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This post will make no sense to those of you who don't read Hebrew. Fortunately, enough of you do to make it worth posting. I'll try to explain as I go along, anyway.

In passing, I mentioned to them that the Hebrew vowels have names. (In Hebrew, the vowels are just little marks under the actual letters. They're really only used when people are LEARNING how to read, or if you're transcribing something that's not a real Hebrew word -- once you can ACTUALLY read, you don't use 'em.)

They decided that they didn't like the official names of them. And came up with their own for a few of them.

(The vowel sounds described are in the dialect "American Hebrew School Hebrew", a set of vowel sounds which is fundamentally unlike Israeli Hebrew or Ashkenazi Hebrew, and has only limited similarities to Sephardic Hebrew. Its vowel structure is simplified in much the same way that American vowel sounds are often simplified -- but even more so.)

Official name
My students' name for it
"eh" -- ɛ
"ei" -- ei
"ah" -- a
Bob Jr.
"ah" -- a
"ah" -- a
hatef kamatz
Bob Sr
as little as possible -- ə
Disputed: either Professor Ih, or Lieutenant Uh
xiphias: (Default)
We only had about a half hour of regular class: I did a version of blackjack using the numerical version of Hebrew letters. The goal was to get as close to 613 without going over.

See, the values of the letters are, for the first ten letters, 1 through ten, for the next nine, 20 to 100, and then 200, 300, 400. So 613, which is the traditional number of commandments G-d gave to us (although, when you count them out, you have to be real creative to hit 613 without going over or under -- there are several different lists out there of what the 613 are), is a pretty good number for this.

We had a deck of cards with Hebrew letters; kids could hit or stay.

Since there was only half an hour, and the four kids I had were spending a good portion of their time talking (which I didn't mind for the last day), when we were told that it was time to go upstairs, Kalilah was ahead with 184 points, and Annessia was in second place with something like 92. But Kalilah wanted to do just one more round.

Annesia pulled a ת, the final letter in the Hebrew Alphabet, jumping her ahead to 492, and she won.

Anyway, none of the activities that we had in the all-school program were particularly Jewish-educational (just fun things like making things out of graham crackers and marshmallow fluff, things like that), so I didn't mind that Annessia and Kalilah didn't want to participate, so we just sat and talked. And they were annoying at me in the way that they tend to be. And when someone came by to give me my paycheck for the day, I stuck it in my guitar case, and Kalilah grabbed it, and ran into the other room to look at it and see how much I was paid per class.

She came back and gave me the paycheck and said, "That's not a lot of money. That's really pathetic." I pointed out that it IS only for one day of teaching.

"Yeah, but then the only other thing you do for money is tend bar."

Anyway, we kept talking, and Annessia asked who did the cleaning in our household, me or my wife, and I said, mostly me, and she asked about laundry, and I said, always me, and she asked about cooking and I said, almost always me. She said, "So what does your wife do?" I said, "She WORKS. A lot. She's a designer at a software company."

Kalilah nodded in sudden understanding. "OH! So THAT'S how you get money!"

Yes. Yes. It is true. A designer in a software company makes better money than a Hebrew School teacher/bartender. It's a fact of life, and one that eleven-year-old kids are quite aware of. I had to explain that the reason I tend bar and teach Hebrew school is because I really do genuinely love doing it, and Kalilah looked truly dubious.

Ah, well. It IS true, though.
xiphias: (Default)
"Gabe, you are evil and Machiavellian. And that's not where I was intending to go with this discussion. Nonetheless, that IS an interesting idea."

Yep, we're back to discussing Jewish history -- we've finished the Purim stuff, so we're back to normal stuff.

Where "normal" is defined as students considering the instability engendered by having a monotheistic, anti-syncretic region of an empire which is bound together by syncretic polytheism. In which Rome has control of this region, but it's an ongoing potential source of conflict. But, of course, you couldn't abandon it, even if you wanted to, because that would be a show of weakness, and it would encourage other parts of the empire to break away.

Gabe's suggested solution: Rome should have funded and supported an underground anti-Roman organization, and encouraged and nurtured them to take anti-Roman violent acts, giving Rome an excuse to come in with their whole military and raze the place, squashing the potential instability under sheer military might.

After that, we ended up on another tangent, discussing what the mentality of suicide bombers was, and how they justified their own actions to themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the leaders of tomorrow. Seriously, this is a good thing. They don't support the use of agent provocateurs or suicide bombers, but they want to understand how other people WOULD use them, and how to recognize and work against it.

There was a bit of an argument, however, about whether you should use an agent who know's he or she is working for you, who you extract before crushing the resistance movement, or just use a dupe who you kill along with everyone else.

I think I'm going to have to get a few Dover thrift editions of The Prince to hand out to my class. Although I'm not sure there's much in there they haven't figured out, already. . .
xiphias: (Purim)

The 2008, Which is to say, the
5768, Purim Schpeil by the
Students of Temple B'Nai
Brith in Somerville,

Read more... )
xiphias: (Default)
Script for the schpeil under cut. If you're planning on seeing it, maybe you don't want to read it. Up to you, really.

Read more... )
xiphias: (Default)
"I don't want to be Senator Obama any more. I want to be a guard."

"I don't know if the shpeil is even going to HAVE any guards."
Read more about the glamorous life of a Sunday school teacher! )
xiphias: (Default)
Just got an email over the shul email list. It's a holiday party. It's a Latke-Pasta bash. To celebrate Hanukkah. And Ramen-dan. Yeah, it's a Jewish/Pastafarian celebration.

The end of the email is a little ASCII Flying Spaghetti Monster.

       _  _(o)_(o)_  _          Flying Spaghetti Monster
   ._.' `:_  ) (  _:' `._.              Wishes You
          / (      )\ `-.            A Very Pasta New Year
      ,-`  _)    (_,                   
xiphias: (Default)
Yesterday's class didn't go as well as last week's but it wasn't bad. Someday, I have to learn something or other about classroom management. Is it bad when every cartoon that my kids doodle of me has me yelling, "QUIET!!" (And I have had a number of students over the years who are quite good artists, so I've seen plenty of cartoon caricatures of myself yelling "QUIET!" Many of them are quite good.)

They don't mind when I yell; I think they find it charming. Generally, if it gets noisy, one or more of the kids -- including the ones who are noisy -- say, "Use your Teacher Voice!" I dunno. They seem to like it when I yell at them. I guess that means that they're comfortable with me -- they know that I love them, even when I'm yelling at them.

Anyway, I guess I'm more comfortable teaching history this year, because we appear to be covering the material more quickly, but with the same degree of comprehension. We started with the Exile from Jerusalem, and went over the Babylonian Captivity -- and talked about how the religion changed in exile from one based almost entirely on giving sacrifices to an elite group of people to take care of, to one based on daily communal prayer.

And we even got to Cyrus the Great, and the 50,000 Jews who went back to Jerusalem to re-establish the Temple when Cyrus gave Judea back to the Judeans. And how they had to fight against the people who were there, since it's not like nobody moved in in the past 70 years. . .

And then we finished off mentioning that, once the Temple was re-built, you were able to go back to the Temple-based religion of giving animals to an elite to sacrifice -- but that the communal religion didn't go away.

I said, "So, now we've got two types of religion going on, with the Kohanim running one, and the local scholars running the other. What do you think happens in this situation?"

One of my students said, "Political fighting to control the religion and government of the country?"

My students don't miss a lot.

You know, it occurs to me that if the current Administration had the grasp of political and religious power dynamics that my fifth-graders do, we wouldn't be IN the kind of messes that we're in. . . .
xiphias: (Default)
Hebrew school went pretty well. The one kid who I've been having the most trouble with, I think I'm starting to get a feel for how he works. And I think his parents are starting to come up with things that help, too.

I vaguely suspect that he's somewhere on the autism spectrum, although I don't know, and I think that him having more physical, tactile inputs helps him. Today, he came in wearing knit gloves, and a big straw cowboy hat with a rawhide chinstrap, and a rope hanging down the back, touching his shoulders and back. And he sat at a desk which is at the side of the room with his back to the room.

And he seemed to have a better time concentrating and an easier time learning than he usually does. I just have a hunch that, maybe, the extra contrasting physical inputs from the knit gloves, the straw hat, the leather chinstrap and the rope might have helped his busy brain have extra stuff to do.

To those on my flist who ARE autism-spectrum -- does that sound reasonable? I mean, first, does it sound reasonable that he might be autism-spectrum, and, second, if he is, does that seem like the sort of thing that might help?

In the second half of school, I'm teaching Jewish history, again -- but this time I've done it before. This means that I now have a chance to make new and better mistakes. Ah, well -- this is how I teach. By the seat of my pants, with no clue what I'm doing, but, somehow, they keep hiring me. There are times I wish I had actual training and skills -- like, I strongly suspect that y'all on my friends list who have taken actual teaching certification courses just might have better ideas with how to teach the kid I described above -- but I mostly muddle through.

So, in the first three weeks of school, we're still on the first event which I'm covering. Which is fine, because they're learning, but it does mean that there is no way we're getting even to the birth of Islam at this rate, let alone the twentieth century. . . still, I'm enjoying it.

We're covering the Babylonian exile, since I believe that's where Jewish history starts. Before that, you have the history of the Israelites, and before that, the history of the Hebrews. But Jews don't start until a whole community of people get kicked out of Judea, but decide that they're still following the religion of Judea, and start practicing Judea-ism in places other than Judea, as a community.
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And then lectured them about lashon ha-ra.

I feel vaguely guilty about yelling and lecturing, but I'd feel a lot worse if I hadn't taken some action about students hurting each other's feelings.

I just don't know if I handled it right. One student wrote something that could be construed as hurtful about another student in zir notebook. A second student looked over zir shoulder, read it, and called the student about which it was about over to also see it, who saw it, grabbed the page of the notebook, and crumpled it up. Only the last part of this was obvious, so I yelled at the third student. Who was more upset by this than zie usually is when I yell at zir, so I knew that something else was up, and found out the rest of the story.

I told them that all three of them had done things wrong, but that they weren't of the same magnitude. I said that writing hurtful things in one's own notebook is bad, but that, as it wasn't intended to be seen by anyone, and therefore wasn't intended to hurt anyone, that is mitigating. So it's bad, but not SO bad. I said that grabbing someone else's notebook and crumpling the page was absolutely unacceptable. But that the person who had done the worst thing was the second student. Because that was lashon ha-ra.

And I lectured them about that. And how we, in the classroom, are a community, and lashon ha-ra damages communities. You don't have to LIKE everyone in your community, but you ARE a community. And avoiding lashon ha-ra is one of the ways you preserve communities.

The three students looked abashed and ashamed at their actions, and the rest of the class looked intent and somewhat worried. And at the end of the lecture, I asked if we were all willing to, in a sense, pretend that this whole situation hadn't happened. That, to repair our community, we had to forgive each other, which, in this case, would mean trying to remember the lessons, but forgetting the incident as much as we could.

They all agreed that they would like to move past the whole thing and pretend it never happened. I did try to be certain that all of them knew that, if they DIDN'T feel comfortable moving on, we could still work on it, but they were all embarrassed by it and wanted to just have it over and gone, so we did.

I still don't know if I did the right thing. I think I did an okay thing, but I don't know if I was right.

It's hard to know if one was fair. It's hard to know if one was correct.

Was I right that crumpling up the page was more wrong that writing the page? Was I right that calling attention to the page was more wrong than either writing it, or destroying it? I don't really know. I THINK I was at least close enough to right, but I'm not certain, and am still feeling guilty and unsettled. But I would feel MORE guilty and unsettled if I HADN'T done something like that. I'm responsible, in part, for my kids' moral and ethical development, and for their emotional health.
xiphias: (Default)
So, I thought I'd try to write down some of the things which I taught to my students this year.

Every once in a while, I wonder why the Hebrew School keeps hiring me back. I mean, the board members' children have all had me as a teacher -- they KNOW what I teach and how, and yet, they not only keep hiring me, they LIKE what I'm teaching their kids.

So it might be a good idea to try to remember a few of those things:
Read more... )
xiphias: (Default)
Note to self: if a student in your class starts being all sarcastic, going to him and saying, "No dark sarcasm in the classroom!" won't actually help, unless your goal actually WAS to have the entire rest of the class sing large chunks of "The Wall" to the one student who hadn't heard it.

(Sixth and seventh graders -- eleven, twelve years old or so.)
xiphias: (Default)
Today, after Hebrew school, a whole bunch of kids were standing around quoting lines from the Purim schpiel at each other.

Like it was Monty Python or something.
xiphias: (Default)
Okay, I was supposed to have done this earlier this week, but I finally finished it. If anyone wants to read it and critique it, I'd appreciate it. Please make any suggestions you have.
The schpeil I just wrote )
xiphias: (Default)
I wanted to let you all know how cool my Hebrew School students are. So, I'm teaching the 5th/6th grade, and we split into halves for Hebrew, with me getting, theoretically, the kids who need more help.

I say "theoretically", because I don't. There is no measurable difference between the Hebrew knowledge on the kids in my group and the ones in Larry's, and, instead, I think the point is to give me the kids who are harder to control, because I'm better at dealing with them.

I have, of course, totally ignored the Hebrew textbook which we're supposed to be using, because I ignore textbooks. Don't like 'em. They give you, y'know, structure and rules and a tested and proven way to teach stuff, which makes things easier for the teacher. What's the challenge?

Instead, I'm photocopying things out of various large-print siddurim I have lying around my house (because I have learning disabilities, and have trouble reading out of normal-sized-print siddurim). With, y'know, Post-it-note tape blocking out any translations and transliterations that the book has. And then I also write out a sheet with translations of words which are in the prayer.

Then the kids have to read the prayer, translate it, and copy it out in script. Which is most of the skills we're trying to teach.

I wanted to share the translation of Modeh Ani which they came up with.

Modeh Ani is the prayer that you say in the morning when you wake up. In many families, it is one of the first prayers that small children are taught; in other families, people are entirely unaware of its existence. I like it for teaching purposes, partially because it doesn't have G-d's name in it, so I don't have to be super-careful about the sheets of paper.

Here's a fairly standard translation of the prayer:

I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

Here's the translation my kids came up with:

I give thanks to your face, King who is life and forever, because you have given back to me my soul with compassion; there is lots of your faithfulness.

Can I just say that I really like "King who is life and forever" as a description of G-d? And they like "to your face" because they see that as the opposite of "behind your back". You're offering thanks to G-d directly, y'know -- you're saying it to Its face.

Which is correct and all, but the way they put it sounds better.

Also, when I asked them to explain what they felt the prayer was about, Julian came up with, "My grandfather says, every morning, 'Well, one more day above ground.' I think that's what the prayer is about."

Julian +1.
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Some of you may remember that I spent much of the summer working out a timeline of Jewish history, starting at 1000 BCE and going to modern day, which I hung up on the wall of my classroom and was to use as a major part of how I was going to teach the class this year.

It was thirty feet long, a hundred years to the foot. It was in two fifteen-foot sections, taped along an entire wall of the classroom.

It's gone.

Over the high holidays, my classroom was used for daycare, and someone took down the timeline, and it hasn't been found. Far as we can figure, someone threw it out.

Now that I think about it, I'm actually pretty angry about this. I spend many, many hours on that timeline, and it was going to be the fundamental tool which I was going to use this year. And it's GONE.

I don't know what I'm going to do. I guess I'm going to have to redo the whole thing. It sucks.

On the other hand, I'm a damn fine teacher.

So, my co-teacher this year is Larry Rich, who has two sons, Adam and Teo (as a baby, he couldn't say "Theo", and the name stuck) who help out as madrachim ("guides", a term for student teachers in Hebrew schools). He's covering the Hebrew portion, mainly, while I'm covering Jewish History. I presume that, once he gets a better idea of relative skill levels, he'll divide the class into two halves and he'll, probably, take the more advanced half.

That's what I'd suggest, anyway. Because I'm a better disciplinarian.

I don't think of myself as one -- but I am. The students, on the whole, appreciate it -- as long as they have to be in class, they'd prefer to get something out of it, and they're willing to let me ride herd on them so long as I ride herd on everyone else. If they actually were not even going to try to learn anything, then, sure, goofing off would be cool -- but if they're going to try to learn something, they want to have an outside chance of success, even if I have to force it on them.

That previous paragraph seems to be absolute gibberish, but I suspect that those of you who are parents, teachers, and/or child psychologists (and, come to think of it, I think that's pretty damn close to a majority) will recognize some of it as possibly true.

So it was frustrating watching Larry trying to cajole the class into behaving, because That Trick Never Works. At a couple points, some of the students turned to me and said, "Ian, use your Teacher Voice!"

So I did a couple times. Worked somewhat okay.

For my half of class, though, I handed out notebooks and pencils and told them, "Okay, you've got these notebooks for two reasons. If you are left-handed, I want you to take notes on the left-hand page. If you are right-handed, I want you to take notes on the right-hand page. On the OTHER page, you are to doodle. Because I know I listen better when I'm doodling, so I want to see if that's true of you, too."

Seems to have worked. We'll see how much they retained, but they were at least apparently attentive, and, even if they weren't, they weren't disruptive.
xiphias: (Default)
So, after getting home from tending bar at 2:30, and talking to Lis for another hour and a half about what my day had been like, and how the party she'd gone to had been, I finally fell asleep at 4:00, and got up three hours later, at 7:00, to go to work for the first day of Hebrew School of the year.

Larry Rich is my co-teacher this year -- I think this is the first year that I've had a co-teacher more experienced than I am. Two of his sons are madrichim (assistant teachers) at the school, and he's basically the main Hebrew teacher of the school. Beth's two sons are in my class this year -- they're identical twins, but fortunately, one of them has a mole under his lip, so I can tell them apart. They're, of course, totally different personalities.

So, as always, they are putting grades together in order to get reasonable numbers of people per class. This means that I get to teach students from BOTH of the groups of kids that I taught before. So I'm truly happy about this class. If you remember me posting cool things about any of my students from any year before last year, I've got that student again this year.

What else? Mark, the other teacher who plays guitar, is back again this year, which is awesome, because it's more fun to lead singing together than by myself. Not that it's not fun to lead it on my own, but it's more fun with the two of us.

We did Hebrew review in the first half of the class. All of the students stated that they knew no Hebrew, and had forgotten the Hebrew they didn't know over the summer, which we allowed was reasonable and expected. And they stated that they couldn't write cursive. They then went on to write the Hebrew alphabet in cursive, which, of course, they had totally forgotten how to do, but somehow still could.

If these kids actually knew that they knew what they knew, Larry and I would have very little to do in class.

In the second half of class, I started teaching History. I started off, as I planned to do, talking about "what is history and why do we study it", and went on to "when does Jewish history start?"

A lot of what we talked about I posted to [livejournal.com profile] tbbhistoryclass, which is the discussion LJ community I set up for the class. Feel free to read along, if you like. It's primarily for my students, but feel free to pop in to correct information I get wrong, and so forth.

So that was most of it, really. I'm so looking forward to this year!
xiphias: (Default)
. . . which, incidentally, starts this Sunday -- I'm both really nervous and really excited -- is that I'm putting together a timeline to get all the events in Jewish history in order, and with a sense of how long they took and how far apart they were, and I'm including other events from around the world to put things in context.

And I've never seen a lot of them juxtaposed.

I mean, I guess most people are aware that Lao Tse came before Confucius, but that their lives overlapped -- but, for instance, were they both before or after Zoroaster? Or the Buddha?

Was the Babylonian exile of the Jews before or after the first Olympics, or the founding of Rome, or the Golden Age of Athens under Pericles? For that matter, obviously the first Olympics happened before the Golden Age of Athens, but was THAT before or after the founding of Rome?

The fact that the "discovery" of the Book of Deuteronomy, which allowed the Israelite people to have a formalized code of laws happened in the same year that Draco formulated HIS formalized code of laws . . . that's kind of neat.
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So, two nights ago, I dreamed that my father had a new table saw that he was showing me, that was so sharp that you could cut pieces of wood thin enough that they were translucent. He was very happy with this new table saw.

Last night I can remember two dreams. One was that Alan Rickman was giving a reading from Harry Potter book Seven on a beach somewhere in England. Or maybe Marblehead -- it wasn't clear. The whole beach was packed with families listening to the reading, and Lis and I were in a hotel room or something overlooking the beach.

I was the only person who noticed the huge wave coming in, and I tried to scream a warning, but there was no time. Hundreds of people were washed out to sea, although, since the wave didn't crest or anything, there was no crushing -- but the undertow picked up hundreds of people. I ran down to the beach to swim out and see if I could rescue people -- because of how the wave hit, I expected that everybody would be conscious, and anyone who could swim could get back, but there were a LOT of people, including a lot of children, and even infants. And Alan Rickman was wearing his Snape costume, which would NOT be good to swim in. . . Then I woke up.

The other dream I had was more useful. I dreamed that it was the first day of class at Hebrew school, and I was teaching Lesson One of my Jewish History curriculum that I've been working on all summer. And it did NOT go well. I just couldn't get the kids' attention, I couldn't get them to behave, I couldn't hold their interest.

Then I had the dream again, and tried different things, and it worked better. Still not perfect, but it gave me some insights into how I should teach specific students. (I had the 5th/6th grade class twice before, when they were the 3rd/4th grade, and when they were the 1st/2nd -- so I've taught these kids every other year since I've been teaching at TBB. This means that, even while asleep, I've got a pretty good idea how various students will react to things.)
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Met [livejournal.com profile] shadesong for the first time. And a whole bunch of other people whose LJ names I don't remember, although I do, more-or-less, remember their meat-names.

Discovered that the Rte. 1 miniature golf course was closed because of the rain, which was disappointing, because it looks like a really cool course.

Went bowling instead, with the aforementioned folks, and had a great time. It was the first time I'd ever bowled ten-pin --I bowled candlepin a few times when I was a kid, and enjoyed it, but haven't in decades.

Bowling is a whole lot of fun. I had a great time. I want to go bowling more often. And if I get reasonably good at ten-pin, I wanna switch up to candlepin. Because it's such a fun sport, at least when you're with a group of people who are just having fun and not worrying about if you're doing really well or not.

Then I tended bar for Reunion Week at Boston College. There were five bartenders at the event I worked, the Class of 1976. It was a WHOLE lot of fun -- all five of us were more-or-less in the weeds from 7 pm to 11:30 pm, and people were tipping. We pooled tips, and all five of us walked out of there with an extra $120. That's the second-best one-shift tip total I've EVER made.

And today was the last day of Hebrew school. Each class put together a little something to show what we've learned. My class put together a play. Although there were roles for all the kids in the class, Sam didn't show up, so Max ended up taking both the role of Narrator 2 and Narrator 3. (I always do that -- write roles for everyone, with some roles collapsible in case some people don't show up.)
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September 2017

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