Staying Relevant

Lessons from our Matric students and their teachers’

By: Chandrea Serebro

Hirsch Lyons Girls High School

What Corona taught me about teachers…

From singing good morning songs, to wearing a pirate hat whilst exhibiting a puppet show to present the lessons, my high school teachers had to become quite ‘creative’ to keep us students coming back to their lessons each day over the lockdown periods. From my experience of online school, I have seen teachers’ major evolution in their online teaching skills. Firstly, I have been privileged to witness teachers’ transition from the ‘dramatic monologue’ style of online-teaching to cooperative, surprisingly enjoyable lessons; I have seen their transition from untidy biological drawings to rather impressive ones using a computer mouse; and lastly, the transition that has earned most of my respect, is the improvement of camera placement, which effectively shows us students more than just a hairline and the roof. However, on a serious note Covid has unambiguously proved to me teachers’ flexible capacity in finding new, successful teaching methods very quickly. Therefore, I raise my hat to all teachers who, like mine, have impressively embraced the format of technology and continued to successfully guide students during these unprecedented, transformative times. Dina Josselsohn

What Corona taught me about students…

Coronavirus has taught me that my students are sentient beings who respond to the spiritual, psychological, and emotional energy of their teachers and peers. Zoom, albeit a lifeline during lockdown, was a deadening and stultifying force that unequivocally proved that I will never be replaced (G-d willing) by a bot! I have learnt that my students are fully human and require the full humanity of their teachers in order to learn, integrate, and assimilate knowledge. My students have shown me that they are capable of tremendous appreciation because they now understand the full value of human interaction and the vital human relationship that exists between student and teacher. Despite the debilitating pain of this pandemic, my Hirsch Lyons students have emerged with humility and wisdom. They have taught me joy and reminded me of the precious message of Ubuntu – “I am me because you are you”: I exist as a teacher because you are my beloved students. Beverly Isaacs, Teacher

Torah Academy Boys High School

How 2021 will shape my life…

When I was in grade 11, I saw the matrics of 2020 writing finals in masks. I thought, “Wow, thank G-d this time next year Covid will be gone,” then the funniest thing happened, it didn’t. The best thing about making memories during dark times is that when the trauma flashbacks hit you, you’ll remember, “OOO, I learned how to make banana bread.” It’s the tiny spark in the darkness that you’ll never forget.
I learned three valuable lessons during 2021 that will stick with me for life.
First, matric has graciously given me several stressful nights and tiring days. I feel like I’m being suffocated by life. I learned that dealing with a stressful situation is like cutting down a tree. You can’t just swing once and think, “Bam, it’s done, I’m going home.” It’s a step-by-step process, which usually requires the assistance of others.
Second, every day of my school career was to prepare me for this final year “matric”. Matric in slippers sounds nice, but for a guy like me with ADD and ADHD, it’s very hard to deal with the biggest year of my life online. It just takes 2 clicks for the teacher to have no idea what I’m doing behind the screen. I love home, but 2021 has taught me that to prosper, you have to step out of your comfort zone. I know that sounds extremely clichè, but it’s true, and I’ve experienced it first hand. I will be leaving home next year, please G-d, which I was at first anxious about because I’ve got my couch, food, PlayStation, and wifi. I felt like there was no need to leave all of that for a “new journey”. Over a couple of days, I realised that leaving the nest is a part of nature. It’s my turn to learn and grow as a person.

Third, I saw a clip from The Lion King movie where Rafiki (the lion’s monkey mentor) hit Simba on the head with a stick and said that it doesn’t matter that he hit him because it is in the past. Simba says that he still feels the pain of the hit. Rafiki then says, “Ah yes, the past can hurt, but you can either run from it or learn from it.” Rafiki then swings his stick back at Simba’s head but misses because Simba ducked this time. He learned. The message of the clip is that when something bad happens to us, or maybe we made a mistake, and then we lie in bed and think, “Ewww, why did I do that?” it doesn’t matter. You can’t change it. You should seize the opportunity to learn from it instead of being ashamed so that you can be a better you. Eli Zlotnick

How students should use the lessons of 2021 to shape their lives…

At the start of each grade 12 year, we instruct our matriculants about the importance of consistency. Consistency in learning, sleeping, exercising, and revising. 2021 threw a curveball at that methodology as it now had to be coupled with the somewhat tricky concept of unpredictability. Our matrics entered their final – and most demanding – school year, fully aware that at a moment’s notice their routines and academic practices could be drastically altered. Try and be consistent with that! Yet consistent, practical, and even cheerful they were! 2021 showed our young men that life can change at any time, while the expectations remain as high, if not higher. And they showed us how important it is to take the unpredictable nature of life and fly with it. This is a lesson from which everyone – regardless of age or circumstance – can benefit. When plan A fails, dust yourself off, smile, and move on to plan B (or C or D…) Mrs Kerryn Feigenbaum, Teacher

Torah Academy Girls High School

My biggest lessons of 2021…

To take life one step at a time. Where you are right now is where you’re meant be. You have the choice to decide what you are going to do in the situation that you are put in. As the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, so famously said: “Trach gut, vet zein gut” – “Think good and it will be good.” The conditions of the situation itself may not have changed, but the way you think about it will and that will actually allow for the good to be revealed. Devorah Leah Fischer

You think the pupils won’t cope during Covid… but they have managed admirably. They have exceeded our expectations. There are always growing curves and lessons to be learnt (not necessarily academic) during the most difficult times. Empathy and compassion emanate from both students and teachers alike. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Appreciation of being together. People need people, students need teachers. Don’t argue about vaccine. Rebecca Sarchi, Principal

Yeshiva College High School

What Covid-19 taught me…

Covid has taught me to appreciate every moment spent with friends and family. It has provided me with a deep appreciation for the small things in life, and made me cognisant of the fact that nothing should be taken for granted. Akiva Fox

What Corona taught me as a teacher in 2021…

Corona in 2021 taught me that students are far more resilient than we give them credit for and that patience with oneself and the students is probably the most important trait to have.

Luella Kramer, Teacher

My biggest lessons of 2021…

2021 is a year that most people would want to forget. I honestly believe that the challenges of this year have made Matric 2021 unforgettable! I have learned that the fear around the pandemic and studying can be embraced. I have learned that trauma builds resilience, that a school can become a haven, a bubble, a home, and a family. I have learned that through incredible support and love from teachers, a student can do so much more than just ‘push through’. I have learned that the pressure around prelims, distinctions, and panic can be overcome with focus, passion, and hard work. I have learned that we are never in control of the world, our results, or anything! Uncertainty can teach us trust and challenge can teach us to adapt in the most trying of circumstances. I have had so much support, a stable wifi connection (mostly), and the chance to embrace change and challenge. As I stand here at the finish line of what seemed like a marathon… I see a bright future ahead of me – made possible by the support team of teachers and mentors at Yeshiva College. My biggest lesson of 2021? Gratitude.
I am grateful for the support system of Yeshiva College. I am grateful for the continuous effort and dedication of my teachers. I am grateful for the strength and commitment of the matric class of 2021. Sara Joselowsky

King David Victory Park

What Corona taught be about my teachers …

Corona taught me that teachers bare an insane amount of responsibility. Corona forced them to change their teaching styles completely and learn to teach us in tricky ways. They have to be strong for the students. And they are. Faryn Isakow

Sitting down after a long and difficult year of schoolwork, infused with the added layer of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaves me utterly exhausted. However, as much as I learnt from school this year, I have learnt that teachers are capable of so much more than we already knew. Starting with the major production at the beginning of the year, it was no secret that putting on a production in the middle of a pandemic would be challenging. However, with the astonishing talents of all our teachers involved with the production – they adapted the KDVP theatre life into something quite extraordinary through their remarkable imagination and 21st century teaching skills.

While having seen our teacher’s passion, determination, and great adaptiveness shine through in the theatre, the classroom would have not been able to function properly without the creativity and stamina that was harnessed by our incredible teachers. Covid showed us the patience it takes for a teacher to do their job – despite having had their deadlines and stress on their mind, they were not hesitant to give a slight extension on our task or lend an ear to listen to our daily stresses and give some words of encouragement.

Having been at KDVP for such a long time now, I can truly say that our school is unlike any other on the planet… The family environment that the teachers and students have created has made school a fun and stimulating environment for me to grow, this would have not been possible without the teacher’s true care that they have for their students.

Teachers are our true heroes and Covid has shown us this in the most unexpected way possible.

Aron Lazer

What Corona taught me about my students…

The human being, no matter how young or old, has an instinctive, natural ability to adapt, heal, create. Problem is, there needs to be a desire – a willingness and determination – to adjust, rework, reimagine. Nobody could predict what the pandemic would do in the realm of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual. We could formulate timetables, online sessions, hybrid programmes, etc, you name it technologically, logistically. However, when it comes to the students, the lessons, the attendance, the connection, the commitment, the engagement, the honouring of due dates and responsibilities of ‘watching the recording’, and actually being diligent and grabbing at all the various forms and platforms for learning, growth, research, and development, these are a daily experience – uncharted, unprecedented, and bleeding edge. I learn this, experience this, grapple with this constantly, as do our students, whether we admit it or not.

Renos Spanoudes, Teacher

King David Linksfield

How 2021 Will Shape My Life…

The year of 2021 has been ground-breaking to say the least. I, on a personal level, as well as the global community, have been faced with trials and tribulations incomparable to any seen before. However, I choose not to see the negativity that this year has brought, but rather the invaluable, unique experience it has afforded me. As a matric student, with four examinations left in my high school career, it would be easy to think that the golden years of my youth were ripped from beneath me, but I do not share that sentiment. While the virus may have deprived me and my peers of typical teenage entanglements, it has taught us how to persevere in the face of impossibility. We have learnt how to amalgamate the worlds of technology and reality, but more importantly, we have been awakened to what our world and what we, as human beings, so desperately need – to connect. While our lives may not be dictated by single moments, the year of 2021 will resonate within me for all my days to come, driving me to achieve the unachievable. Riki Toubkin 

How students should use the lessons of 2021 to shape their lives…

The barely whispered ‘taboo’ question: “When can we go back to school?” became a familiar plead felt by most students in 2020. To many students, school was perceived as a ‘mandatory item on a check list’ that everyone had to endure. School was seen as routine where lessons were guaranteed and took place in a classroom environment. However, 2020 changed students’ perspective. School is now perceived as a place where interaction with others happens daily, where lessons are not just routine but are delivered in an energetic, focused, and engaging manner, enhanced by technology. A place where uncertainty is not feared but rather where growth can form from new opportunities. School is not just an environment where educational skills are cultivated, it is a place where social and emotional needs are fostered; a need students lacked with remote learning. The need for face-to-face interaction was highlighted and students became mindful of the value of non-verbal cues such as a slight raise of an eyebrow indicating to the teacher confusion. Students have learnt to be adaptable which allows them to showcase their leadership skills, analytical skills, and their determination. They have also learnt resilience, which allows them to process and overcome hardships. Many of us often find ourselves constantly thinking about tomorrow and not being present in our daily lives. However, 2021 has taught us, and our students, the value of finding happiness in the small things. Happiness is having the freedom to sit with your friends at break, happiness is having the freedom to run around the field and play a game of hockey, happiness is having your fingers touch a keyboard and automatically coming to life, happiness is expressing yourself in dance on stage. Happiness is the feeling of not being isolated.

Students have learnt that although things may change suddenly, that does not mean things will fall apart. It means that collaboration, strategy, and willingness to learn together will be prominent. Miss Ellen Zachariou, Teacher

CT Torah High

How 2021 will shape my life …

This is a difficult question, not just because it isn’t multiple choice, but because the answer isn’t really there yet. Nevertheless, I’ll say what I know. Over the last year and, honestly, the previous 17 as well, I have been building foundations of knowledge, relationships, and experiences which will certainly shape my life going further. Obviously, I don’t know which ones will develop further and which will remain as just memories of the journey. However, I am certain that over the past year I have learned lessons that will be fundamentally influential over the rest of my life. 2021 has been a year to remember. 2021 will certainly shape my life. The thing is… I don’t know how. Liad Gelgor

How students can use the lessons of 2021 to shape their lives…

For me, 2021 symbolises rebirth and healing as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. We learned how to recreate passionate and inspired Torah lives with a new set of standards and rules, and we proved our resilience, our commitment, and our unshakeable faith. We learned how much we need one another and the power of our relationships with our students for their spiritual and educational wellbeing. Rabbi Avi Shlomo, Principal


What corona taught me about teachers in 2021…

The Covid-19 pandemic was sudden and unpredictable, yet my teacher’s response to it was incredible. I learnt that my teachers are amazingly resilient, and it was remarkable how quickly they adapted to the online world. They had to figure things out and they were there for us literally overnight in a whole new way. I had respect for my teachers before but the way that they showed up for us during Covid really took this to a whole new level! Rachel Wohlman

What corona taught me about students in 2021…

I learned that students are incredibly resilient, and the importance of community in education. Many students really struggled with online school and missed the time with friends and in class. Some were able to adjust to the ups and downs of being online and then back in-person many times this year, but it was hard. The way we can learn in the classroom with others is something special. I was really proud of how my students carried on despite the challenges of the year, including the Covid-fatigue and grief for lost experiences that everyone was feeling. Mrs Kirstin Kukard, Teacher

Mesivta Shaarei Torah

What my teachers taught me in 2021…

It is difficult, near impossible, to pinpoint the most vital lesson my teachers have instilled in me, for they taught me so much, through the struggles that presented themselves in the journey through these chaotic times. Could it be the main lesson I learnt was merely maths or science or is it maybe something more? I think the teachers, through their steep learning curve, taught me my most important lesson. My teachers taught me what perseverance and dedication truly are. Through all the challenges of discovering the ideal method of teaching over Zoom and the struggle in uploading recorded lessons on Google classroom, the teachers imparted the message of true grit, and just how important our studying is to them. Many of my teachers had no idea how to even start a Zoom meeting, yet a few days after the dust started to settle, they began to not only teach us their particular subject, but also how, through our tribulations and determination, we achieve. I thank my teachers for going out of their way to not only teach us the knowledge they already had, but for teaching us the importance of persistence and commitment. Shimshon Hurwitz

What my students taught me in 2021…

There have been many silver linings that have come out of Corona. Some of them are the amazing resilience that Rabbeim, teachers, and, most importantly, students have displayed. We have all discovered, sometimes by force, capacities within ourselves – inventiveness, resourcefulness, creativity, and extra dedication to keep learning growing – that we perhaps didn’t appreciate or even know that we had. Despite all the challenges, there has, Boruch Hashem, been tremendous growth and we have gained so much during this challenging period – which we daven is behind us.
I feel that the biggest lesson learnt is that the best form of learning and growth comes from in-person interaction. The Ramban points out that one of the goals of having Moshe and Aharon counting the Jewish people in the Midbar was to enable them to see and thus educate every Jew. The smiles, handshakes, and personal connections that teachers give students each day at school go a long way towards developing the teacher-students relationships that fuel learning and growth. Additionally, research shows that the most successful teachers circulate through the classroom and arrange the students in formation that guarantees each student has equal access to the teacher. Proximity and a personal connection are lost in the online classroom, and engaging students becomes more challenging. Non-verbal learning, such as learning through body language, is severely limited as well. For this reason, our staff found it challenging to inspire and elevate the students in the same way that we are accustomed to. Rabbi M.C. Salzer, Menahel

Hirsch Lyons Boys

What my teachers taught me in 21…

The turbulent journey of matric, alongside the Covid-19 pandemic, certainly ensured a novel year for students and teachers. Although our matric year was certainly not one of ease, it was a true opportunity and catalyst for exponential growth and development. While travelling back and forth from school, I listened to Charlie Harary on the idea that each human being has the ability to choose their own perspective in every situation they face. We are capable of approaching adversity with either an attitude of positivity or negativity. This idea is further resembled by the Torah idea of Emunah, which is the living of life with an attitude that whatever comes my way, I truly believe it is for the good. At the forefront of dealing with any obstacle, one’s first reaction is to acknowledge the intrinsic positivity of its nature. Therefore, I believe that the biggest lesson I have learned from the teachers of ‘21 is how to have Emunah. Throughout our year, teachers have exemplified time again what it means to face adversity head on, with this attitude of positivity, no matter how difficult the circumstances may have seemed. Eli Poyurs

Matric is a challenging year for both students and teachers. The rather frequent transition between Zoom school and physical school proved to be, at best, a mild annoyance, and, at worst, an obstacle to learning. Many of the teachers made attempts to adjust to this new form of learning no matter how foreign it may have seemed to them, and we managed to finish the syllabus (mostly) in one piece. The lesson I’ve learnt from my teachers this year is that it is important to leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself. This allows one to learn new skills and builds resilience. I believe that the skill which allowed us to make it to the end of 2021 was simply – humour. That alliterative and ‘made up’ quote “Laughter is Life” encapsulates this. When the going gets tough, keep your humour close by and things are sure to get better. Simi Schneider

What I learnt from my students…

The resilience and flexibility of people. Our matric students managed to complete their studies, both Torah and Academics, over two years of lockdowns, Zoom, and returns to campus school. They “rolled with the knocks” and always bounced back. Hirsch Lyons’ staff also embodied these qualities, giving support lessons over Zoom throughout the year, and being flexible and responding innovatively to their students’ needs. Rabbi Steven Krawitz, Principal

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