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"Kvelling" about Our Kids

Authored By: 
Gabriella Skwara, History Teacher

As teachers, we often spend hours discussing classroom and student problems and how to fix them. A phone call from one of us generally means that something has gone wrong or that some work has gone undone. I probably dread these conversations even more than the student whose parents I’m reaching out to does. I far prefer the quick words shared with a parent as they drop off their kid or getting to know people face-to-face at parent-teacher night. The reason? Teachers (not unlike parents) absolutely love being able to brag about their students’ successes and achievements. Which brings me back to my title and a wonderful Yiddish word I feel the need to use on a regular basis when talking about “my kids.” To kvell, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, means to “feel happy and proud,” yet that definition hardly does the word justice. Linguistically, the word comes from the same Middle High German word that has come to mean “fountain, spring or source” in modern German.

To kvell is, therefore, to literally be bubbling over with pride and joy over the achievements of another. The word is generally used by mothers and grandmothers, but it most certainly applies to how any educator feels when her students finally master a difficult concept, or exhibit increased maturity, confidence and compassion. Just this year, I have kvelled about a student asking for help, one mastering the arts of note-taking and time management, another finally talking about themselves as a member of the group in class, and a shy student opening up and letting me know who they are. In fact, I would struggle to list the number of personal milestones, not to mention the academic achievements both big and small, that I have thrilled to in just these first few weeks of class. The children are growing, and becoming kinder and more well-rounded in the process.

A factor that is clearly making a difference is the field trips the students have been attending. By moving our learning to a new location, we see student dynamics and interactions shift as well. This past week, the English and history teachers took our students to an exhibit on “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” at the New-York Historical Society. The topic is challenging and one clearly fraught with emotion. Our students rose to the challenge; they asked insightful questions and genuinely reflected on their own preconceptions about racial equality in America, past and present. I am proud of our students and honored to play a small part in helping them grow. I'm sure this sentiment is shared by my fellow teachers and our students’ parents.