Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Back to School Isn't Only For Kids

Margie Bogdanow, a PTJL instructor, shares her summer reflections on being a teacher and a student. This post originally appeared on Margie's blog.

As I sit on the porch in New Hampshire with the sun shining and the pond glistening through the trees in the distance, fall feels very far away. If only there was a way to slow down time.  (So far the only way I’ve found to do that is to “plank” – that tortuous position where somehow your “core” is strengthened – then I take notice of each drawn out second as I try to hold on for as long as possible. But I know that I can only plank for a minute or two a day – the rest of the day, time passes much too quickly). Before we know it, summer will pass and school will start.  For most, school implies children.  Children learn, parents teach.  However, one of the most important lessons I learned early on in my parenting is that children teach and parents learn.

When I first became aware of that, I was awestruck.  It just wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  I had thought that I would impart my vast body of knowledge – acquired through twenty-seven years of living – and that my children would just soak it up. Wrong.  I still had lots to learn.  I began seeking out knowledge about parents and children, and that has kept me learning ever since.

A few years ago, I had the great privilege of joining the Adult Learning Faculty at Hebrew College to serve as an instructor in the program “Parenting Through A Jewish Lens.” I loved teaching the course, exploring with parents how Judaism informs their parenting journey.  Parenting has been going on for many generations and, although there are some differences, in many ways the struggles of parents have been the same throughout the ages; children have always begun as dependent creatures and parents have always striven to help them become independent creatures.  Children have always challenged their parents in a myriad of ways.  Parents have struggled with finding the best ways to teach, to discipline, and to help their children grow – to hold close and to let go. As a living religion, Judaism provides wisdom on these topics.  Participants might not always agree with the “wisdom,” but debating this makes for wonderful discussions, and discussion is an integral part of Jewish learning.  In our course of study we created new Jewish wisdom together and built connections to one another.

I taught, they learned and then a funny thing happened.  They began to teach and I began to learn, just as had been my surprising experience 30 years earlier. And then, as previously, I realized that I wanted to know more. This time my appetite was whetted to learn more about Judaism.  Although I have a strong Jewish background, I realized there was so much more to learn. I asked myself the very Jewish question (found in Ethics of our Fathers) “If not now, when?” So last September, I enrolled in Me’ah, Hebrew College’s two year adult learning program, and began my 100 hours of Jewish study. I became a student where I was on the Faculty.  I went from teacher to learner once again.  Taking a class, being a learner, is a commitment – it takes time and energy.  Yet, the rewards for me have been wonderful.  Being exposed to great teachers, conversing with thoughtful students, and “connecting the dots” of living an authentic Jewish life has been powerful.

And so, as I sit watching the pond, I am reminded that learning and teaching are totally intertwined and that, although challenging, the rewards of learning are immense. I’ll never learn it all, neither about parenting nor about Judaism, and so for me this is a life-long journey. While I’m not able to stop time to understand everything I’d like to understand, or to make summer last forever, I am looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow students after a summer away and diving back in to learning.

[For more information on Parenting Through a Jewish Lens and Me’ah visit http://www.hebrewcollege.edu/adult-learning

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