the kids were fresh out of public school. The others had already been in the school for years but hadn’t really benefited from any formal training. The school had gone through quite a few administrative changes in the previous few years and the students had not learned much
About two months into the year a girl told me, “You better not quit on us. Last year, five teachers quit!”
Most of them came from broken homes and were not interested in school work. If they cared at all, it was secular studies they were interested in. My subject wasn’t something they cared or knew about.
But surprisingly, with a lot of siyata dishmaya and guidance from a very dedicated principal, my class settled down. I had control over the classroom. They listened when I taught.
They even did their homework!
Sure, I felt a flash of jealousy when my friend remarked how her fifth graders were terrified of her. Such a state of affairs did not exist in my classroom. However, on the whole, things were going much better than could be expected.
It helped that all 17 of my students were nuts over me. They had so few stable influences in their lives that they were naturally drawn to me. I was young, well dressed, cool, and I spoke their language. I got them. During free time they crowded around my desk, and during recess and lunch they lined up to tell me their problems.