Rays of Light: The End of the Year—Whew! or Wow?

by Lali Ray

All of the principals and teachers I’ve seen and talked with in the last month are in the state of “closure” for their school year. Some of them are just glad it’s over. They don’t want to think about next year until at least August 1. The others are already planning how in the next year they will excite the students, enthuse the teachers and accomplish still more than they did last year. Some are sort of half way between. The latter are winding down, ordering books and the like, but basically glad to be doing something else for a while.

Initially, I wasn’t going to write about this, but the last TAPBB discussing the importance of teachers who relate well to kids triggered a “what’s the difference” sequence of thought. Is there a correlation between how teachers and principals really feel about their students and how well they understand their needs, and how they wind up their school year? Or do problems in other school relationships sour principals and teachers and lead them to be relieved to have lived through another year?

What about principals and teachers and their connections to one another? There is no doubt in my mind (because I’ve “been there done that”) that some teachers and principals—or any executive and staff—”click” better than others. Teachers who teach the way you would if you were still in the classroom or principals who understand and support you make you feel more secure. But does that mean that “different” teachers are necessarily worse? Let me tell you a story. When I first joined the New York Board of Jewish Education in 1978—fresh out of Hebrew Union College in spite of my advanced age—my job was to visit classrooms and observe. I, of course, was full of “new” and exciting ideas. I knew that teachers were not “supposed” to do frontal teaching and were supposed to adopt more “humanistic” methods of teaching. Integrating affective and cognitive learning—”Confluent Education”—was HUC’s shtick at the time.

My first classroom visit was to a teacher who stood in the front of the class with a yardstick and indicated the students who were to respond by banging on their desks. I was horrified! As I watched, however, I saw how enthusiastic the children were, how much they loved her and she loved them, how proud she was of them, and how well she showed it. I learned later that she phoned each of her students at least once a week to find out if they needed help with any of their homework. So I learned my first really important lesson. As long as teachers and students relate well to each other, teaching “styles” don’t make a heck of a lot of difference. It served me well in my own work later. So, enjoy the summer! I hope all of you will be thinking of ways to support teachers to help them do the best that they can within their own style. And teachers, I hope that you will be thinking of ways to enjoy what you’re doing even more than you do now.