You’ve probably heard the adage that elementary school teachers love children, high school teachers love their subject, and university professors love themselves. I suppose there’s a kernel of truth to this, but I’m going to push back a bit and suggest that it’s even more important for high school and university teachers to love our students. Even before the pandemic, many teenagers and young adults in the United States were struggling with anxiety and depression. Now many more are suffering, and they need the presence of caring adults in their daily lives.
During the last two weeks, my co-teachers and I introduced a new culture unit in The Weber School’s Spanish 3 interdisciplinary curriculum: La Vivienda, Neighborhood Identity & Challenges. In our Spanish classes, we took a field trip to Buford Highway to view murals by the artist Yehimi Cambrón and to sample the delectable dishes at the Havana Sandwich Shop. We discussed the messages communicated in public art, as well as the challenges of gentrification and divisive politics.
In our Jewish Studies classes, which usually feature the analysis of biblical and rabbinic texts, I centered my lesson on a more universal principle, known to many as The Golden Rule. I began by projecting Steve Silbert’s illustration* on the whiteboard. Then I wrote the three Hebrew words that translate to English as “love your neighbor as yourself,” and we looked at several examples of art that express this idea. We discussed how one must have compassion for oneself in order to treat others with kindness, and we shared our own ideas about what loving one another looks like.
Following two rules of demonstrating a caring teacher-student relationship—active listening and asking for feedback—and knowing that students crave an opportunity to engage in hands-on activities and express themselves, I provided art supplies and encouraged everyone to create their own sketch note or mini-mural related to this theme. At the end of each class period, we shared our work with each other and we definitely felt less anxious about upcoming end-of-semester projects and mid-year exams, about submitting grades and writing report card narratives.
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A photo gallery of some students’ and teachers’ sketch notes can be found here.
* Illustration by Steve Silbert, a member of the Bayit Board whose spiritual practice of Torah study includes sketch noting the parashah. Steve also uses sketch notes in his work as an Agile Coach, teaching visual facilitation basics in software development and marketing.