Sabbatical and Teaching

Being exempt from teaching is supposed to be one of the greatest benefits of a sabbatical. I hoped that I would be able to dedicate all the time otherwise spent for teaching to my own study. But unfortunately, human psychology does not seem to work so simply according to mathematical calculation. Actually, I have already started to miss teaching. I am also comparing the benefit of being exempt from teaching with that of spending time for teaching.

It is true that I have difficulties in teaching if I have to cope with those who are not motivated and/or have not been taught what not to do in class. But if (the majority of) the students in class are motivated (and know how to behave in class), I benefit from interacting with them, as this interaction can stimulate my mind and give me all kinds of new ideas. I realize this now so clearly as I have not been away from teaching for such a long time in the past two decades.

I also notice another benefit of teaching. It keeps me busy, so I am more aware of time management. When we know that we can use 24 hours every day solely for ourselves, many of us, including myself, of course, are liable to use the time less efficiently. And unfortunately, this is exactly what I do. In other words, many people, again including myself, can be more self-disciplined, ironically when we are busier, though, of course, there is a limit to our busyness.


First One Third of the Sabbatical

The first one third of my first sabbatical has ended. I can even say that actually the first half has ended, as the last four months are an annual summer vacation which I have when I am not on sabbatical, too. Now I am reflecting upon what I originally planned to do and what I have accomplished so far so that I may use the next four months until the summer vacation more efficiently. I originally planned to do two things on this first sabbatical of mine - one thing is private, and the other professional.

Privately, I planned to formally study every weekday morning at a haredi yeshiva how to study the Talmud independently. Although I cannot study a totally new page of the Talmud independently, I feel that I am on the right track. If I compare what I was in the beginning with what I am now, I can feel a huge progress both in terms of my understanding of the language and logic of the Talmud as well as my commitment to its study even after the end of my formal study at the yeshiva. I was also promoted from a class where the emphasis was more on the literal meaning of the Talmud to a class where we concentrate more on how each thread of discussions is structured. Our teacher, Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, is simply amazing! He simply asks us all kinds of questions keep the four of us in his class silent with no answers. Yes, he inspires us, which is a sure sign that he is a great teacher, as the following famous quote says: "A mediocre teacher tells; a good teacher explains; a superior teacher demonstrates; a great teacher inspires." I simply cherish every moment I spend in the class of this inspiring Torah scholar.

Professionally, I fare much less. Originally I planned to read as many books and articles on my waiting list in such areas as Hebrew linguistics, Yiddish linguistics, Esperantology, lexicography, onomastics and sociolinguistics, among others. Unfortunately, however, I have read only one third of what I originally planned to read in four months. When I am at the yeshiva, nobody can disturb me, but when I return home afterward, there are many things that prevent me from concentrating on my original plan of reading the accumulated linguistic literature waiting for me. In other words, I am still "haunted" by the same kind of paperwork which used to take much of my free time.

The greatest professional benefit of sabbatical is probably the fact that I am exempt from teaching. In principle I like to teach and interact with my students. I used to have very serious problems with students in Japan, but unfortunately, I have to confess that I also have certain problems with certain students in Israel, too, though of totally different kinds. I often found myself in deep agony or depression after teaching, mainly because of seemingly unbridgeable cultural differences between me and them. But in spite of everything I have already started to miss teaching very much! I am just curious how this learning experience of mine at the haredi yeshiva will affect my teaching after the sabbatical.