Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
I read in your bio that you were an 8th grade rebbi for 15 years. I assume that you chaperoned graduation trips during that time in your life. I’ve been a 6th grade rebbi for a few years and just switched to 8th grade this year. I am in charge of my class’ graduation trip and I must say that I’m getting cold feet at the thought of supervising 21 thirteen-year-old’s for such a long period of time.
I know this is a parenting, not a chinuch column, but I’m pretty sure there will be parenting tips in your response. Honestly, when I took my kids on an outing this past chol hamoed, I could have used some of the advice that I hope to read in your response.
An 8th-grade Rebbi
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
I once heard a great one-liner that said, “Wisdom is the collection of all lessons learned from one’s mistakes.” Well, as far as graduation trips go; I must be a very wise man because I made lots of them over the 15 years that I taught 8th grade. I hope that you can gain from my “wisdom” and plan an enjoyable and safe trip for your talmidim.
You are 100% correct in assuming that there are parenting lessons to be learned from analyzing this trip that you are planning, and I hope to frame things in a way that will allow you and our readers to extract them from these lines.
Here are some practical tips:
Plan an age-appropriate trip for your talmidim
In 1983, at the ripe old age of 23, I ran my first graduation trip to Washington, D.C. I was not involved much in the planning and basically followed the script used by the school in previous years.
It was a draining and difficult trip for me – mostly because, in my opinion, it was not planned for teenage boys. Trust me; waiting on a 3-hour line to shuffle through a few rooms in the White House and listening to the guide say, “Look boys, this is the green room, this is the blue room, …” ranks up there in excitement with watching paint dry for a group of lively adolescents. And since so much of the time in Washington was spent doing things that were very boring for my kids, it was nearly impossible to keep them well-behaved.
The following two years, we tinkered with the schedule to allow for activities that had far less ‘waiting time’ and were more appropriate for our talmidim. Eventually, we switched the venue altogether and moved to a 3-day trip over a weekend that included a beautiful Shabbos program on the grounds of a summer camp, whitewater rafting, and lots of sports. Not surprisingly, managing the boys became far less of a challenge once we had a program that was more user-friendly.
Clearly lay out your expectations for their behavior
Generally speaking, we are far more likely to have our children comply with our requests when we spell things out for them, as opposed to using broad strokes to describe what it is that we want.
For example, a specific request like, “Please make your bed and place your laundry in the hamper,” is easier to follow than a general one such as, “Please clean up your room.” “Tuck in your shirt and straighten your tie,” should be more effective than, “Look like a mentch.”
In my capacity as Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam, I occasionally ask the talmidim to pick up wrappers or debris from our playground or hallway. I used to make general requests like, “Please help clean up the yard.” However, I discovered that saying something like, “Can each of you please pick up five wrappers from your basketball court?” is far more effective, as it gives the children a simple, achievable task to do.
With that in mind, telling children to “Behave well on the trip,” might make perfect sense to you, but might not convey enough information to your talmidim to help them cooperate with your request. So, be specific. Inform them what your expectations are for their assistance loading and unloading the bus, behavior in certain areas, curfew, on and on. It may be a helpful exercise to commit these thoughts to paper so they are recorded for your talmidim to review.
It is also good practice to, whenever possible; explain why you are making these ‘rules.’ “Please set your watches and be on time when we board the buses so we can get in as many activities as possible,” will usually be more effective than, “Please don’t be late.”
As I mentioned earlier, I think that many of these concepts can be very helpful in parenting our children – at home as well as when we travel.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Next Week: Some thoughts for those brave enough to consider including children (in this case, your talmidim) in the process of drafting the rules that govern them, by making it a collaborative process.
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