Rochelle Sullivan – Guidance


My first group of students for the day are the seniors of the school – Grade 13, and much like the 12th grade students at Beth Tfiloh, this is a very stressful time in their lives.  My plan had been to teach a lesson about stress, time management and throw in a little Mindfulness Meditation at the end.  Well, I don’t need to tell you – that was not what G-d had in mind for me or for them.  Instead, these 5 girls (one of student is visually impaired) would share an experience that I hope will become a part of their lives forever.

I began my lesson as I did with my others, building connections and relationships. I learned that one student had lived in the United States for many years and had often compared the US to Hungary (not flattering) to her classmates.  She missed many things including the American educational system.  SPOILER ALERT -*I would soon come to realize that I am fluent in teenage body language, even in Hungarian.  

On Wednesdays, students have 45 minutes of instruction and then a 15 minute breakfast period. (Similar to our Ezra period) When I returned to the classroom, two students were engaged in a deep, heated discussion –in Hungarian, of course.  When I asked if I could help them, they reluctantly agreed to share the nature of their discontent.  It seems that student who shared that she missed America had offended her classmates, especially one student in particular. Accusing words like YOU, ALWAYS, NEVER, SHOULD, WOULD, COULD flew back and forth between the two of them. Suddenly, I remembered that I had packed my conflict resolution/active listening/I messages lesson plan. And before I knew it, I was mediating, facilitating and teaching simultaneously.  I was running a conflict resolution group as the conflict was unfolding.  This was really powerful.

We practiced, reviewed and in the end, they all had a deeper understanding of one another.  I am certain that this lesson had a deep and profound effect on this class, it certainly did for me.  In the end they hugged and apologized to each other. KISSES ALL AROUND! – Hershey’s of course!

Day 3

Each night after dinner we would have the opportunity to share our thoughts from the day, our viewpoints from the classroom, or our feelings and reactions to the landmarks that we saw on our tours. This verbal exchange served as the inspiration for my colleague’s blogs, but not for me.  I found these verbal conversations the only time I could express the profound influence this trip was having on me – both personally and professionally.  Unfortunately, this did not translate as I sat down tat my computer to write my blog.  How is it that I can articulate my thoughts, reactions and feelings so succinctly and yet, I find myself speechless? I am sure that I am not the only one, but I have found this style of communicating (blogging) very difficult, and it has left me feeling inadequate.  Ah ha moment! – I think I just got a glimpse into what our students must feel as they struggle with a lesson or in a class that is structured solely in their weaker modality. As educators, our awareness of students learning styles can have a profound effect on the process of learning and on student achievement.

Today in 10th grade I began by asking students how they are instructed in Hungarian schools – “Student Centered” or “Teacher Centered” classrooms.  I explained the two concepts as an introduction to the lesson and we compared and contrasted the two styles and our countries.  In America, I explained, students are often given accommodations to fill in the learning “gaps” that might be present.  I learned that there are no IEP’s in Hungary and teachers primarily deliver instruction from the front of the room.  Most written material is on the chalkboard (we are spoiled – teachers do not have unlimited access to paper or to copy machines) This delivery method is not only dry and uninspired, several students shared that they often feel inadequate (stupid) learning in this style. Students then completed a brief survey to determine their learning style and shared their results with one another.  One girl said that she knew she needed demonstrations to “see how to do things” but now she had a name for her style and could view it as a strength and not a weakness!

Final thoughts – While blogging is not my strength, it does not have to be my weakness or affect my self-esteem (too dramatic??) I will keep trying to learn this craft, but I may need someone to write an accommodation plan!

Upon learning that I would be traveling to Budapest, a relative asked me – “Why would Jews live in Hungary or need a Jewish Day School?” I could not answer his questions, but I am determined to find out.

Day 2

My first students of the week at the Scheiber Sandor School were a group of sixth graders who seemed as nervous about me, as I was about them.  But, as I greeted each student with a hand shake and smile, the tension seemed to melt away.  I wrote “WHO AM I?” on the chalkboard, and asked them to create a list that we they would use to design a t-shirt illustrating these details.  After the teacher explained my instructions again in Hungarian, the brainstorming began.  In just 45 minutes I learned about their best friends, the sadness that came from their parents divorce, their beloved pets, and a variety of American YouTube videos that they watch on their computers. The surprise came at the end of the lesson when I learned that this was more than an icebreaker, it was a “wall-breaker.” The children of Hungary are not taught to think or talk about themselves in this way. My lesson really had opened their eyes.  This compliment was both flattering and heart breaking. Can you imagine how absurd that comment would have sounded had it been about American students? We are so fortunate that our students are taught from an early age to have a strong sense of self and identity. That is not to say that the students at Scheiber Sandor do not possess this, it is simply a fact that the concept of expressing identity is not taught in the Hungarian schools, nor is it a value that is nurtured in most homes.

Following our tour of Budapest, my mind drifted back to the unanswered questions. Despite the fact that the Jews were well established, productive members of Hungarian society, they were hated, exiled, and killed. For those who dared to return, they found little left of their beloved city, their homes or their Jewish identity.  However, the next generation desperately needs our time, money and help to strengthen their schools, their synagogues, and the Jewish Community Centers.  They deserve the opportunity to once again enjoy a thriving Jewish life in Budapest, Hungary.

It is both an honor and a privilege to collaborate with the teachers and students of The Schiebor Sandor School.  I look forward to a long and prosperous partnership.

Day 1

There must be thousands of quotes and clichés about journeys, I found one in particular that spoke directly to me: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – or in my case 4,528 miles (7300 km.) and so begins my journey to Budapest, Hungary.

In August, when I was asked to join this group of distinguished teachers -I could not have been more honored or more terrified. I began asking questions almost immediately: What do American teens and Hungarian teens have in common?  How will I get past the language barrier? What if I am ineffective? What if they cannot relate to the topics?

Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to have many of my questions answered, but there is no question in my mind that I was meant to take this journey.

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