08 December 2008

Aren't Manners Part of Good Middot?

Last Monday, I walked into class and did my daily ritual of asking the head teacher the plans for the day. (I work with a special needs child and I am often required to make on-the-spot modifications to her activities.) The teacher told me that another General Studies teacher wanted to come in and speak to the girls. A minute later, the teacher walked in. She works with the older girls on Reading. She opened by telling the girls that Rabbi K (the General Studies principal) was due to visit them soon. "Do any of you remember what you are supposed to do when a rabbi walks into the room?", she asked. "Say 'hi', one girl replied. "Ask 'how are you?" was another response. The teacher finally told the girls they had to stand when he came in, etc. The reason she wanted to come and talk to them was because she noticed some of the older girls she worked with (sometimes for two years) would ignore her when she said "Hi, Plonit". This spoke volumes to her about their manners. She then spent another ten minutes having the girls role play "basic" scenarios involving "manners": introductions, etc. My student asked about a couple extremely hypothetical situations and her teacher deemed them "inappropriate" so I was asked to escort her out of the room. 

I don't know the end result (whether the rabbi walked in and the girls "passed"), but I found the experience odd. I commented to the other personal aide (a Beis Yaakov graduate) that I thought this was the job of the "morning morot" (since having good manners are a part of having good middot). One of the observations I have made about this school is the major compartmentalization going on. It almost seems like there are FOUR different schools using the same school building: Girls Judaics, Boys Judaics, Girls General Studies, and Boys General Studies. The priority is easily placed on the Judaics teachers and whatever requirements they have. [One of the teachers, a kollel wife, seems quite happy with the balance of power she has based on her (by marriage) yichus. To detail some of what I have witnessed would definitely be telling lashon ha-ra, so I will not.] 

Come to think of it, though, good manners is something that is best modeled by parents and teachers. The morning morot will cluster onto one end of the playground at recess and start gossiping about who's getting engaged, or about to have a baby. They will demand that the child will stand there at attention until they are acknowledged (good for teaching not to interrupt an adult), but will interrupt a child asking a question in class with a flippant response. The students have also witnessed the morning morot act disrespectful towards their afternoon teachers. For example, one of the afternoon teachers wanted to place a string in the back of the room to hang projects (and the morah said it was fine). The following day, the string was cut and the morah claimed that the girls were playing with it "too much". After further questioning, it turned out that the morah just cut the string even though "no one" was playing with it. [I realize that young children tend to see things one-sided but since I have seen this morah in action, I have to believe the students more.]

When I wonder about the rudeness I see in frum Jews, I was told that it's justifiable since they study Torah, there is no need to demonstrate good middot. However, since girls are technically exempt from Torah study, more time in school should be focused on good middot rather than studying hemlines and shirt collars. 

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