I used to run an amazing educational non-profit, Breakthrough Cambridge. Our centerpiece program was an intense academic summer session in which college students taught low-income middle school students. These college kids poured themselves into it; for many, it was their first classroom experience and got them hooked on teaching. They lived, breathed, ate and (occasionally) slept the experience. Total immersion. At the end of eight weeks, I always conducted ‘exit interviews.’ After listening to the teachers dissect, mourn, celebrate and vent about the summer, I would ask: “so, how will you bring all that back to college? How has this experience changed how you think about your ‘real life’?”
Every once in a while, someone had a fully formed answer, but mostly I got blank looks. They hadn’t had a chance to consider that yet.
This is kind of how I feel right now, even though our Year On was not as up-to-our-eyeballs intense as a Breakthrough summer. It had more breaks, more time for reflection, built in. Yet despite how much time I have had to think about this question, I’m still not exactly sure what I’m bringing home with me, how I’m going to apply all I learned.
It’s simpler or at least more concrete for Terence. He just wrote a grant application for alumni funding, so had to crunch out goals and objectives for bringing his experience home and making it relevant to his students and colleagues. Design a new class in “Religion and Politics.” Publish an article. Develop an interactive presentation and share with diverse educational and faith communities. Remain active in scholarship and professional development about the Middle East.
I’m jealous of that kind of applicability. My takeaways seem so much more fleeting and piecemeal and stream-of-consciousness. Off the top of my head, the list goes something like: Walk more. Keep reading Haaretz and 972. Figure out how to get our family abroad again in 2013. (Make and save some money so we can). Stay in touch with Jerusalem friends. Find falafel in Delaware. Prevent boredom in the kids and in myself.
The kids aren’t aware of this concept, per se, but I have been fascinated to see how their experiences last year (wow! is it already last year?) resonate in their minds.
Margaret, upon discovering a pair of black Mary Jane shoes that now fit her: “I could wear these on Shabbat, with thick tights!”
Hannah, looking at her new school calendar: “Why don’t we get Rosh Hashanah off?”
Margaret, looking at photographs of Olympic athletes: “Germany. Milla and Yunis could be on that team. Great Britain. Miss Yvette could be on that team!”
Hannah, wondering where the nearest synagogue and mosque are to us, and using Google Maps to find out.
Although I’m still feeling disoriented and unsettled most of the time, hearing comments like that from my kids reassures me we did something good and important last year, something worth all the disruption and all the boxes still to unpack and all the things I seemed to lose along the way. I guess I’m still in Stay at Home Mom mode, because mostly I’m focused on how to keep my kids having these observations, thinking these thoughts.