S ome teachers started the year with a lecture. Esther Leah began with a song.

Well, no, of course she didn’t start start with a song. She started in the doorway, with a smile that belied her nervousness at beginning a new year in a new school. Then she entered with a quick stride that could be construed as confident, and only then did she place her hands on the desk, palms down, and hum the first few bars of “Tov li, tov li Toras pichah” into the hushed stillness of a tenth-grade classroom.

A moment of stunned silence, an outbreak of surprised giggles, a decided snicker from the back row. But Esther Leah was used to that, and she looked close enough to see sparks of curiosity, too, and noticed one kid in the front left-hand corner, sandy ponytail draped over her left shoulder, open eyes that had probably been half-closed for the last three years of school.

Twenty-four pairs of eyes examined her, up and down. They were noticing the jewelry.

Her wedding pearls. Her diamond ring. The necklace inherited from her Savta, the one she had polished every year before teaching her first class, the one she never wore on any other occasion for fear of damage to the precious piece. Inlaid with real sapphires.

And then, just in case they couldn’t fully appreciate the value of freshwater pearls, she had the glitzy stuff, too. A selection of bracelets and bangles, seven on one arm, four on the other. A sparkly choker. She chose her most dazzling pair of earrings, which happened to have cost $5.99 at a sale, but that wasn't the point of this lesson.

This lesson was the result of hours of preparation and years of tweaking — she’d taught tenth grade Chumash before she got married and moved out here. Not that it mattered, the move — the lesson was just as good here as it was there, it was a classic, her classic, and it was perfect.

Each year, Esther Leah challenged herself to accomplish two things by the end of that first lesson: to wake up the perpetual sleepers who barely stood a chance in the fast-paced, text-based lessons they’d endured for the past nine years — and to shock the rest of the class, just a little, into seeing things in a brand-new light.

Looking around, she allowed herself the tiniest edge of a smile. Item number one, accomplished. Now she could begin. And at the end of the lesson, as she peeled off all the disastrously clashing jewelry, she knew she’d managed the second, as well. Sometime over the past hour, there had been a click, a sudden shift of understanding in the silent room — and it was a deep-down understanding, not just brain level, cram-it-for-finals understanding — of the beauty and value of Torah.

It was her way, and it worked. It always had.

“Mrs. Seligman?”

Esther Leah half-looked around the quiet school hallway for her mother-in-law. Then she remembered herself. “Yes, hello, Mrs. Pearl.” She plastered a wide smile on her face, hoping it conveyed sheer delight at being pulled over by the principal in her only free 15 minutes.

“Are you in a big rush?” Mrs. Pearl blinked meaningfully behind wire-rimmed frames. Esther Leah toyed with the idea of responding, Yes, my vanilla latte awaits.

“Not at all.” I only have another four lessons to give over today.

“Please, come inside my office then. Right over here.”

Mrs. Pearl’s sheitel was short and blonde, with darker streaks that might have been highlights gone wrong. “How are you finding it?”

“Well, it’s a little early to tell, really,” Esther Leah began.

The deepening crease in Mrs. Pearl’s forehead told her that was the wrong answer. Damage control, quick. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)