24/7 Teacher

7.jpgOur school is going digital. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t live in the Middle-Ages and have had computers for years. There are quite a number of IT rooms where we are encouraged to take our students to do work online. For instance, next Wednesday I have planned to take the horrible class there to make them work on J.K. Rowlling’s biography.

The digital plan is something different. I f I have understood rightly, the idea is to put online what is now done on paper. Thus, what at present I write down in my planner at the end of each lesson will soon have to be written online. The fact that we do not have a laptop in the rooms does not seem to be an obstacle, which means that I will have to write it down in my planner first and then again once I get home.

The same applies to absentees. Whenever a student is absent I write his/her name down in a big book and also on a slip of paper. The book is checked at the end of each day whereas the paper is checked almost immediately so that the school can phone the parents if they suspect foul play. It is actually quite efficient and the number of skivers has been reduced dramatically since the beginning of the year. I believe that with the new system I’ll have to go online at the end of each day to enter the names of the students who will have been away.

Another innovation is the fact that we will have to provide an email address so that the parents and students can reach us and ask us questions whenever they feel the need. Obviously it is necessary, even desirable, to meet the parents (I met a family last Monday and another one the week before), but we already have a system through which the parents can contact us. At the beginning of each school year, all student receive a small notebook which contains the school rules and where each student writes their personal schedule and then the marks they get. This notebook is filled in by families to explain a child’s absence or delay. At the end, there’s a section for correpondance between families and teachers. It works quite well most of the time and when a student “fails” to show it the school can ring the parents or the parents ring the school and decide on an appointment.

What I dislike about the new system is the feeling that the small haven that is my home will lose some of its soothing value since I will be likely to receive emails from (angry) parents – I somehow find it hard to imagine that someone will bother to write to me to thank me about the great work I do with their kids – any time and any day. Besides if we provide the email address given by the administration they will be able to check if we have anwered the parents, when and what we have written. This feels too much like Big Brother for my liking. Then what about the High Holidays when I purposely don’t use my computer, even if sometimes I have to work, to preserve some of the sanctity of the day(s)? Am I being excessive in my doubts about the new system?

The Physician

268a3f40.jpgAlthough I had seen his name on reading lists and seen some of his books in bookshops, I’d never read anything by Noah Gordon before. I am an avid reader so every time I see other bookworms whose judment I value I ask them for reading tips.

A few weeks ago, at the end of our holidays, I paid a visit to a friend and her husband to say thank you for looking after the cat while we were away and I asked Viviane my usual questions “any good books you have read recently that I should read?”.

She immediately rushed to her room and came back with five or six books. I selected four and went back home. I read The Innocent by Harlan Coben and then The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill and found them entertaining, if not exactly memorable (especially the Harlan Coben).

Last Monday, I decided to start Noah Gordon’s The Physician. This novel relates the story of English boy Robert J. Cole who becomes a barber’s apprentice when his parents die and who decides to travel to Persia after he has met a real doctor who tells him the best medical school is in Ispahan. As Christians were not allowed in Arab schools, Rob joins a group of Jewish travelers and pretends he is a Jew so as to be accepted at the madrasah.

This book is entertaining as well as informative if you like historical novels. I enjoyed the picture of medieval Europe and Persia as well as the glimpse into Jewish life at the time, especially the emphasis on hospitality to all Jews in a hostile world.


images.jpegThis is a simple but gorgeous version of the famous Tunisian dish. It is also a nice recipe to eat as part of one of the Shabbat meals or any evening now that spring seems to be round the corner.

Shakshouka (serves 4 people)

2 red peppers

2 green peppers
4 tomatoes or 400 gr of peeled canned tomatoes (much tastier in winter or until tomatoes are really nice in shops)

4 garlic cloves

olive oil

salt and pepper

Roast the peppers under the grill until the skin is dark and the flesh is cooked. Forget about the pepers for a while and get back to them when they have cooled, this takes at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them. Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic.

Now skin and slice the peppers. Add the tomatoes and peppers to the pan.

Cook covered for about 45 minutes or until the shakshouka has a jammy consistence and a deep red color. Serve cold.

Counting the Omer

sefirahtop3-1.gifIf you fear you might forget to count the Omer, you can subscribe to the OU Sefirah Reminder Daily email. They will send you an email every day to remind you which day to count that evening. They also provide explanations and the basic laws of Sefirat HaOmer.

This is the second time I’ve used it and I find it quite useful, especially after a few weeks have passed and you have lost count.

Lack of Enthusiasm

cheder.jpgI am back at school, after two weeks of holidays, cleaning and kashering the house. I dreaded the return and have’nt been disappointed.

The kids I teach this year aren’t too disruptive, with one notable exception (a class of 33 monstrous creatures labelled as students by our administration). However when it comes to teaching, and not socializing, classes that are ok are not enough. I get paid to teach those kids, to instill something in their minds, not to supervize aimless teenagers. However this is what it has felt like since I got back.

One group of seniors (who by the way have an English oral in less than a month) had to choose between two pictures and prepare an oral presentation. In spite of the holidays, only two students in this small group of 7 had bothered to produce something.

In another class of seniors, students for whom English is supposed to be a major subject, I had asked all students to bring their textbooks to revise a few grammar points. Disappointingly less than half the group had remembered so I ended up excluding those who couldn’t work. It may look a bit rash but there is no point in pretending.

Lastly, in the most awful class, I had to nag and threaten for about 15 minutes before they agreed to keep quiet so that the lesson could really start. Obviously the rare sentences produced by a few reluctant students were disappointing and very different from what I had expected and counted on.

What can I do? In the long run it gets really annoying to see them arrive at the beginning of a lesson, sit down, get their books out if they havent forgotten to bring them, knowing that very few will have bothered to learn their lessons or do their homework. After some months, this is really getting on my nerves. It is also depressing and worrying. I used to love teaching and was eager to go back after the holidays. Now I feel drawn as a teacher and perplexed as an individual. What’s more a lot of my colleagues, both younger and older than me, share my feelings and concern. Where has the passion for learning gone? The enthusiasm for ideas, poems, books and movies? Why do they seem so passive even when we tackle topical issues or when they are meant to be the active producers of posters, articles, book covers, radio shows and so on?

What makes everything even harder just now is that most teachers here feel let down by the current government. Numerous teachers retire and are not replaced. We are asked to teach extra hours (this is cheaper than creating new teaching jobs) yet lack the backing and support we need. Doesn’t anybody realize we are talking about the future generations?

Moroccan Tagine of Chicken with Prunes

images.jpegThis is what I have planned to serve for the first seder:

Chicken Tagine (serves 6 people)


6 cubed breast fillets

300 gr pitted prunes

6 onions

1 tsp cinammon

1 tsp ground cumin

100 gr sugar/honey

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Soak the prunes in a bowl of tea. Then put them in small saucepan with the sugar/honey and bring them to a boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the liquid has turned a rich toffee color. Keep aside.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and slowly brown the chopped onions. Add salt and pepper. Set aside.

Now evenly brown the chicken in the same frying pan. Add salt, pepper and the spices. Stir for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, take out the meat and add at least half a cup of water to deglaze the pan.

Put the onions in a large pot. Add the chicken, the meat juices and the prunes. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes in a preheated oven (180°C or 350° F).

I Nearly Forgot

images-1.jpegLast night as I was going through my mental “must-do” before Pesach list, after reading similar lists on the Internet (for one of the best see Mom in Israel’s), I thought that at least I would not have to bother with my car since I never eat there, apart from the occasional apple.

I was feeling quite smug about it, marveling at my self-discipline and feeling elated that I did not have to hoover the car. Never a very pleasant task, and even less so with a sore back. Yes, somehow I managed to pull a muscle on Sunday evening and have been in pain since.

When suddenly I remembered: baguettes. Fresh French bread is wonderful (and kosher) when bought at the local bakery but it is sold without any packaging, except for the occasional paper bag which is half the size of the bread anyway. It dawned on me that the passenger seat must be covered with hametz and that while I was at it I might as well hoover the whole place. So I’ve just plugged in the battery of the hand-held vacuum cleaner. I expect it will be less painful that the big one; I can only hope that it will be powerful enough to rid the car of its hametz. I suppose it serves me right for feeling too complacent ….

Guilt-free Pesach

haggadah.jpgIs it possible?

Reading my favorite blogs today and seeing that a number Jewish bloggers (well, mostly women since they are usually the ones in charge) seem to be getting hysterical about their Pesach cleaning or their lack of enthusiasm regarding the latter, I wonder if we are not missing the point somehow.

As always in Judaism, the physical goes hand in hand with the spiritual. In the case of Pesach, we are commanded to get rid of the chametz in our homes but also of the chametz in our hearts. Both are important nevertheless I don’t think Jewish women were meant to get obsessive, not to say frantic, about removing the chametz from their homes. What’s more, if our sages instituted Bittul (nullifying one’s chametz) and Mechirah (selling one’s chametz), they must have had in mind the idea that we should strive for the possible not the impossible.

The law even provides for those who would have failed to notice some chametz and don’t know what to do about it: according to Halakhah, if chametz is found during Yom Tov, it must be covered over until Chol HaMoed when it can be burned. Chametz found during Chol HaMoed should be burned immediately.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating laziness or negligence (I spent more than an hour cleaning the fridge this morning), but I do believe we should remain focused on what Pesach is: a Holy Day.

In that respect, I’ve always found it useful to read essays about the holidays so as to keep in mind that we are preparing for a Festival, a joyous occasion and one that ought to change something within us. After all we are commanded to see ourselves as if we, personally, were liberated from Egypt. In a response to a worried blogger, Frumteacher suggested getting a new haggadah every year so as to get a new perspective each time. Whatever you choose to do Chag Sameach!

Sugar-free Chocolate Mousse

200px-Chocolate_mousse.jpgSince I am away on holidays until tomorrow and have little time for blogging, I thought I would post another handy-for-Pesach recipe. So here is an easy chocolate mousse for a dairy meal.

Chocolate mousse (serves 6 people)


200 gr of dark chocolate

6 eggs

20 gr of butter

a little coffee (about 3 tbsp)

Melt the chocolate with the butter. Beat the egg yolks and add to the chocolate along with the coffee. Beat the egg whites firmly and fold in the chocolate mixture little by little. Pour the mousse in ramekin dishes and put in the fridge for at least three hours.