What criteria do we use to judge quality education on a personal level for younger children. How do we know, as parents or teachers, whether we have succeeded? In a world in which everything is measured quantitatively using numbers, averages, percentages and graphs, we are used to knowing whether we are doing something well. At the end of the month, employees receive confirmation of their quality as an educator in the form of a salary. Although not everyone who receives a salary is necessarily a good employee, in general if you are a bad employee it is expected that you’ll be fired and not receive a salary. Perhaps this is a low benchmark, but there is something comforting in knowing that if I invest X amount of hours I will be rewarded with Y for my salary. With young children, there is no equation that says that if I invest the hours I will succeed. How nice it would be to have some outside source say, “You are excellent!”
Just as the famous midrash that tells of the poor man who sought treasure in a distant land, only to find it in his own home, in my own case, I found that outside source in my home this very morning, in the form of my older son.
So, what happened?
Let’s start with a little background. Sit down and get to know your writer for a moment. My wife and I have two absolutely adorable boys, the eldest is four and the youngest is two. A week ago, we started to wean the younger off diapers. Fortunately, things haven’t been going badly. That’s it for background for now.
This morning, I was working out while my wife was in bed (no judging her, she works 1000x harder than me.) My wife was awoken by a slight noise coming from the nursery. Upon listening, she heard my older son saying the following sentence, “[Little Brother]? Do you need to pee? Yes? So come with me to the bathroom.” A moment later, “You went in the diaper? Let’s check… everything is clean! Let’s take off the diaper… very nice! Now, let’s sit on the toilet… well done! You peed!”
It was not random that our rabbis taught, “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator.” For it is difficult in the morning, when our eyes are unfocused and filled with sleep, to wake up like a lion! My eldest chose to start his day not by asking for breakfast or toys, but rather by helping his little brother go to the bathroom, this is the external voice I needed to hear, telling me “Nice work, keep it up.”
I wish I could take all the credit for myself, but that still brings us back to the problem I raised at the beginning; How do we know that we have succeeded? Was it thanks to me that he helped his brother? Maybe it’s thanks to both myself and my wife’s joint efforts? Maybe it’s a result of his great nature. Maybe it came from his wonderful daycare teachers? Or his friends, maybe? At such a young age in which children are affected by so many factors, it is quite difficult to put a finger on something and say, “because of X they did Y.” Yet, I want to believe I was involved in some manner, that I was part of the process and kept the commandment of teaching your children, whether it was myself directly or my outsourcing it.
In Tractate Kiddushin, it is written that one of the mitzvot that a father is obligated in is to teach his son Torah. It is further taught that if the father cannot teach his son Torah, they are obligated to find another teacher. Nowadays, when our children spend most of their waking hours away from the home and in the hands of teachers, this mitzvah is extremely relevant.
This was an experience I had as a father, at home. What about educators? As educators, with a classroom filled with other peg how it can be difficult for a parent to see them, the chances are low. When in the classroom, with other people’s children, do we get the opportunity to witness these little moments of approval? Considering we are performing countless tasks in a short period of time, and then when we get home we are still busy with countless more tasks, so that we are distracted and often miss these moments. However, if we stop for a moment and listen, educators can hear that voice of approval. I would say that not only should we hear it, but we absolutely must hear it.