With the Chinuch system under attack, the Menachem Education Foundation (MEF) and COLlive.com launch the new feature series “Meet the Chinuch Shluchim”: Oholei Torah teacher Rabbi Shimmy Gerlitzky on family roots, 2 impactful teachers, a classroom secret and challenge.
Entering his tenth year in Chinuch, Rabbi Shimmy Gerlitzky, Third Grade Rebbi at Oholei Torah Crown Heights, shares his journey to the classroom, his thoughts on today’s students and his Chinuch inspiration. The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I tried out teaching as a bochur when I was a learning teacher in camp over the summer and enjoyed it. The world stands on Torah, and everything has to stop for children’s Torah learning, even a wedding and building the Bais Hamikdash. It points to how valuable the breath of children singing the words of Torah is to Hashem. The bonus is that my maternal grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Greenwald was a big educator in Israel, and my paternal grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Elyeh Gerlitzky, was zoche to teach the first class in Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch Montreal. Being in Chinuch feels close to home.
What were you like as a student?
As a young child learning in Oholei Torah, I was a good kid and enjoyed school. As I got older, it started getting very challenging. I spent many hours outside of the classroom, like in the gym. I felt my teachers were out to get me and make my life difficult. I figured that making trouble was easy, and I fell behind.
How did it change?
In eighth grade, I didn’t care to be in class and still spent many hours in the gym, but I had a really good Rebbi. Rabbi Levi Borenstein, a master teacher who has been teaching for over forty years, was very kind to me. It was the first time I realized that teachers are actually nice and could be fun.
The next year, when I went into ninth grade, I had an exceptional teacher, Rabbi Dovid Levin. He taught us how to learn and motivated us. He was a dugma chaya for us all. When I went to Yeshiva, I decided to drop the playing and fully go into learning.
A glimpse into your classroom:
It’s pretty relaxed and comfortable, which gives the kids a feeling of safety. Slowly but surely, they train themselves to become calmer and take control of their feelings and emotions. It comes from role modeling, so I hope they see it in me, and we talk and farbreng about it in class.
Favorite part of teaching:
Bringing a Pasuk and Mishna alive, by taking out real-life lessons and giving them over with excitement. It’s about building their motivation to learn, and inspiring them about Ahavas Hashem, Ahavas HaTorah and Ahavas Yisrael.
In Middos, it’s helping my students to become better people and think more positively. To train kids how to get along with other kids. To get a better sense of social skills and Derech Eretz. To see kids bettering their Middos is tremendously rewarding.
A Chinuch challenge:
Sometimes from Chanukah until Pesach, there could be 100 calendar days of school in a row. It must be challenging for the kids as well. It can feel like a marathon without an end.
How do you get through it?
Inspiration from the Rebbe, from learning Chassidus, from peers, farbrengens, talking to people, and fellow teachers supporting each other. It’s Emes. You try your best, give it all you’ve got and more than what you got, and leave the rest up to Hashem.
Best teaching secret:
Extreme patience. Another is care. I learned that from my Mechanchim. Do I care for the kid in a real way?
Dealing with difficult students:
When you look at the kids, think of how you would speak to a successful 30-year-old. Even though it may not appear that way, that’s who they are. These kids right in front of you are the ones who could truly accomplish the most.
A hobby that surprises your students:
I do juggling shows, and I play ball and chess with them. It catches them off guard when they realize that Rebbi plays very well.
Life outside of school:
I enjoy spending time with my family. We have five kids one, three, five, seven and nine, bli ayin harah. The first four are boys.
Advice to new teachers:
Give yourself two years. Then you could see if it’s for you or not. You can’t judge by the first year. It’s the greatest zechus to change lives, but it’s a really difficult job. “We’re not in it for income, we’re in it for the outcome,” as they say. You have to be in it for a higher purpose and cause.
Preparing for the future of Chabad Chinuch by:
Instilling students with a strong belief in what Hashem wants from them, confidence about being a Chossid, Yiras Shamayim and Lamdan. Confidence that they’re giving the Rebbe Nachas. We get there by giving it over and being role models, showing we are proud to be a Chossid.