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Behind the Teacher’s Desk

Michal Eisikowitz

What’s it like to have a seminary experience that goes on not for a year, but for decades? To be not the one thirstily drinking in wisdom and inspiration, but the one trying to impart it? To have a mere nine months to attempt to make an indelible impression on the souls of dozens of girls? Family First spoke with numerous seminary mechanchim and mechanchos to discover what the seminary experience is like for them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Most seminary students find their time in sem exhilarating. But they’re not the only ones enjoying the experience; their teachers do so as well. “Teaching seminary girls is the absolute best job in the world,” exclaims Shira Ernster,* a teacher in several seminaries for close to twenty years. “It meets all my needs: spiritual, emotional, and financial (albeit for a simple lifestyle). Few women my age get to learn, grow, and be exposed to ruchniyus in the way that I get to do daily.”

“I never had to leave seminary,” echoes Dvora Beckman,* a veteran teacher in a number of different institutions. “I tell people I’m in ‘shanah yud-tes.’ Watching my students make courageous changes in their lives obligates me to move upward in my own life.”

Shulamis Leibenstein, a long-time teacher currently in Meohr Bais Yaakov, calls sem education a “thrilling experience.”

“I consider it an honor and privilege to be able to impact girls at such a pivotal stage. It is enormously gratifying to help my students mold healthy, wholesome futures.”

Rabbi Menachem Nissel, a renowned teacher in several Jerusalem seminaries and author of Rigshei Lev: Women and Tefillah: Perspectives, Laws, and Customs (Targum, 2001), shares a thought from his rebbi, Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita, on chinuch at the seminary level.

“When I first began teaching, I asked my rebbi: ‘How do I approach teaching girls when they don’t have an obligation to learn Torah?’ My rebbi answered, ‘You’re not in the business of harbatzas Torah; you’re in the business of hatzalas nefashos.’

“Rabbi Noach Orlowek echoes this concept. He told me, ‘When you sit in front of a class, you can’t see thirty Jewish women; you need to see thirty Jewish homes.’ This thought keeps me hyper-motivated even when teaching the same material year after year. I feel I’m building people and homes rather than teaching a particular subject matter.”

Most educators voice breathless views on their personal enjoyment of the job. But is life as a seminary teacher exclusively rosy? What are some of the challenges and issues in teaching girls for a mere nine months — in what some would consider a distinctly artificial setting?


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