Rabbi Greg Bank of Yeshurun Cheadle and Gatley Synagogue encourages us to ignite the flames of potential in our friends and loved ones this Chanukah.
Your class is a zoo,” commented a bureaucratic officer at a school where I taught. Indeed, the class was not quiet. My students were not sitting in rigid lines, speechless to the wisdom that I was trying to impart. They were loud. Yes, the bunch of enthusiastic 15 year-olds were a little rowdy and yes, his observations were correct – my class was a zoo.
Who is to say, however, that a class shouldn’t be a zoo? Please excuse the analogy and by no means do I want to offend any adolescents reading this, but just maybe we should conduct our lessons as if our students were in a zoo.
Our students have individual needs and moreover, they have individual skillsets. One of the frightening challenges of an educator is catering for a diverse audience in a fullon environment. I actually find the varied personalities and talents of my students fascinating to grasp and in order to see their success, I need to be a zookeeper.
You see, in a zoo each animal needs its own environment to thrive. The climate, vegetation and diet is adapted to each one them specifically and allows each one of them to flourish. You cannot keep the lions with the deer and you cannot feed the bird the diet of the elephant.
The owl will be attentive at night and the crocodile may take life at a more relaxed pace. Their care and growth is individual.
So that is why my class was a zoo. The students were given individual tasks. They were discovering themselves using the strengths that they had. They were sifting through the information in a way that worked for them. It was harder work for me – it meant preparing different worksheets for different students and I needed to be super alert to ensure that their environments were working for them and bringing the most out of them.
Let’s be honest, there is enough information on Google and Wikipedia for students to get by with. The sacred task of a teacher is to perceive the latent talent in each of their students, to cultivate it and ensure that the incredible skills that their students possess can be used as means of bringing them into full fruition.
On Chanukah, we don’t celebrate the recapturing of the Temple from the Greeks. That would be inappropriate because the Temple lay dormant until it was inaugurated again. The Holy Temple was a mere shell of potential for Divine worship until the Maccabees rekindled the lights and activated it as a godly environment. The potential was there. The Temple had been cleaned up from idolatry, but it was the lighting of the Menorah which brought the possibility of holiness into a practice of holiness.
It is not by chance that the word Chanukah, which means inauguration, is etymologically connected to the Hebrew word for education: chinuch. Education is an act of inauguration. It is the ability to seek potential and inaugurate it into reality. Just as the Temple is dormant without a Menorah that is lit, so too are our youth inactivated until they are lit up.
Sometimes it may be a challenge to find the oil needed to inspire our children, but if we search hard enough, as the Maccabees did, it is indeed there. It is only a minuscule drop that can ignite miraculous flames. Seeking out the best in others is not simple, but the potential is alive and it is real.
The hunt for potential demands us to look at the individual. Lecturing to a class is impersonal and installs a climate of knowledge disposal rather than one of student development. It may tick our box of conveying the information, but each educator (and each one of us is an educator on some level) is mandated with recruiting potential and inaugurating skills. Ultimately, we need to be asking if we have ignited a flame in those we communicate with.
I love being a zookeeper attending to the individual needs of each student. Dare I say, my shul is also a zoo and as the zookeeper, I am inspired by seeking the personal needs of each of our congregants and facilitating their growth, each one on the level that is best for them.