Our Two Cents: Teacher worries about sharing Jewish traditions

Dr. Sharon Ufberg and her three children offer advice about family, love and life. Send your questions to [email protected]

I’m a second-grade elementary school teacher, starting my second year at a small private school. My class is a culturally diverse group of children, but none this year are Jewish. I always look forward to teaching the class about a mix of cultural holiday celebrations, and often my students and their parents share family traditions, foods and rituals in the classroom. Though there are no Jewish students in my class, I am contemplating making latkes and playing dreidel, but am worried that I may have to deal with some parents unhappy about my sharing my holiday since no children in the class celebrate Jewish holidays at home. Should I send out a notice telling them what’s to come, or just send home the latke recipe when we have our Chanukah celebration? C.B., San Francisco

Alexis: It’s fantastic that you want to share a diverse mix of holiday celebrations with your students. The exposure you give them will make them more open, curious, tolerant and understanding adults. In most classrooms, teachers teach about traditions, religions, cultures and communities that their students aren’t part of themselves — but that’s the whole idea. Do not write a notice to parents forewarning them of a potential latke recipe or dreidel coming home with their children. This is your classroom. A notice makes it seems as though you’re doing something wrong, when it sounds like you’re doing everything right. As long as you make sure to acknowledge more than just Jewish holiday traditions, you’ll be set.

Jessica: It’s so great that many days out of the school year the kids will have an excuse to celebrate. I have wonderful memories of being in third grade and having my mom come in and make latkes for the class, and when the moms came in during Chinese New Year and handed out sweet candy and red envelopes. Anytime this happened, it made the school day special! I don’t see any reason for you to “alert” the parents. If you give the parents a heads-up every time the class is going to participate in another tradition, then it seems appropriate to let them know; otherwise, you should send home the recipes, etc. from that day as usual.

Saul: Any Chanukah celebration you plan for your second-graders should most definitely include Chanukah gelt! No matter what the tradition, kids are always most interested in the treats that go along with it.

Sharon: As a teacher, I imagine some of the joy of your work is connecting with the children and their families. Sharing your own personal story, traditions and family rituals makes you that much more part of the second-grade classroom community that you create each year. The more involved, motivated and enthusiastic you are, the closer each student feels with you. Some of my  fondest memories from elementary school were with teachers who generously shared their personal story with me, or brought their own children into the classroom. It makes you as a teacher a real person, which is very bonding for those children who hold you in such high esteem. What better way to bring them into your world than to share a holiday tradition that you care about and enjoy?

Dr. Sharon Ufberg is a Napa-based radio host, journalist, consultant and integrative health practitioner. Her daughters live in San Francisco: Lawyer-turned-writer Alexis Sclamberg, 28 and married; and hair colorist Jessica Sclamberg, 26 and single. Saul Sclamberg, 24 and single, studies chiropractic in Los Angeles. Read more at http://r-2-cents.com.