Tag Archives: hanukkah

What Must It Be Like?


Last night, my entire family and some friends came over for my first holiday party in my apartment, Matty Ray’s LatkeFest 2011. We dined on foods that were much loved when our grandmothers made them, and it was wonderful to have my grandfather leading all the prayers at age 85 (as he has done for as long as I can remember and for many years before that).

As I reflect this morning, I think of my students. Their families don’t have the money to hold such parties. They may not even have the space. Some of their grandparents are in different countries. Some of their siblings are, too.

I can’t imagine what that all must be like. Singing the prayers for lighting the candles last night, I thought about how lucky I am (despite whatever drama comes with the family). I am able to celebrate holidays comfortably with my family. We don’t need to worry about being able to afford gifts or decorations. We can plan to lavish the new babies that are arriving with attention, toys, and clothes. We can buy expensive cuts of meat without saving for months.

I am truly living on the opposite side of the tracks from my students, who can’t, at this moment, realistically expect any of these luxuries that I take for granted. It is hard for me to understand what that must be like and how their survival differs from my family’s thriving.

But I must try.

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Hanukkah 2011 by Jeffrey Ray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at photomatt7.files.wordpress.com.

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A Great Miracle Happened There


It's Hanukkah, and miracles are in the offing.

Today is the first full day of Hanukkah. On Hanukkah, we celebrate two miracles. One is the fact that the outnumbered Maccabee army defeated the Syrian army. The other is that, as they recaptured and defended the temple, a day’s worth of oil wound up lighting the lamp for a full eight days.

The well-known dreidel game (in which you spin a top adorned with four Hebrew letters – nun, gimel, hay, shin) alludes to these miracles. The letters stand for the Hebrew words, “Nes gadol haya sham” which, in English, means “A great miracle happened there.”

I have dreaded test prep in my classroom, but now that we have begun in earnest, I must say, it is not going as badly as I expected. Some kids are almost intuitively grasping the concepts of main idea and supporting details (including some I hadn’t anticipated). Importantly, with a variety of interesting texts to read and work through, investment (at this point) is high. I think it will remain so as long as I’m not ramming it down their throats with text that is too difficult. Frustration would then set in.

In math this week, we have worked on some very difficult word problems. We started with two-step problems that involve using addition (or multiplication) and then a second round of addition. We have also worked on missing factor problems that require some sophisticated array building and analysis. The more we work on these problems, the clearer they become for the students.

It’s early, but all this makes me think that come the end of the year, when we see students levels and grades, people who don’t expect much might just be saying, “A great miracle happened there.”