Preventing students from going off the derech – by Rabbi Dovid Abenson

rabbi dovid abensonBy Rabbi Dovid Abenson. We can enable every child, whatever his or her ability, to find simcha in Torah learning and enjoy the chinuch experience by implementing these suggestions in all of our institutions.

1) It is the responsibility of the school to teach Alef Bais in a manner that all children will be reading effortlessly and fluently.This skill has to be implemented primarily before studying Nikudos ( vowels).

2) When teaching the Letters and Nekudos, this method should be taught according to our Mesorah, keeping it simple, using the methodology handed down through the generations. First fluency of the letters,followed by “Kometz, Alef, Aah

Unfortunately, too many children are being taught using phonic sounds and cute pictures. This may appear to be the modern and more effective method of teaching but this derech has seeped in from the non jewish approach.The problem with this approach is that since it uses phonic sounds instead of identifying the actual letter, it will appear that the student is reading, but he is actually sounding the word, not seeing the word itself. Eventually, he will struggle with translation and Rashi reading.

3) After the student has been taught the skill of reading Hebrew, he should receive periodical testing, checking that his accuracy and\fluency level in school is maintained throughout his elementary years.

4) Grammar, colloquial and exact translation in every word must be differentiated. At all times

Unfortunately, there is a surge in the classroom, where Yiddish and “yeshivish” language( hebrew and yiddish words interspersed with (english) are used to teach english speaking students,whose first language is english. The reasoning behind this phenomena is that the Rebbeim feel they are carrying on a Mesorah. Unfortunately, this is not a Mesorah, as we see from Moshe Rabbeinu who gave over the Torah in 70 languages so that no one could say they didn’t understand the Torah. Therefore Torah must be taught in the language which the student understands. Since Yiddish is not these students’ mother language, there is a lack of clarity and understanding the text, and the student will struggle to express themselves. I myself, have witnessed many students burning out because they did not learn in their mother tongue. Even when it appears the student is reading and translating in Yiddish, it doesn’t mean he understands what he is saying.

5. A student should be able to read the context fluently, translate exactly, and explain the sentence structure, whether it is Chumash or Gemara. He must learn how to add extra words to explain the sentences,since Chumash and Gemara are very concise, unlike English or any other language which can be understood right away. Consequently, this ability will enable the student to be able to learn on his own.

6. The student must be able to read fluently before starting Chumash.The minimum a student should know is the Chumshei Torah first before starting Mishnayos. Before commencing Gemara, the minimum should be knowing all the Mishnayos Masechtas which are required for the Yeshiva

system, plus Nach inside until Melachim.

7. The major problem we are experiencing in today’s’ schools is that some Rebbeim do not use the same pronunciation as their talmidim which creates confusion with the student’s learning,

sometimes with long lasting consequences.

8. Children should not be pressured to absorb more than they are capable of at their specific age. Concerning homework, I would like to quote my Rebbi, Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, who advocates a no homework policy. “School should be the place to learn and the home should be a place of refuge and time with the family. “(With Hearts Full of Love, p. 79-83. published Artscroll/Mesorah) therefore any institution which does not follow his words ” no homework policy” is going against daas Torah and should be shut down.

9) Medicating a student is a last resort, and never addresses underlying causes of academic issues. It is a crutch used by many institutions to eliminate extra expenses of remediation and hence behavioural issues. A senior Rosh Hayeshiva confided to me, that, in their community medication has been used for over 3 generations. From my experience, I have seen that children who are unfocused in class and labelled ADD/ADHD, most probably have underdeveloped academic skills which have not been diagnosed, which will ultimately create disinterest in the classroom, leading to lack of understanding of thematerial presented by the teacher.

Other factors which could present as ADD/ADHD are sleep deprivation, too much junk food (white sugar, processed foods etc.), skipping breakfast, lack of exercise to name a few.

9.Educators must consider the possibility that an unsuccessful child might be a victim of some sort of abuse (physical, mental, emotional or sexual ) which is unfortunately a growing problem in our communities.

10) All educators in frum schools including rebbis and principals should be required to enrol in some form of kiruv programme before starting classroom placements in order to learn how to transmit Torah teachings and values with simcha and positivity.

11) It incumbent that there is a respect between parents and the Hanhala. Communication is crucial between the two parties and, whilst the educator has the premier responsibility of the child’s education whilst in school, a parent’s requests should be considered in the education of their child.

12) Jewish hashkofa should be emphasized in school. Torah is not just texted based and hashkofa provides the grounding of how a Yid should live and serve Hashem properly. It should be noted that children can not be expected to be mekabel everything they hear from the Rebbe without being allowed to ask questions and not feel that they are questioning the validity of the Torah.

13) As in my previous articles, I advocate never to expel a student from an institution without having a plan B put in place. If the Menahel feels the child would be better suited for a different type of institution, it is their utmost responsibility to find the child an alternative place. He must not be allowed to put the child on the street with no place to go. This in on the condition that the child

understands that a different place would be more suitable for him. Otherwise, the child must not be made to feel that he is not wanted and cared for. He must be made to feel that he has the option to do both. HaRav Steinman Shlita gave a rebuke to a principal when asked if a Menahel should accept a certain child whom he felt was not “their type” for his school. He answered back that philosophy was Gaava and that all children should be accepted.

14) Never punish a student by writing out a Gemara as retribution for not following the place. I have worked with many students who don’t learn certain Gemaras till this day since they had been administered that Masechta as a punishment as a child .No hitting the student or throwing him out of the classroom.

15) Tefilla is crucial. A student must learn the translation and understand what he is saying, otherwise davening will become boring and meaningless.

16) It is the duty of each Rebbe to instill the above recommendations into his classroom teaching. The Rebbe is the key in making a student’s experience in school the most memorable and uplifting

experience. Parnasa should never be a criteria for keeping a Mechanech employed in a school or yeshiva.

I wish to conclude with a partial quote from my rebbe, Rav Matisyahu Salamon shlita. He mentioned at the launch of my sefer, Bridging the Gap,

“Many of the children whom we call “drop outs” have not become like that because they have a bigger yetzer hara than other people, but because they feel less cared for than other people. Those children who fall through the cracks of our educational system have very often, lost out on those fundamental skills that they should have acquired earlier in life. If we could only give them a little more care, a little extra understanding or a little more help, an invaluable chizuk can be achieved, giving these people a feeling of self-esteem. Instead of, chas v’shalom, dropping out altogether. They will now want to achieve and stay within the fold, carrying on to reach high madregos, which otherwise they would never have dreamt of before…….

If we would only listen to “our true leaders of our generation” our students would do the right thing – just a little care and love.

With the above suggested strategies, applying these principles in all of our institutions, will help maintain the simcha that Limud Torah should generate in all our children, preventing children leaving the derech.

We must always have in mind Shlomo Hamelech’s dictate of Chanoch

le’naar al pi darko” not “darkem!!”

Rabbi Dovid Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at Shaar HaTalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and remediation, working with students to upgrade skills in Hebrew reading, chumash/rashi and gemara studies, consulting school principals world – wide to improve their ability to help students who possess under-developed skills. Also available for in house training for schools and yeshivos. He can be reached at [email protected] or 1-877-HATALMUD (428-2568)

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7 COMMENTS

  1. The main thing is that a Rebbi must take achrayos to reach out to each talmid – especially in high school. A bachur needs a Rebbi who reaches out, not a figurehead Rosh HaYeshiva. In elementary as well the Yeshiva must continually think what they can do from their end, even if they feel the parents need to solve the issue.
    Social issues are another area schools might complain about but don’t take the achrayos to have professional supervised play.

  2. Strongly disagree about ADHD. We are more informed today than our previous generations. Reality is kids do have REAL challenges and it’s really unfair to dismiss them as educational or food environment. This disconnect causes major distaste. There are parents and kids which deal with a lot anguish because of children with mental health challenges and I call out all the so called experts who don’t have a medical degree.

    “OTD” is very complicated issue and unfortunately is prevalent in every walk of life be it yidden or goyim. Not all kids want to be like their parents. In addition, OTD tends to happen in families of challenges moreso than “highly functional well to to families”….makes perfect sense…kids want to be happy and if there’s general unhappiness they’re susceptible to seek change.

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