Day 17: My kids became honorary Jews this morning. During morning meeting, I explained that today was Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, a day when you apologize for all of the things you did wrong over the previous year, ask for forgiveness, and then prepare to leave those wrongs in the past and look forward to a year of improvement. My students greeted each other with “shalom,” and then each student said something they wanted to apologize for from the past year. Several students apologized for being disrespectful to their teachers. Others apologized for talking too much in class. Others apologized for being rude to their parents.
To fully explain why this morning was so significant to me, I have to explain a decision I made this past weekend. Normally, Jews take Yom Kippur off from work. They go to services at synagogue, then retreat to their homes where they spend time with their families and do their best not to look at the fridge. Important information: you cannot eat during Yom Kippur.
This year marked the first time in my adult life I did not take the day off. This was not a decision I agonized over. My logic was this. Yom Kippur is about moving on. You apologize, you are forgiven, and you look forward. I have a great number of things I want to apologize for this past year. I was a neglectful friend to too many people as I struggled with my first year of teaching. I gossiped and whined more than once in my tired frustration. I became comfortable with small lies because I was too lazy to tell the full truth. I could have been more forthright as my 2.5-year relationship ended (ultimately on the last day of school). I let other teachers look like the bad guy so I could win favor with kids.
It’s no coincidence that many of those faults either directly or indirectly deal with school. My religion is Judaism, but teaching is nearly a my second faith. More than anything I have ever done with my life, teaching feels like a calling. It motivates me to be my best person, to be an unflagging support to those who struggle, and a point of light and joy in the lives of students who do not have enough of them.
When I thought about what looking forward to a new and better year meant this Yom Kippur, I thought of my kids – how I wanted to be a better teacher, role model and supporter to my kids this year. As a result, I thought the best way I could celebrate Yom Kippur was at school, with my kids, continuing to build foundation for a successful year together. I’m not sure I’ll make the same call again; by eighth period, I was lightheaded and parched from speaking without drinking water. But for today, I know I was in the right place. I am looking forward to being a better friend and a better son this year, but when I look back on the year between September 2012 and September 2013, my second year as a TFA corps member, I know I will measure myself and my ability to be my best based on how my kids and I bring ourselves to a new and special place this year.