by Rabbi David Meyer Executive Director, Partnership For Jewish Schools (PaJeS)
A STORY is told of a man who was praying his heart out at the Kotel. He was so emotional that a concerned gentleman wanting to help, asked him for the name of the sick person for whom he was praying. He replied that no one was ill and, after further questioning, it transpired that he had a peaceful home and a good job, his children were married and were doing well. “So what are you praying so passionately for?” the man asked. The reply: “I am saying thank you!”
Sadly in our society we are very quick to criticise but far slower to show our gratitude. Indeed, it is apparent that Elton John was wrong, ‘sorry’ isn’t the hardest word – ‘thank you’ is.
There is perhaps no better example of this than in our schools. We quite rightly have exacting standardsand will hold a school and its teachers to account for any failures. However how often do we say thank you?
When I was a headteacher, there was a steady trickle of letters of complaint, but sadly, letters of appreciation were few and far between.
You may surmise, perhaps quite accurately, that this reflects more on my abilities than parental attitudes, but in conversations with school leaders and teachers it seems that thank yous are universally rare.
At the same time, we expect ever more from our teachers. I doubt there has been a more challenging time to educate children and teachers on the front line have an exceptionally difficult task. They are expected to be expert educators, surrogate parents and policemen; not just preparing students for endless assessments, but giving them a sense of moral purpose, an appreciation of the values of society, and, in the case of our schools, a love of Judaism.
To achieve this, teachers need to be able to relate to their students, communicate in innovative ways utilising the latest technology, enthuse and inspire them, and act as true role models. We rely on our teachers to provide an education that transcends the classroom and can be applied to every aspect of their students’ life.
The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, wrote: “The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheaters. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education. So Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind.”
Indeed, as we look back over history our greatest heroes were our teachers, who led our communities with learning and wisdom rather than violence and war. They were the ones who took every situation and enabled us to re-contextualise events, both during these events and also afterwards. They have shaped the way we live life and the way we view our history. Perhaps it is time we realised that these incredible individuals are not just part of our history, but are very much the heroes of today.
An advert for Body Shop stated, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. We can’t afford to be ignorant, and we need to start recognising and valuing the heroic efforts of or teachers. Male or female, young or old, these professionals all tirelessly dedicate their time and energy as they literally invest their life and soul into educating our children.
With the changing educational landscape it is ever more important that schools are supported in their work, and PaJeS plays an important part in this respect. Whether it is working with Headteachers, delivering teacher and leadership training or curriculum development including producing high quality materials for teaching Chumash, Tefilla and Ivrit. PaJeS also ensures that schools are informed about the latest developments in education, helping to represent their needs to the DfE and Ofsted, investigating pressures on admissions, and even delivering procurement services. PaJeS is at the forefront of supporting education in our community.
We frequently celebrate the standards of excellence of our schools as reflected by their exceptional performance in the league tables, but at the same time we must recognise the individuals who have helped ensure this success. It is for this reason that I am so proud of the efforts of PaJeS and the Jewish News, who have pioneered the inaugural Jewish Schools Awards. This was an opportunity for children, parents and grandparents to say thank you for the efforts of all those who work in our schools. Every nominee was recognised and sent a certificate, and I know of one nominee who, when presented with her certificate, was so thankful she burst into tears.
It was extremely hard to select the finalists, and even harder to determine the winners in each category, but the awards were not about winners or losers. These individuals are building the foundations for our next generation and are all winners. This was an opportunity for the whole community to say thank you to our heroes.