As you might expect, we spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks exploring the customs and traditions surrounding Rosh Hashana.  Most recently, we discussed tashlich, the ritual of casting pieces of bread (the pieces symbolize our sins) into a body of water; and we went on a short field trip to perform this special mitzvah.  Tashlich is traditionally performed at a body of water that contains fish, and one of the reasons for this, according to our tradition, is that fish swim with their eyes open at all times, just as we want G-d’s eyes always to be open to us and watching over us.  By symbolically casting away our sins, we express a desire to put aside negativity and to start fresh.  We stand ready to cast away obstacles that might have prevented us from succeeding, from doing good, and from being all that we can be.
This idea of surmounting obstacles that prevent us from doing good is a favorite theme in our classroom. It ties in perfectly with one of the songs I play as the children come into class every afternoon. The lyrics are “I can be anything I want to be, everything I need is inside of me… I can be strong, I could be brave, I have the courage, I am hero.”  The children love singing along to this song, and I particularly love listening to them.  Every day that I walk into our classroom, I am reminded of the amazing honor and privilege that I have in teaching these precious children and in empowering the next generation of heroes.
Over these past few weeks, the children have also shown me, again and again, that I am not the only teacher in the classroom, because with every lesson that I teach our students, I learn one in return.  For example, in preparation for Rosh Hashana, we have spent a great deal of time talking and learning about teshuvah (repentance), and about the process of thinking about things we have done in the past that we hope to do better in the future.  Each of us took time to think about our “mistakes” and about how we can learn from those mistakes and become stronger and better people. My favorite part of the discussion was when each child had an opportunity to share what they would like to change for the coming year.  The children had the sweetest, most sincere responses, ranging from being less shy to trying to get better at learning Hebrew.  Then it was my turn to share something I would like to change for the new year.  I explained that I have a ninety-three year old neighbor that I hadn’t visited in a while, and that I wanted to work on visiting her more often.  I found it beautiful that the students became deeply invested in this teshuvah of mine.  They offered suggestions as to how I might follow through on my resolution, and when I shared the fact that I had started off by sending my neighbor a challah for Shabbat, they got so excited they even cheered me on!
There is a traditional Jewish saying – “מכל מלמדי השכלתי” – I have learned from all my teachers, but I’ve learned much more from my students.  As I spend my afternoons in the classroom with the children, this saying is never far from my mind.  The students amaze me with their unique insights and ideas about every concept that I teach.  Their positive attitudes and eagerness to learn and grow blow me away every day.  I hope you will find an opportunity to stop by our classroom at some point this year so that you can see for yourself, as I have seen, just how amazing these children are.