I’ve noticed that basically every time I write about teaching, I write about my experiences in a boys’ mesivta.  I do realize there are other grades, but this is where I teach.

So let’s change pace this time: We’ll talk about the experiences of my daughter, who has apparently gone into the family business, at least for now, and last year she taught three-year-olds. As an assistant morah. 

These are 3-year-olds.  This is their first year out of the house, seeing the world.  So she’s basically introducing them to everything.  And that’s such a wholesome feeling.  When my daughter’s students see her, they run over and hug her.  Whereas when I walk into a room, my students say, “You again?”

Her students do not say that.

So I can’t help but wonder which of our jobs is better.  Let’s go through some factors: 

Singing in Class

My daughter’s class involves a lot of singing.  Davening, exercise, parsha… Even cleaning up gets a song. 

My class involves a lot of singing too, but it’s not officially mandated.  It’s them singing with me yelling for them to stop. 


Asking Good Questions

My daughter told me one day, “One of my students asked me, “What’s metamorphosis?”” 

And I said, “Out of the blue?  She came across this word and said, “As soon as I get to school, I’m going to ask my assistant morah!”?” 

And she said, “No, it was in a book I was reading to them as part of our lesson on butterflies.  But actually, I’ve read this book to them about a hundred times.” 

Like how many times of hearing the book was this kid sitting on that question, not sure if she should ask?  But she did it.  This is one of the benefits of teaching through repetition.  That’s how little kids learn. 

Whereas when I try repetition, the best question my students ask is, “Why are you teaching this again?  We already learned it!”  Like “How dare you teach us the same thing twice!”  And then those same kids do badly on the test. 

You’d think they would at least study, but that’s repetition.


Forgetting Why They’re There

One thing that we do in my class that they don’t do in nursery is ask, “Why do we have to learn this?”  We ask this question every day. 

Apparently, they do like repetition. 

The 3-year-olds, however, do not ask this question every time the morahs try teaching anything.  “Why do we have to learn this?  In all my 3 years on the planet, I have never needed this knowledge so far!” 

Even when they’re taught about things like butterflies.

“Yes,” my students are saying, “but that’s 3 years.  This is 15!  I’m a big boy!” 

Everyone in nursery thinks they’re a big boy.


Just Rewards

My daughter also has a considerably easier time coming up with rewards.  She just shows up to school with a roll of stickers, and the kids go nuts.  You can bring in literally anything and the kids will be happy, as long as you call it a prize.  At that age, they’re just grateful to have possessions.

Whereas there’s very little I can give my students that they actually want.  If I say that if they behave for a week they’ll get a can of soda, they’ll weigh their options and realize that they’d much rather play machanayim in class for an entire week and not get the can of soda.  Any prize I offer that’s good enough to get large numbers of students to behave will be prohibitively expensive on a teacher’s salary.  The only reward that my students might actually respond to that I can afford financially is a free period – in other words, the opportunity to go home.  That is literally all they want. 


Learning Names

One of the hardest things for any teacher the first few days of the year is learning all of the students’ names.  Nursery morahs, for example, have to do this with kids who just learned a few days earlier that their names aren’t “Sheifeleh”.

Kids that age don’t fully understand names in the first place.  My daughter was telling us that one day a bunch of her students were talking about their mothers, and one of them said, “My mommy’s name is Mommy.”  And then the other kids said, “My mommy’s name is Mommy!”  “My mommy’s name is Mommy!”  And one kid goes, “My mommy’s name is Elana.”

So what the preschool morahs do is they give out nametags.  The kids can’t read their names, but that’s okay, because they got stickers!  For free!  These morahs are awesome!

So on the surface, that sounds like something I should try with my students, because I have 4 classes of bochurim who think it’s hilarious to, when asked for their name, give me the name of someone else in the class.  So stickers might not be a great idea.  I bet by the end of the first day, I’ll have at least 30 stickers on my back. 

“Great class today, Mr. Schmutter!” (pat)

It’s a great way to get compliments on my lesson, though.



My daughter has to coax her students to eat.  It is literally a grade on the report card.  In fact, she told me that during lunchtime, she plays a game with her students called “The Big Bite Game”.  The way it works is that she calls out someone’s name, and that person has to take a big bite of their lunch.  While everyone cheers them on.  And she tries to call on the slowest eaters the most – the ones who take two nibbles an hour – because lunch needs to be over at some point.  That’s the whole point of the game.  But everyone loves it.  Every day at lunch, they’re like, “Let’s play the big bite game!”  “Let’s play the big bite game!”  “My mommy’s name is Elana!”

And then in the hotter months, she told me she had to start playing a drinking game, because she wanted to encourage the kids to stay hydrated.  And I had to tell her not to call it that, in case it gets back to the parents.

In my class, though, the challenge is to get my students to stop eating.  If I say on the report card that someone’s good at eating, that’s a bad thing.

My students would also be very happy to play a drinking game, if I offered.



My daughter’s class has naptime every day, although a lot of the kids don’t actually go to sleep.  The parents weaned these kids off of taking naps, and the kids aren’t about to go back.  Whereas I actually don’t give a naptime in my class, and a lot of students go to sleep anyway.  It’s probably about the same percentage, I would guess. 

At least they’re remembering something they learned in nursery.


Ignorance or Bliss?

Whenever I come home from yeshiva and tell a story about my students, my wife rolls her eyes.  But whenever our daughter tells a story, my wife says, “Oh, that’s so cute!” 

What?  How’s that fair?  My students aren’t cute?

Basically, the kinds of things that are cute coming from her students are considered ignorant coming from my students.  And vice versa? 

No, not really.

Like for example, my daughter said that they were teaching the kids about the letter Alef, and they had a bunch of pictures up, and they asked, “Does anyone know anything that starts with alef?” and one of the kids said, “Lion!”

Or like my daughter said that they were teaching about the makkos, and I’m not sure how this came up, but the morahs were telling the kids that in those days, people didn’t have cars.  So the kids asked, “Then why didn’t they just go on airplanes?” 


I’m not saying my daughter and I should switch jobs.  They would never let an 18-year-old girl be a teacher in a boys’ mesivta any more than they would let a 40-year-old guy be a nursery assistant.

But I definitely feel like my daughter’s lessons are more well-rounded.  She’s teaching shapes and animals and songs, and all I’m teaching is writing and how to hold onto important papers for more than five minutes.  And how to show up with the supplies they need.  And I can definitely be taking lessons from her.  Like maybe I should ask my students’ parents to pin blank pieces of papers to their sons’ shirts before they leave the house in the morning.  Or, if they dorm, to all their shirts at the beginning of the month.  Also pens.  There is no way you got through the morning without a pen.

Wait.  Why don’t mesivta teachers get assistants?

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.