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Focus on Ariel Wolgel

The sound of 5th and 6th grade voices surrounded me as we began the 2009-2010 school year together with the pledge of allegiance and the bracha of 'la'asok b'divrei Torah'. I couldn't help but get a little emotional at that moment. It was a moment of new beginnings, and a return home of sorts. After years of preparing to be a teacher, learning educational theories, and teaching model lessons - the time had now come to begin my career as Jewish Educator. I spent thirteen years of my life as a student at a community day school, only to return to the "other side of the desk."

I looked at the students around the room and felt a variety of emotions. Some were excited to reunite with their friends, others were sad that the summer was now officially over. Several students sat nervously in their seats - clearly anxious to receive their schedules and meet their new teachers. As I examined the crowd I wondered which faces matched the names on my class rosters. I was excited to meet these students as individuals and to understand the dynamics of each grade as a whole.

 As excited as I was, I admit that there were feelings of anxiety on my part as well. After years of planning to be a teacher, how would I choose to facilitate a classroom of middle school students? How would I meet their individual needs while being mindful of the goals of the entire class? How would I balance my personal needs with the demands of teaching? These questions still come to me quite often, and the answers change as I learn from my experiences in the classroom.

Occasionally, it also helpful for me to revisit the various middle school classrooms that I learned in as a student. I think back to my classmates and  try to recall who and what helped us learn during those years. I reflect on what we have been through as we have "grown up," as well as where we are now - living in different cities and working in a variety of professions. We are nurses, business people, social workers, lawyers, pharmacists, Jewish community professionals, teachers, and more. As my mind drifts to where my fellow middle school classmates are today, I wonder where my current students will be 15 years from now.

This process of nostalgia and reflection helps me to remember that my classroom is just one stop on the "life journey" of each of my students. I hope that there will be lessons and memories that they carry with them as they continue their individual paths. Just as what I learned many years ago as a middle school student provided the foundations of who I have become today, my aspiration for my students is that the morals and values they learn today will help them build a framework for how they will live their lives tomorrow.