Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Principal Ruth Reches Greets Teachers, Students and Parents for New School Year

Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Principal Ruth Reches Greets Teachers, Students and Parents for New School Year

This school year is a challenge for all of us. I have been asking myself why I as the new principal am always facing unexpected obstacles which have to be overcome. But this is more of a rhetorical question, because I feel new challenges are interesting. They aren’t frightening because I see I have not been left on my own to overcome them. ALL school staff are working to insure the school year begins smoothly.

The members of our collective stay at school into the late evening, come to work on Saturday and solve work questions by telephone and on vacation, and late into the night without being asked. Just because they care. I feel very strong support with this team in place and I know we will all lead the school forward together no matter how the situation changes.

Thinking about the public tension the corona virus has caused, the lack of clarity on how the education process will take place if there is a second wave of the virus which might cost lives, I remember the book by the renowned thinker, humanitarian and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl describing his experiences during the Holocaust. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna in Austria as well as a practitioner and world-class thinker. In describing his experiences, he also pointed to significant things which helped him survive.

Frankl talks about interpersonal communication and how important supporting one another is in extreme conditions. He has become a symbol of the triumph of forgiveness, reconciliation and the human spirit in the face of the most horrific evil.

I believe we can utilize this today: mutual aid, tolerance, forgiveness and the desire to help are important factors which will help us survive the pandemic. I mean teachers as well as parents and pupils. Helping one another, coming together and cooperation were essential in conducting distance learning classes where we had to share collected materials, younger colleagues helped older teachers with computer and internet issues and class schedules had to be drawn up to satisfy everyone’s needs to the maximum extent possible.

Communication with parents is also extremely important, and that became abundantly clear in conducting distance learning with pupils in the lower classes, where parents had to take up the role of teachers at least partially, since the younger children weren’t sufficiently ready to learn independently. Parents and teachers working together made it possible to make distance learning more effective and to insure assignments were drafted and assigned in such a way that pupils were able to do them as independently as possible, without the guidance of their parents.

Communication between students doing distance learning was also just as important, although the children weren’t able to communicate as usual in the distance-learning environment. Nonetheless, they managed to write one another during tests and gave each other answers to the problems. This is actually a good example of mutual aid.

Our gymnasium has added a group of new teachers. This has brought more positivity into our team, people are smiling, talking and joking. Positive emotions are crucial in attempting to overcome and control stress and fear because of the unstable situation. Feelings and moods are often passed on unconsciously to colleagues, students and parents.

If teachers ask parents to calm down and not to panic but the teachers themselves are radiation stress and annoyance over the situation, that simply won’t work. So we have to try to calm down, and all those around will sense our, our teachers’ more positive emotions. This is the only way we can go forward without great stress.

Another factor which helps us to deal with the situation is creativity and flexibility. When the situation changes daily and the school keeps getting new instructions from the Health Ministry on a daily basis on changes which must be made to the education process, it’s impossible to remain frigid.

I don’t think we should be angry at the Government because it isn’t able to say exactly how to act. No one can really predict future events. We have to understand the instability of the situation and make decisions in the here and now.

Hence our gymnasium is making the decisions which best respond to the needs of our students at this time, and when the situation changes we will change our decisions.

Frankl spoke about the importance of small pleasures in a complicated situation. Small pleasures brighten up our lives. It is very important to indulge in these small pleasures at work which make the workplace cozier: a cup of coffee, flowers on the desk, a friendly talk with a colleague. These things raise the spirit.

The most important thing for us, for the teachers to remember is that our work is very significant. Teachers play an important role in the life of children. We spend 12 years of their lives with them, we watch them grow, mature, make friends, get angry and fall in love. We raise them because that is our mission and a priceless experience in the meaning of our lives, of our teachers. When we feel that, it’s no longer important by what means we work with our students, we will love our work no matter what comes, and that’s the most important thing.