Jumbled Start

August 29, 2013
BY David Snyder
Teachers, students adjust to schedule affected by High Holidays

083013_jumbled_startEntering his fourth year as a high school social studies teacher for Howard County Public Schools, Jared Ettinger has already come up with a suitable metaphor for his job.

He likens the school year to a marathon, and this year, because of the High Holidays falling just after Labor Day, the marathon’s timetable will be interrupted, albeit just a tad.

Although Howard County schools (like Baltimore County) began Aug. 26, the coming week is littered with days off. Schools are closed Monday for Labor Day and then Thursday for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. And, although it is not a scheduled day off, many parents hold their kids out of school Friday for the second day of Rosh Hashanah services.

The closings create a jumbled start for teachers and students looking to shake off the summer rust and get into the flow of the school year.

“If the school year is like a marathon, that first week or two is basically like our stretching. We are just getting warmed up, just getting to know each other,” Ettinger said. “From a teaching and learning standpoint, it obviously disrupts any flow or rhythm you may be getting in to.”

He explained, though, the holiday falling early in the school year may actually be the most opportune time.

“I personally feel that if there is any time to have a few days off for the holidays, that this is the best time,” Ettinger said. “Once you get into the heart of the school year, that’s when you don’t want interruptions.”

Although classrooms may just be in the ice-breaker phase of the year, Leah Fishman, a rising sophomore at The Park School, said that she doesn’t want to miss out on classes by attending shul on Friday. (Park’s school year begins Tuesday.) She explained that at Park a lot of the homework is directly linked to topics examined in class.

“Park is very big on classroom discussion and of going over things verbally. By missing class, you miss a lot of important information,” Leah said.

In addition to having to make up class notes and the ensuing homework, Leah also said that the choppiness early on in the calendar will make it a little more difficult to get acclimated in the classroom setting.

“I think because it’s the first week of school, things are still kind of weird with everyone trying to get situated,” she said. “It will prolong the time it takes to get used to new classes and the dynamics of classes and getting to know teachers and their expectations.”

While all teachers have differing views on how to handle missed time from students, particularly when it occurs in a large group during a holiday, Steve Kronberg has his own general rule of thumb.

“If less than half of the kids are there, I don’t do anything that needs to be made up, whether that means showing a movie or utilizing some type of basic enrichment activity,” said Kronberg, in his 13th year teaching in Baltimore County Public Schools.

Kronberg has also noticed the trend of when the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Thursday, even non-Jewish parents will keep their kids out of school the following Friday, assuming that because attendance will be low, their kids won’t be missing out on much.

“To a lot of parents, it’s the perfect time to take a four-day weekend,” Kronberg said.

However, once the days off are behind them, Kronberg said it’s time for both students and teachers to settle in and get ready to truly begin the year.

“Now we know what the expectations are, we know what a work day is going to be like,” Kronberg said. “Now it’s time to get the job done and be ready to rock and roll.”

David Snyder is a JT staff reporter – dsnyder@jewishtimes.com

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