Teaching elementary school is sweet. The students are uncomplicated. Their hearts are open and they are excited by new ideas. They have questions and want to learn the answers. Unfortunately, many times, the answer to those questions, the true answers, the fullest answers, are simply beyond their grasp. The answers require maturity, awareness of the human condition and abstract reasoning.
By the time they get to high school, many students don’t bother with the questions anymore even though they are ready for the answers. Many are apathetic. Others want to follow a leader and are intimidated by aura of authority that a teacher has. Some will assume that the teacher is ignorant and foolish and is best ignored.
If you are lucky, you will have a high school student who still has the questions. She sees through your bravado and challenges you. She demands the truth. There is nothing more exciting than when this energy enters a class. When those real questions are thrown into the air, there is a joy of learning as each side argues, brings proofs and defends opinions with words and reason. Truth becomes the focus, and Torah emerges.
Somehow, these students are often maligned because they challenge the authority of the teacher. How short sighted. In life, our students will need to be able to weed out the charismatic charlatan from the truly inspiring. They need to think critically about an idea before buying into it. The Ramban, Rashi, the Rambam all had that respect for their students. They prove their points using pesukim, maamarei chazal and logic. Yes, there is the mesorah and yes I am their teacher. But, I must establish unequivocably that I have earned that title and place in the chain of Torah transmission.
There is a danger in allowing students to believe us based on our authority or dynamism. Becoming a teacher does not give us wisdom of the ages. Teaching is a job, and there is no miraculous transformation that imbues us with supernatural wisdom overnight. I will make mistakes. But the Rishonim, Achronim, Torah and Chazal have stood the test of time and the probing of countless minds. . When I say something, the student is relying on me and their faith is only as strong as my own. But if I give them a proper source, their faith has a solid foundation on which they can build.
I can relax. Hashem and His Torah are strong enough and secure enough to deal with the probing of an adolescent. I just need to relax and enjoy the next generation’s discovery of that power.