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Sunday, December 21, 2008

I just realized that I really miss science. Before I fell in love with teaching, I and many of my friends were sure I would end up in some field of science, like medicine or biochemical research or something. Science has always held a special fascination for me.

This semester I had to go back and take a core science class that I'd missed earlier. As the students to my right and left scribble notes about cellular functions, protein synthesis, and genetic mutations, I sit spellbound -- if not agape, then muttering "Incredible! O G-d, You are unbelievable!" I ponder the intricacies of the world's structures, so elegantly producing innumerable outcomes, and realize that no matter how much explaining you do, the bottom line is always a miracle.

That is what I miss about science.

I'm not sorry I put science aside to go into teaching. First of all, teaching allows me opportunities to transmit my passion to students while keeping up my own learning. Secondly, I don't think I have the patience for science. The more you discover, the more you realize how much is still unexplained. But still, it's nice to keep an eye on it.

I was so excited to find this video of R' Avigdor Miller's classic shmeuss about appreciating nature. Ever since becoming familiar with his works, I have always regretted not knowing about this gadol in his lifetime. Being able to see his face and hear his voice is a gift.

This lesson is particularly timely as Chanukah approaches. One of the key lessons of Chanukah is appreciating the "small" miracles of everyday life. The great miracles open our eyes to G-d's prescence, and then we can begin to see it in everything. This is one reason why we celebrate for eight days. The menorah had enough oil for the first day, so one could argue that the miracle began on the second day and we should only be celebrating seven days of Chanukah. However, the realization that HaShem is the one keeping the menorah burning makes us recognize that even the natural burning of oil is a miracle designed by HaShem and performed on a regular basis.

So as Chanukah nears and finals approach, take a deep breath and catch a miracle in action!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VIII: Two Weeks

B"H with the help of many bloggers and other friends, my Team Lifeline fundraising goal has been reached! I have replaced all my links with various other ways of donating to Chai Lifeline. Sponsorships can still be made at

Special thanks to:
and, of course, Anonymous.
I couldn't have done it without you!
And now, for today's feature presentation:
When I got to Camp Simcha this summer, I was surprised to notice a beautiful new building gracing the southern hill. It was surprising because just a few weeks earlier, all I had seen there was a pile of sticks.

Two weeks later, as I dragged my duffel up the same hill, I was surprised to see that it had become a verdant lawn. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, in the wake of the construction, it had been a sandy lot.

When I got to the top of the hill, I was surprised to see the dining room filled with lighthearted, giggling girls. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, many of these had been insecure, disheartened young women.

When I entered the dining room, I was surprised to see these girls hugging and bonding like the closest of sisters. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, most of these had been total strangers.

Camp Simcha is full of surprises.
Help make it happen by sponsoring the Linns in the TeamLifeline marathon! They're doing double time so they really need your support!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Wondering...

... why, when the economy fails, education is one of the first things to go.
Last week a public school teacher I know called in sick. Two weeks ago, standard operating procedure would be to call the subbing placement office and get someone to administer the teacher's carefully prepared emergency sub plans. Last week, due to budget cuts, there was no more money for subs. The class was split up into groups and dispersed among the other grades to do busywork in back of the classes. That's an entire school disrupted and 20 kids' day wasted.
It's not as if there's nothing else to cut. My proposal is here somewhere, but you will have to sit through my rant to get there. Sorry :-)
You may already know that I'm a teacher. An unemployed teacher. Why? Because the department of education is overstaffed. The teacher shortage is a myth. What's more, with the budget cuts firmly in place, schools are reluctant to hire highly qualified teachers because we cost more. Now, the union pay scale is a wonderful thing for ensuring that teachers don't get grossly underpaid, but this is where it backfires. Most of the people I know who are first getting their education degrees now have opted not to earn their master's degrees, even though they were originally planning to do so for professional development, because it would put them in a higher pay bracket before they've had a chance to make enough friends in high places. The higher pay for master teachers was originally instituted to encourage teachers to become more highly qualified. Whatever!
Despite this state of affairs, the department of education inexplicably continues to perpetuate the teacher shortage myth. Subway ads in prime locations wax sentimental about the joys of teaching in city schools. Adding insult to injury, Teaching Fellows continues to recruit career changers and pay for their graduate education and teacher certification. This means that instead of paying qualified teachers to do what they have always wanted and trained to do (on their own tab), they are paying unqualified people from a variety of other fields to teach kids and earn master's degrees of their own. Mind, these people would not pay for my master's degree, because I have always wanted to be an educator and this program is for career-changers.

OK, so why don't you punish people for their willingness to invest in the education of your children by making them struggle and pay for their certification while giving their jobs to people whose majors were in engineering or somesuch. Of course, if you do that you will have to provide them with mentors and support and all that, because after all they only had maybe twelve credits in education before they hit the classroom. You're also taking a gamble that they will cop out after the requisite two years (usually in your worst schools, a real turn-on), realizing that engineering really was their calling after all.
So here's your answer for keeping more money in education where it belongs.
First of all, cancel all those ridiculous subway ads, and give the space back to people who can afford it, like Bud Light. When demand for teaching jobs is high and supply is low, there is no need to advertise.
Secondly, cut funding for Teaching Fellows. You don't need to cut ALL of it, but a good lot can go. You don't need the teachers. You do need the money. So keep the money and let the career-changers pay at least some of their own way.
With the savings from the above, put qualified teachers in the schools that need them. This might cost money, but you do generally get what you pay for. I'm not saying all teachers in high salary steps are worth their salt, but for the most part they had to learn something to get there. You probably end up with more efficiency in the long run. And more achievement, because in education there are some concerns besides the money.
You know, I'd rather have a job and get a little less for it. Especially if it means that the money will be spent on education instead of subway ads. And that's just the one example I could think of offhand. There are innumerable other inefficiencies going on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EXTRA: Shidduch Crisis Explained!

Folks, you've been waiting a long time for this, but keep on reading because tonight the real reason behind the shidduch crisis will be explained to you. And I have a revelation for you: It's not because the boys are too picky. It's not because the girls are too picky. It's not the mothers, either, and it has nothing to do with the age gap.

You may be surprised to know that the Crisis was sown thousands of years ago, although it has first come to light in our generation as it grows to critical proportions. It began in last week's parsha and you have your own matriarch to blame. See, Leah was supposed to have a boy (says Rashi). A Boy! Is he handsome? Is he Available? No, no... she prayed some and had a girl instead. A Girl! Now, we've all heard that each of Yaakov's sons was born with a twin girl, creating a very well-balanced shidduch scenario for the Jewish nation. So the birth of this girl, who may also have come with a twin girl, threw off the entire equilibrium. We all know that the book of Bereishis is based on "Maaseh avos siman levanim" and sure enough, this deed of praying for an extra girl has echoed and amplified through the ages.

To take it further, just look in this week's parsha at what happened to Dina. The OTD Crisis has now been explained as well.

All kidding aside, now, I really have discovered another factor to blame for our shidduch difficulties:
There are boys. There are girls. There are people who are just right for each other.
... and no one is introducing them.

Seriously, the whole shadchan scenario is a myth perpetuated by Yiddish theater. I have been eligible for a while and actively seeking for over a year and I can't even get a shadchan to sneeze in my direction. I and various family members have called about 20 different shadchanim, every number we could get, and not one was interested in even hearing my name. Most were out of business, some were "specialists," some were wrong numbers, others were just rude.

A small survey of married friends reveals that almost none met their husbands through a shadchan. The majority were introduced by relatives or close friends.

The question remains as to what should happen when one's relatives and friends, for whatever reason, are unable to procure prospective suitors. Without shadchanim, what are those from small families, small towns, different backgrounds, and friends who get married and drop off the planet supposed to do?