Roots and Wings| August 24, 2021
The three Krohn children whose jobs focus on chinuch habanos share their insights
All of us are mechanchim — we teach by example; we teach through the impact we have on those in our orbit. Some are mechanchim in an official capacity in the classroom. And then there are those are mechanchim for Klal Yisrael — individuals whose lessons have touched tens of thousands throughout the Jewish world. Rabbi Paysach and Mrs. Miriam Krohn are Klal Yisrael’s mechanchim.
Rabbi Krohn has inspired generations of readers and listeners with his 17 books, including the popular Maggid series (ArtScroll / Mesorah), and the lectures he’s given nationally and internationally. Mrs. Krohn has worked in Shevach High School her entire married life. She’s currently the associate principal for limudei kodesh, as well as a popular teacher.
While the ripples of their actions spread far, at the epicenter is their five children who speak glowingly of the chinuch they received. In the Krohn home in Kew Gardens, NY, the parents lived by the principles they taught. Rabbi Krohn strongly believes in instilling in one’s children “roots and wings.”
“Know where you come from, and make it a part of your home. Be proud of your family and your Yiddishkeit,” he explains. “But you also need to give your kids wings. Give them independence, and let them accomplish things on their own.”
Mrs. Miriam Krohn focuses on individuality. “Chinuch in the classroom and chinuch of one’s own children share a basic principle,” she says. “They’re both dynamic, meaning that they change. The wise parent knows how to hone in on the individual child. A parent — or teacher — has to know what to compliment and what to gently discourage. Don’t expect one template to fit every one of your children and students.”
The balance of pride in one’s roots and the confidence to take flight continues to be a common denominator in the adult Krohn children. Their passion for Yiddishkeit and family guides them today, be it in Kew Gardens, Waterbury, Baltimore, Far Rockaway, or Passaic. It’s no surprise that each of them chose a profession in which they can inspire a new generation. Here, the three Krohn children whose jobs primarily focus on chinuch habanos share their insights on building roots and granting wings.
Meet the Clan
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn teaches in the Bais Yaakov of Passaic High School, The New York Seminary V’at Alis, and Reenas Bais Yaakov in Highland Park, he also gives shiurim to married women in Passaic. He recently published A Woman’s Guide to Practical Halachah (ArtScroll / Mesorah).
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer has taught nearly every grade from fourth to eighth and currently teaches seventh grade in Bais Yaakov of Queens. She’s also an extracurricular coordinator and has authored five children’s books for ArtScroll/Mesorah.
Mrs. Faige Kramer has been teaching mathematics for 30 years and is currently the Math Department Chair at Bais Yaakov of Baltimore High School for Girls. Mrs. Kramer’s MathPrep SAT course is featured on the popular education site Udemy.com. She gives the course live to local students. She currently lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband and family.
What made you decide to go into teaching? How did growing up in your home impact that decision?
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: Our parents ingrained in us a sense of mission to give over to the klal. If you have something to share, we were taught, and the world can gain from it, let everyone benefit. The countless hours our parents spend teaching, guiding, and inspiring has been a model for us children. We’ve internalized that this is the greatest zechus possible: to raise the level of avodas Hashem in others.
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: I feel fortunate that chinuch is in my blood. Both my parents teach in different capacities, and many members of the Krohn family teach as well. My mother had a book for each child’s school pictures and milestones. Where it said, “When I grow up, I want to be______________,” I filled in “teacher” every year from second grade on. So I actually have documented proof that I pretty much always wanted to be a teacher.
Much like seminary girls observe a variety of teachers, I spent my entire school career observing my teachers, knowing that someday I wanted to teach. My greatest role models are my parents, who were mechanech us daily at home, setting high standards for us with love. I also credit my principals and so many of my teachers for modeling how to teach and connect to students effectively.
Mrs. Faige Kramer: I’ve always loved connecting to people. I also loved the subject math. Both my parents inspired others. My mother inspired her students as she taught Chumash and Navi and brought hashkafah into many of her lessons. My father inspires the world with his stories and lessons. Teaching math was the best way to combine it all. The other math related careers I looked into (actuarial work, engineering, accounting, etc.) didn’t provide the interaction and daily connection with people I was looking for — teaching did.
How did you come to teach the subject and age that you do? What excites you about them?
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: I get excited about teaching practical halachah because the students can immediately implement them into their daily lives. We’re told in the very first seif in Shulchan Aruch: shivisi Hashem l’negni samid — always keep Hashem in front of you. By following halachah, one is thinking of Hashem all day.
Mrs. Faige Kramer: In math, the concepts fit together beautifully. When you understand the full picture of where theorems come from and why they work, it all makes sense. I chose a degree in applied math — operations research and graduated from Queens College with honors.
I could have taught many Hebrew subjects, but I chose to teach math, so I could be a good role model for my students. When we were growing up, many of our general studies teachers weren’t religious. When I started working, some of my colleagues weren’t even Jewish. I wanted to show my students that as a kollel wife, and subsequently, a mother of many children kein ayin hara, one can be educated while not compromising on any Yiddishe standards. There’s not much hashkafah involved in multiplying algebraic expressions, but being honest, fair, consistent, and sensitive, can make a strong impression.
The girls aren’t intimidated by me. Sometimes, in a private conversation, a student is open to accepting a suggested change, merely because I’m not her Chumash or hashkafah teacher.
High school was a perfect fit for me. Not only do I love the exuberance and energy of that age, high school is a place where the breadth of my math knowledge and clarity of explanation would be appreciated. (I must admit, though, Calculus 3 and Differential Equations are still my favorites…)
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: When I finished seminary, my preference was to teach upper elementary school. Through Hashgachah, I’ve taught fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth grades, all limudei kodesh. I currently teach seventh grade a variety of subjects (historia, parshas hashavuah, dinim, and Yahadus), and I enjoy this age very much. The girls are mature enough to really grow and change, but young enough that they’re idealistic and not yet set in their ways.
No matter what subject I’m teaching, my approach is the same: to teach students, not just give over information. There’s a lot of give-and-take in my classes; I rarely lecture. I tailor the hashkafah I give over to what each class can handle and would benefit from hearing. While covering ground and teaching skills, I try to make my lessons relevant. For many of the girls, this is their bas mitzvah year, and the growth I see in my students from September to June is remarkable. The girls see it in themselves, too, and I hope this motivation to always work on themselves is something they’ll carry with them forever.
What do you find to be the greatest hurdle in chinuch today? How can we overcome it?
Mrs. Faige Kramer: When I was growing up, there were things we never said to our parents. We spoke with a measured tone. There were topics we didn’t broach with our teachers. Today, the gap has thinned. Children sometimes think their parents or teachers are “friends.”
There’s a refinement and humility that some of our teenagers are missing. I often remind my students (and children) about a rule of thumb: “Ask, not tell.” I’m sometimes surprised when a student says, “Mrs. Kramer, I’m going to get my book.” I call her over and teach her to say, “Can I please go get my book?” It’s gratifying to watch this change over time.
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: So many things have become instant — microwaves, communication, fast-food, online ordering — and people have become impatient, wanting instant results. But learning and ruchniyus aren’t like that. It requires sitting in class, taking notes, and studying at home.
Taking on small kabbalos is the only path to effective self-improvement. I’m always amazed when I watch my girls work diligently day in and day out, climbing the ladder rung by rung, as they grow into young woman who will eventually be the mothers and teachers of the next generation.
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: In this generation many people are allergic to hard work. We sometimes expect that things will be easy and smooth. But that’s not true in life, nor in chinuch. Many times, great effort is required to accomplish certain goals, along with a lot of patience. Parents and teachers cannot pamper their children. They should be given jobs and responsibility. Don’t overdo it, otherwise, they’ll come to resent it. But don’t neglect it either. It’s a tough balance, but it’s definitely doable.
What message do you wish you could tell every parent?
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: See your child’s unlimited potential. Most children display their best behavior in school. You may see their faults clearly at home, but we see their shining moments. You can’t imagine the extent to which positivity smooths the chinuch process. “Hachitzoniyus me’oreres es hap’nimiyus.” Believe in them, and you will see how great they will become. Of course, there are times discipline is necessary, but criticize their actions, not them as people.
Talk positively about your children’s rebbeim and teachers. We’re your teammates, working with you to bring out their best. When you speak critically about us, you minimize our ability to teach them, because your negative words echo in their heads as they sit in class. When a child falters, how can parents who have spoken with disdain about mechanchim expect those same mechanchim to come to the rescue?
As much as parents want to see their child get 100s, that’s not realistic for every child. Some children will try their hardest and only get an 80. For them, that’s success, even though it may be hard for you to see it. Encourage your child to put in her best effort, and help her deal with disappointments when necessary.
Mrs. Faige Kramer: You can become well-educated and have a sophisticated degree without ever compromising who you are as a Yid. I’d also love to tell every parent that no matter what your child decides she wants to do, make sure she loves it and finds it fulfilling.
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: It’s a big class. The teacher / rebbi cares about every student but sometimes isn’t able to be superhuman and connect to each individual or know when they’re struggling with something. If there’s a problem or issue, please reach out.
What two pieces of advice would you give your students for a successful year?
Mrs. Faige Kramer: Have an open mind. Many students think they don’t like a subject, but if they came in open to the learning, and had a teacher who was excited about it, and explained the concepts clearly, they may actually love learning that subject. Throughout my career, many girls enter my class thinking they don’t like math, but come to see that they like it so much more than they originally thought.
Secondly, being organized and planning ahead, while it may take a lot of time and effort, is well worth it. Keep all homework in a separate place, having folders associated with notebooks, etc. Children and students crave structure. My classroom, as well as my home, benefit from predictability. There’s a certain calmness that comes from knowing what the order of each lesson will be. It builds trust.
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: Try to enjoy your time in school. Contrary to popular belief, life doesn’t get any easier when high school and seminary are over.
If, despite your efforts, you’re at the bottom of your class academically, realize that that doesn’t make you any less of a special person. Hashem gave everyone their strengths and weaknesses, and He loves you exactly as you are.
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: Believe in yourself. Focus on what you’re good at, and build from there. I always start my first lesson with a story, to give the girls a comfortable feeling (and a tangible takeaway) right from the start. At the beginning of the year, I go easier on them, the underlying message being, “You can do this. You can succeed.” Once they taste success and realize I think highly of them, the foundation is laid for a year of achievements.
Also, be organized. I try to help the girls by numbering my sheets, generally sticking to a weekly schedule, and helping them at busy times of the year organize their time and approach their work calmly. I recommend writing down homework and assignments, and creating a nightly schedule during busy times.
How can we create a positive environment for our children?
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: Show you love being a Yid. Let your children see you know that mitzvos are special and it’s a privilege to perform them.
Mrs. Faige Kramer: Take note of what’s around you. When I compliment a girl who just got contact lenses or who got her hair done for a simchah she’s going to, the girls see that I notice details and offer positive feedback. In turn, they’ll make this skill part of their learning experience. Of course, always point out middos tovos and the acts of chesed you see the girls do. Point them out, and be visibly impressed; this will give the girls goals to strive for.
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: Make learning a positive experience by assigning challenging but doable assignments and teaching enjoyable, real-life lessons that the students are part of. Learning and grades should not be synonymous. If a student feels the lessons are alive and applicable to them, a test isn’t always necessary. They will enjoy learning, because it’s not just for the test.
What was the most memorable incident of your teaching career?
Mrs. Faige Kramer: That would be the year I taught my own daughter when she was in 11th grade. Many mothers don’t want to teach their own children. My daughter and I had (and baruch Hashem continue to have) a very close and honest relationship.
There were two aspects that made it so memorable. First, for years, she’d heard girls tell her what it was like to be in her mother’s class. Now, every day she was able to experience it for herself. Additionally, she got to see how her mother was the same person in the classroom and at home.
Second, watching my daughter’s eyes light up as I got excited about each math topic, and seeing her sharp thinking skills, was such nachas for me. Watching her interact with her classmates and observing her selfless nature was a joy. I’ll also never forget her test papers. On top of each one, she’d write a pasuk that either described how she was feeling that day or something she wanted to thank Hashem for. As she handed in her final the last day of school, she handed me a two-page thank you note. It was moving, detailed, and brought me to tears. Today she’s married with a beautiful family kein ayin hara, but I still have it in the top drawer of my desk at home. I’ve read it many times over the years and will cherish it forever.
Rabbi Eliezer Krohn: One day a girl asked a question about something I said. Before I got a chance to reply, another girl called out an answer. And then the first girl responded, explaining why that’s incorrect. Then other girls starting screaming their opinions. I should have put a stop to it, but I was so enjoying the feeling of a beis medrash alive with milchamto shel Torah.
Mrs. Chaviva Pfeiffer: Early in my teaching career, I taught two girls who were part of a set triplets (the third was a boy). Their mother, a brilliant psychologist, taught me that each child is a star — one girl won the spelling bee while the other excelled at gymnastics. As different as they were, she raised them both to be confident and comfortable with who they are.
I learned that even though I’m a teacher, and academics is largely what school is about, every single girl is a star. If her gift isn’t obvious at first, I have to try to figure out what it is and use that to build her confidence. Whether they enjoy sports, take art lessons, or play piano, there’s always something I can ask them about and schmooze about that makes them proud.
When I think about my individual students, I envision myself holding a little globe in my cupped hands. Each girl is a whole world, and every moment I stand in front of my class, I’m fully aware of how my words and body language can impact them. Every moment has the potential to be a memorable one for someone.
I only know what those are years later, when I meet my former students, and they tell me something I said or did that they remember and carry with them until today. Maybe it’s a kind word, a hashkafah, or the way I gave them a boost of confidence when they felt insecure. The moments they remember then become my most memorable moments retroactively.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 757)
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