HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


A Ritual for Welcoming Teachers to Jewish Day Schools

by Rabbi Jill Hammer Issue: Teacher Retention & Development

One of the most important moments of transition is entry into a new community. This is one of the reasons Jews, and cultures all over the world, have rituals to welcome babies into the human family, and to welcome adolescents into the realm of adulthood. Creating ritual to address new situations has occurred throughout Jewish history, and has been one of the gifts of contemporary creative Jewish life. In that spirit, RAVSAK invited me to invent a ritual for welcoming new teachers into day schools. I’m very pleased to explore this ceremonial opportunity in the pages of HaYidion.

When a new teacher enters a learning environment, that person brings new resources for the students and other teachers: warmth, knowledge, connection and leadership. There is also anxiety, both for the person entering and for the people who are accepting this new member of their tribe. Ritual can celebrate all the gifts that arrive with each new teacher, and soothe the nervousness of new and unfamiliar faces. A formal welcome serves as a doorway: a distinct moment in time when a newly hired teacher transitions to being a part of the school community.

For this reason, it is wise for a community day school to invest time and effort in creating an opening ceremony that welcomes new teachers. This ceremony could be a part of a larger ritual welcoming new students, or it could stand on its own. The following is one example of such a welcoming ritual, but there could be many ways to welcome new teachers into a school with celebration.

My experience in creating ritual is that a good ritual is relatively simple, has a clear message, and draws on traditional ideas and symbols but also contains newness and surprise. An effective ritual has a beginning, middle, and end, during which the people being celebrated, and the larger group, undergo a transition. A good ritual invites the participation of the community so that every person present has a stake in the ritual’s outcome. These are principles I’ve tried to follow in the ritual below, and which you can use to create your own ritual if the one below doesn’t suit your school or community.

A note about timing: most teachers will be entering Jewish day schools around the time of the new year. A school may want to enhance the drama of this presentation by beginning the assembly with the blowing of the shofar. Apples and honey at the end of the ritual are also a nice allusion to the new year.

This ritual is brief, on the order of twenty to forty minutes. If you’d like to expand the ritual, a drash on teaching and learning, followed by Kaddish deRabbanan, would be appropriate. Or, if you’d like to shorten the ritual, some elements can be removed.

Having learned so much from my own teachers, I offer this ceremony to honor them, as well as all the new teachers that soon will be welcomed into schools. May the new instructors who enter our communities bring us blessing, and find blessing through learning with us.

Welcoming Ritual:

(An opening song such as Hineh mah tov would be appropriate.)

Leader:

Pirkei Avot, the teachings of our sages, tells us that Moses passed down Torah to Joshua, and Joshua to his students, and Joshua’s students to their students. Each teacher has a unique gift of knowledge to offer our students, and each of our students has unique gifts to offer our teachers. Whenever a teacher enters a classroom, there are new opportunities to learn.

We welcome _________ (names) who have entered our communities as teachers. We are grateful for the skill, learning and experience they bring to our school. As they enter our community, we ask that they be blessed with patience, enthusiasm, wisdom and compassion so that they may continue to grow as teachers, and so we may continue to grow along with them.

Another Reader:

The scholar and philosopher Maimonides taught: “Just as students are obligated to honor their teacher, a teacher is obligated to honor students and encourage them…. Students increase a teacher’s wisdom and broaden a teacher’s horizons. Just as a small branch is used to kindle a large one, so a student sharpens a teacher’s thinking until, through their conversation together, wisdom shines forth.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 6:12-13)

May you, our new teachers, kindle the light of learning brightly for every one of your students, and may their conversations with you bring all of us new light.

(Light one candle to represent each of the new teachers. Students can do this, in order to fulfill the passage above.)

A Veteran Teacher:

In Jewish tradition, a mezuzah scroll containing wisdom from the Torah is placed on a doorway so that those entering and leaving will be mindful of sacred truth. We want to present each of you with this mezuzah as a reminder that each of you will be a doorway for others to learn, and each of you will be opening doors for your students, colleagues and fellow teachers. It is said that the teaching of the mezuzah is that “nothing lasts forever except knowledge of the Eternal.” May you give the lasting gift of knowledge that is the most precious and lasting thing we can pass on to our students.

(New teachers are introduced to the school by a teacher or administrator and are presented with the mezuzot as gifts. If desired, this mezuzah can be used for the new teacher’s classroom. If there is time, this is a moment for the new teachers to say a few words.)

Note: If a mezuzah is not a desirable gift because of expense or for some other reason, teachers can be given a spicebox or a bag of fragrant spices with the following statement:

In Jewish tradition, we use spices at the end of the Sabbath to acknowledge that a new week is beginning. Just as each spice adds a new fragrance to the whole, so may your teachings add new wisdom to our community.

Community Recites:

May all of our teachers be blessed with peace, kindness, good relationships with students, parents, and colleagues, good health, sustenance, and a long life of learning and discovery. May they and all of us find joy in the work of study, and may we support one another fully as a community of learners. May we be a blessing to one another. (based on Kaddish deRabbanan)

Leader:

The Shulchan Arukh tells us that “every community must appoint teachers, for the world exists only through the breath of schoolchildren.” (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 245:7)

Your presence in our school helps us to fulfill our commitment to study. We hope your example will inspire our students to justice, kindness, and the fulfillment of their full potential as human beings. The Talmud advises us to get ourselves a teacher and acquire for ourselves a friend. We know you will be both.

There is a custom of presenting new students with honey on the first day of school so that their learning will be sweet. We conclude our ritual with sweetness, in the hope that our learning together will be sweet.

(Teachers should pass out apples and honey if it is the new year, or some other appropriate sweet if it is a different season.)

Closing Song:

Debbie Friedman’s Kaddish deRabbanan, which begins “For our teachers and their students, and the students of their students, we ask for peace and lovingkindness…” would be an ideal closing for this ceremony, but any joyful closing song or niggun would be appropriate. ♦

Rabbi Jill Hammer is the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy of Jewish Religion, and the author of two books: The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons, and Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women. She can be reached at yeilah@earthlink.net.

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Teacher Retention & Development

Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community. Here, find guidance for finding, preparing and evaluating teachers, and keeping them happy and productive stakeholders.

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