A few weeks ago I came across an article by a speaker who gave a seminar on basic Jewish beliefs at a Bais Yaakov. She received enthusiastic and excellent questions from the students.
Curious, she asked them why they had never asked their regular teachers these questions. The students glanced at each other and said, “Well, those teachers get calls about shidduchim. We don’t want them to think that we have emunah issues.”
The article went on to do some lamenting, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I was transported back to my high school days.
Are these students paranoid? Or are their fears well founded?
Actually, their fears might be planted.
Like tweenage babysitters threatening their charges with monsters if they get out of bed, some teachers threaten their students with bad shidduch references for similar misdemeanors.
I will begin this narrative by explaining that I was never a teacher’s student. I’m not an auditory learner and I struggle with audiobooks, meetings, and lectures. In fact, I don’t even bother attending shiurim anymore, as I cannot seem to sit and listen with any manner of grace. This has ruined my frum cred in the eyes of the pious, but I consider it more respectful to the speaker.
Another problem I had in high school was the tendency of teachers to repeat everything three times. I learned that I could fall into a consciousness cycle wherein I paid attention for 20 out of every 60 seconds and still catch everything of importance.
The problem then became: what to do with the other 40 seconds?
Well, my default was to cross my arms on my desk, slide them forward, and rest my chin on my forearms. This way my head wasn’t in the objectionable Napping Position, but it was close enough to be comfortable.
“I feel sorry for your teachers,” my father interrupted a dvar Torah once to inform me, after I slid into position. “You look so painfully bored.”
It always did seem to make my teachers unhappy. I never really understood why. I got great grades on tests and I could usually parrot back whatever they’d been talking about when they called on me unexpectedly. What more could they want?
“Active engagement,” one teacher informed me after her first test. She explained that my grades made my disengagement inexcusable. Apparently, if you’re a poor student it’s okay to slouch and not take notes. But if you’re a good student you’re expected to sit straight and alert, scribble non-stop, and wave your hand in the air like you’re auditioning for the part of Hermione Granger. This teacher tried to engage me in standard bais yaakov style: by ordering me to be engaged.
With the help of some friends, I tried to simulate the appearance of engagement. That is: we filled the other 40 seconds with busy scribbling: epistolary novelettes, underground class magazines, cryptography, and a comic strip series about a group of superhero students who fought to rid the world of tyrannical, narrow-minded, and unreasonable educators. Except with the most eagle-eyed teachers, it seemed to help.