23 March 2012
29 Adar 5772
Few things are more rewarding for educators than when our students become our teachers. In the famous words of Rabbi Hanina, “Harbeh Torah lamadti merabotai, umechaverai yoter merabotai, umitalmidai yoter mikulam – I have learned much from my teachers, more from my friends, and yet more from my students.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Taanit 7a)
This week I participated in one of the most meaningful faculty meetings I have ever attended, co-led by our Dean of Students and one of our twelfth grade students. The goal of the meeting was to introduce the faculty to the art of painter Samuel Bak, which we are bringing to Gann this spring, thanks to our partnership with Facing History and Ourselves. For her senior project, this student is curating the exhibit for the school, and one of her roles is to help make this event a school-wide educational opportunity. The Dean of Students reviewed the timeline of events for the exhibit and turned the floor over to the student, who then guided the faculty through an interpretation and discussion of one of Bak’s paintings. She helped us to discover the painting’s historical context, symbolism, and universal messages.
Our student became an artist, art historian, curator, and teacher. All of her teachers became her students, eagerly following her instructions, answering her questions, and asking their own. She applied skills and concepts she has learned from her art classes at Gann and helped us to practice those skills and concepts, as well. She wowed us with both her passion for and knowledge about the artwork and with her skillful facilitation, which, at one point, even included having to gently correct one of her teachers for not following directions!
I was moved and inspired on many levels during this meeting. I was intellectually and emotionally engaged by the artwork and our discussion of it and marveled at this student’s skill, poise, and courage. Perhaps, most meaningful to me was reflecting on this student’s four-year high school journey and the remarkable young woman she has become. I recalled her decision to attend Gann, motivated at least in part by her passion for the arts. Now, four years later, she is actualizing that passion with intellectual rigor, sophistication, confidence, and creativity and, in doing so, making an extraordinary contribution to the entire Gann community.
The next day a student-teacher, who was finishing a four-week internship at Gann, commented on how amazing our students are and asked me whether our students just come to Gann this way or whether this is the result of something we do. I immediately thought about the faculty meeting the day before and about a quote from the Piascezno Rebbe’s Chovat HaTalmidim (A Student’s Obligation): “The educator who wants to uncover the soul of the student…to grow it and ignite it… needs to bend himself toward the student he is teaching…until he arrives at the spark of the child’s soul…in order to help it emerge, blossom and grow.”
Educators usually do not create the sparks of passion of our students’ souls or the natural intellectual and creative capacities with which they enter high school. However, in order to fulfill our sacred responsibility of challenging, nurturing, and inspiring our students, we need to recognize and honor those sparks and then add fuel to them. When this happens, when the process of education can unleash a student’s potential intellectually and spiritually, these sparks can grow and mature into the fire of creativity, confidence, and drive that blazed brightly during our faculty meeting this week.
Rabbi Marc Baker