My mom is a teacher. My grandmother is a teacher. Lately I’m discovering that I also, heaven forbid, am a teacher.
For many years I couldn’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves, willingly place themselves in this trap and not do all that is in their power to free themselves. Even today, there are still many days when I don’t understand why I’m doing this to myself. I see my mother, and wonder how after 30 years of teaching she can still find the strength, not to mention the joy, of entering her classes once and again, and coping with this challenge – an impossible one by definition – of education.
My mother is “only” a teacher. But I meet former students of hers, I work with other people who worked, or have worked, with her, and I know – there is nothing else she could have been doing, that would be “more”.
Even Heschel said it (and even this I know only since my mother brought me his words as a gift for my birthday):
“At the epicenter of Judaism stands the teacher. Even the Lord almighty sits down to engage the Torah. Hence the great responsibility placed on the teacher. One cannot imagine a Jewish life without the dedication, hard work and wisdom of our teachers… The quality that sets us aside is no the love of knowledge, but the love of study… It all depends, of course, on the person who stands before the students. The teacher is not to be seen as an automatic source of water, from which one may draw spiritual drinks at any time and hour… He cannot guide his pupil to the land of choice, if he had not been there himself. When he asks himself: do I uphold that which I teach? do I believe in that which I utter? It is necessary for him to be able to answer with a Yes. What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but text people. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget. The teacher of our time, though he no longer wears a snow-white beard, is a link in the chain of tradition. It is he that mediates the past and even the future. However, he is also the one who creates the future of our people. He must teach the pupils to value the past, in order to make their future clear to them.” Abraham Joshua Heschel, from the article “The Spirit of Jewish Education”