Monday’s post reminds me of my own mechaneches experiences. They really weren’t so bad.
I think our school chose their mechanecheses (pl?) by simply offering a small extra stipend for it, and letting the most desperate kollel wife take the job.
In ninth grade, it was our Chumash teacher. She considered it her job to make sure we all had friends by the end of the year. It was an aggressive campaign, but no harm was done.
In 12th grade I remember being downright impressed by our mechaneches. Actually, she was the only teacher I truly respected and admired through high school. Mrs. Rothschild was brilliant and perspicacious as a teacher, but she blew me away when she called me out of class to ask about a dynamic she’d noticed: there was an arc of students sitting around the border of the classroom who were generally disengaged. The whole middle was the raising-hands-and-coming-over-after-class types. She noticed I had friends in both groups, and did I understand why that division existed, and if there was something that could be done about it.
At the time, I was impressed that she had taken the time to observe and question. But I had no answer for her. I still don’t. I think one major difference is that the less engaged students were the ones lining up for working papers every spring, while the middle of the classroom discussed packing lists for their travelling teen-camps. There is nothing like having to work after school or on weekends to pay for your seminary to make someone doubt the whole “bas melech” paradigm. (Or the necessity of seminary.)
I have no idea who our eleventh grade mechaneches was; but I remember my tenth-grade mechaneches meeting with amusement. She pulled each of us out of class in turn for a private one-on-one, but there was no counselor’s office or private space to have these conversations. So instead, she’d take the student to the stairwell, where you hoped there was nobody else hanging around between classes to overhear you.
I haven’t ever spoken to teachers. Even in pre-school, I didn’t say a word to the teacher until the last week. I have since abandoned the selective mutism, but only in the most rudimentary sense.
The mechaneches opened up by observing that I was different than most students and probably didn’t feel like I fit in.
I shrugged. I had friends. I had discovered during the 9th grade friending panic that I didn’t even desire acceptance by the general herd.
She went on to suggest that Flatbush, with its pressure to conform, might not be the best place for someone who doesn’t fit the mold.
I nodded politely. Already, I knew I wasn’t living in Brooklyn when I grew up.
“You might like Monsey,” she pursued. She was recently from Monsey herself. Had moved to Brooklyn when she recently got married. I had an inkling that she missed Monsey quite a bit, and yearned to return, based on some of the things she said in class.
I suppressed a smile. I knew a little bit about Monsey. The bais Yaakov students from there outdid the Flatbushers in conformity. Nothing on the Lakewood-Brooklyn-Monsey axis interested me. I had met students from Baltimore – that seemed more like what I was looking for. But I just nodded and smiled and let her wax about how nice and out of town Monsey was.
Eventually, she let me go back to class. And that was it for my mechanechesing in high school.