Things I Learned this Year and How Teaching Changed My Life

As we rapidly approach the end of Gregorian year 2013, as is my tradition every year, I am writing this post to highlight some of the amazing things I’ve learned over the past 12 months. As I approach my fourth decade on this planet,  I guess I see things a bit differently than I did just a few years ago.

Lessons learned:

1. If your gut and your instincts tell you it’s right, it’s right.

It was a rough year, in the sense of criticism levelled at me for coverage I did of two major stories in the Montreal Jewish Community. Taking on the community as a whole, especially an organization like Federation CJA is a risky venture. They have deep pockets and could eat a journalist like me for breakfast if they wanted to. But somehow, with their deep pockets and public relations departments, this blog and my radio show made a difference and potentially saved Jewish education in Montreal.

In the mix I lost some friends and acquaintances. I managed to piss off the local pulpit rabbis and set the course for one man to wage a vendetta against me that is still active today.

Would I do it again? If the story was good and the facts were true (which it was and they were), in a heartbeat.

The lesson I learned: Sometimes you have to take a beating for the greater good.  At the end of the day, I could hold my head up high and be proud of my work.


2. Sometimes those that you think are friends turn out not to be

We all crave friendship and want to be loved. It’s human nature for you to want the people around you to like each other. I’m no different than the average person.

 I learned this year that sometimes you value a friendship more than the other person.  After over a decade of being friends with this particular person, I realized that the friendship was one-sided and the other person didn’t really care if we were friends.

Although the realization was at the beginning very painful (I felt stupid for putting so much of myself into the relationship to find out it was all for not), life has a way of hitting the brakes and then reversing. I’m over it.


3. Sometimes you find that people you never thought were friends, are.

I’m not an overly social person. People who know me realize that as much of a joker as I am, as friendly as I am, I’m not overly sociable. The truth is I don’t have many friends, so the few I do have, I cherish.  Earlier this year I needed a friend to talk to.  One unexpected person stepped forward and since then we’ve become fairly close friends.

 I’m not overtly emotional, but from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate this person.


4. Teaching High School was the change I needed in life

I’ve been floundering since I closed up my businesses. I have had a hard time finding a place for myself in this crazy mixed up soulless world.

This year, I accepted a teaching job at a local Jewish high school. I was tasked with creating a course on Israel Advocacy and was given probably the toughest teaching assignment in the building. I was given the entire Grade 11 with all my classes falling out in the last two periods of every day.

Not only are these kids half way out of the building, just months away from graduating. Not only am I teaching a course that has little to no actual weight on their acceptance to college (they all know, this is not a secret), I’m teaching it in the last two periods, which essentially means, after a long day, students are either sleeping or slap happy.

The job has been challenging, but the rewards are great and I’ve learned a lot from the students I’m supposed to be teaching.

What I learned from my students:

a. Things are not always as they appear – Early in the year some of the students started calling me Silly-B, a playful take on my last name.  At first I was mortified, the school had given me strict instructions that the students are to call me Mr. Silbiger (a title I’ve grown to accept, but not particularly like) and here they were marching down the hall and yelling on the top of their lungs Hi Silly-B!

After some talking to (by me and the administration) and a couple of unfortunate detentions, most of the grade now calls me Mr. Silbiger. The truth is, though, that the term Silly-B wasn’t given to me as an insulting nickname, it was a term of endearment, it was  term of love.

I appreciate it and will cherish the name Silly-B for the rest of my life (but in school, Mr. Silbiger is still the way to go)

I learned a lesson I already knew, but it has now been re-affirmed. When you treat people with respect, love and affection, they always reciprocate.

b. Sometimes being a teacher is hardI know it sounds like a line, but I’ll say it anyway. I really love teaching the group I’m teaching. Each challenge, each setback each relationship I forge means a lot to me and I’m hoping that I am making (or at least the course I am teaching is making) an impact on the students I teach.  But what happens when you see something and have no choice but to report it, knowing that the person getting into trouble probably doesn’t deserve the trouble they are going to get?

I witnessed an event that was probably fairly isolated and probably fixable with a simple conversation.  Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one to witness the event and since there was more than one staff witness it had to be reported.  I was tasked with reporting it, which naturally caused friction between the student involved and me.

As a teacher, it is my responsibility (also the law) to report the things I see, so I had no choice.  I saw the hurt in the face of the student involved, I saw the accusatory look of betrayal thrown at me.

When you bond with people, it is hard when you have to do your job and discipline them, but at the end of the day, I’m a teacher, not a friend and my job is my job, even though sometimes it really sucks.

From this incident I learned, sometimes you have to suck it up and do the tough job, because it’s what you have to do.


5. Students inspire me

Just a few months ago I was considering quitting radio.

I have been doing a show on Radio Shalom for nearly 14 years and was getting tired of it. The show has impacted my life in so many ways. I’ve missed family dinners, vacation days and so much more because of my fierce loyalty to my show and my crew.

When I started teaching in September, the first thing that happened was a student approached me and told me that he wanted to be on my show. We made a deal that if he got straight As in my class all year, I would feature him on one of my shows. I agreed. He pulled straight As so far this year.

When I decided to head up the formation of a student radio station at the school, this student decided to head it up. He and a friend went class to class and at the end recruited nearly 50 students to take part.

The first show aired last week and the spots for the next 5 shows have already been filled.  I’m amazed, bewildered and inspired by the drive of these students and actually look forward to doing radio with them.

What I learned from them: Sometimes the things we take for granted are actually things that other people would love to do. Seeing the excitement in the student’s faces as they sat in studio ready to start their show reminded me of my former enthusiasm when it came to radio. It took me back to a time where I loved what I was doing and inspired me to continue, to work at it, to be better at it. I have experienced a revitalization of my radio drive, I’m amazed and have the students to thank for it.

Well that’s it for things I learned about myself and life in year 39. Next year is the big 40 and I’m sure I’ll have a longer list!

Have a safe and enjoyable vacation  period and please, if you drink, do not drive.

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Howie Silbiger hosts The Howie Silbiger Show live Sundays at 7pm on - Call in 1-877-669-1292

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