9 Kislev 5781 / Wednesday, November 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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The Loving Teacher    

The Loving Teacher

A teacher who doesn't love every pupil in the classroom resembles someone who drives a semi-trailer without a license - what a danger he is to everyone else on the road...


Translated by Rabbi  Lazer Brody

If a teacher is incapable of loving every single child in his or her classroom, then they're in the wrong profession. They should respectfully submit their resignation and either learn a new trade or find a new job. Does this sound harsh? Yes, it does. Why? A teacher who doesn't love a pupil can do irreparable damage, like letting a person drive a semi-trailer without a license - what a danger he is to himself and to everyone else on the road! Loving each child is a non-negotiable prerequisite for teaching. Without it, he has no moral or ethical license to teach.
With the above in mind, every teacher must create a connection of love between himself and his students. For only in an environment of love and safety, will a student be able to accept the teacher's teachings. A lot of thought and effort must be exerted in order to think of ways and ideas to create such a realm for teachers and students, as well as for parents and children.
Children need a lot of love and positive reinforcement. Our sages taught us that acts of love and affection should outweigh the acts of discipline in child education.
When a child does not feel loved, he cannot accept anything from his teachers. Therefore, an atmosphere of love and closeness, and generally accepting the child as he is without any criticism, should be the spirit permeating the relationship between teachers and children constantly. A feeling of criticism, and rebuke, such as gestures or stern looks, should be used as little as possible - all the more so outright criticism and rebuke.
If it were possible to educate and raise children only positively, then this would be the preferred way. Therefore, even if reality forces a teacher to use the "left hand" of discipline (for there are times children need rebuke or firm boundaries); it should be used as little as possible. Yet, we must do our best to utilize the "right hand" of positive reinforcement and molding of desirable behavior, such as complimenting and encouraging our pupils when they behave and function in a desirable way, to stimulate more of that type of behavior.
Children feel distanced and not loved when they are constantly criticized by their teachers. This can be so serious, for children actually can come to hate teachers when they feel that they are thoughtless, hyper-critical and cold. And obviously, when a child feels unloved, this is detrimental to  successful education. A child like this won’t be able to accept any guidance from the uncaring and unloving teacher.
Every child should feel loved and cherished, and should have complete trust in the teacher. Only when this foundational connection point of love and trust is established, can we begin to talk about education.
Without love, the child will accept and learn nothing! Therefore, before anything else, any teacher must lay the groundwork for teaching, through love. Love is the fertile growth medium that enables anything to grow healthily. Hashem enabled me to understand that any time we need to speak to a child about something he needs to improve on; we must first create a situation of trust and love. For example, taking the child out for a walk, buying a candy or a toy, giving a hug and really paying attention to the child. Only then, when there is a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere between parent and child, can the parent tell a story conveying morals or impart an ethical ideal.
One of the things that cause a child to feel loved is a teacher's respect for his feelings. Such respect is proof  of  the teacher's love. Then, the child can trust the teacher completely.
Rabbi Yehuda Asad, of blessed and saintly memory, taught young children. Every so often, one of the children would ask a silly question in class, which would cause the other children to laugh. When this happened, Rav Asad would protect the child's dignity by enhancing his question until it seemed that the question was really brilliant. Then he would say to the children who ridiculed, “You are laughing because you don’t understand what a smart question this boy asked! This is a very deep idea. You have no right to laugh if you don't know how to answer such a question!”
Understandably, Rav Asad acquired the love and trust of the boy who asked the silly question, and was then able to guide the child. One of the things that makes a person lose self confidence more than anything else is making mistakes that invoke the ridicule of others. Then he is afraid to make more mistakes, so he stops trying altogether, even refraining from doing those things in which he can succeed. But when he finds comfort in someone who understands him - especially an authority figure like a parent or teacher - who rather than mocking him encourages him, the child begins to believe in himself! He comes to love the encourager, and can then accept anything from that person.
We must encourage children and show our admiration for their successes. We must amplify their good points. And most of all, we must be very cautious whenever a child has a setback, protecting him and encouraging him in order to build his self-confidence. We must show the child that he can succeed, and that he has the potential for success, while focusing on his good points.
When a parent or a teacher says, “You meant to say…,” usually a child will happily agree. He identifies with the compliment, and imagines that what the parent or teacher explained is really what he meant to say. Maybe you think this is dishonest; our Sages tell us that we are allowed to "alter the truth" for the sake of peace. The child's peace of mind and confidence enable him to be at peace with the world - certainly a justification for changing the child’s words. Even more so, acting like Rabbi Asad is an outright mitzvah! May Hashem implant us with love for all of our pupils, amen!

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