We are two days away from marking our third month in Israel. And while we are by no means nearing the end of our adventure here, like so many others in my house, I have begun to contemplate the next steps I will take when my time with Yahel comes to a close. My passion, for the last four years of college study, and a greater part of my adult life, has resided in working with children. This passion played a major role in my decision to come to Israel with Yahel, since I would be afforded the opportunity to work in a local elementary school. I am no stranger to working in a classroom, but none the less, I know that things operate differently in different countries, and braced myself accordingly. What I have discovered, is a surprise none the less.
Our experience has actually been quite unique. We work side-by-side with two different teachers, each with their own unique style. When we say, ‘kids will be kids,’ we all know that accounts for a certain level of leeway, be it their understanding of the world, or in this case, their level of mischievousness. Apparently, Israeli kids are notorious for being rambunctious.
One of the women we work with, Oshrit, is probably no different than any other EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher. She was educated in the Israeli school system, and mastered her English abilities while attending University in England. Yet, despite the chaos I observed in the school yard, and heard in the halls, I observed a classroom of quiet, respectful students. Was it simply this handful of students? My theory was proven false upon observing all of her subsequent classes behaving in the same manner. I decided I needed to know her secret, and I asked just that, to which I received the response ‘You cannot let them misbehave like they do outside or in their other classes. If a student does not want to listen, or do his work, I call his parents and make sure they know about it.’ This answer though, did not have me convinced. My own experience and knowledge had shown that authoritarian rule over the classroom always ended in failure. But then I noticed something that made everything clear to me. While walking down the hall, we came upon two young boys getting into a pretty heated argument. At this point, Oshrit intervened, and she and one of the boys began a heated conversation of their own. Voices continued to rise, up until Oshrit’s became the dominant of the two and what had started as an argument soon became a lecture. The entire conversation took place in Hebrew, so of course I understood only a few words, but the context was clear. What followed next totally took me by surprise. Oshrit’s voice went from rigid, to soft and comforting. She said a few more words (that I did not understand) then took the boys face in her hands, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. It was suddenly clear to me, why her kids behaved in the manner that they did. It wasn’t out of fear, but respect. It was clear that they identified Oshrit as a figure not to be messed with, but also as someone they could rely on, someone who they could trust to be fair.
On my next visit, we were assigned to our other classroom, with our other teacher, Gazeet. Upon entering, we were met by what we assumed to be the familiar noise of chaos. But again, something was amiss. What we heard was definitely yelling, except it was being done in unison. The explanation came when we looked into the room to see all the students singing along to an interactive video, teaching them the different sounds of letters. Having already previously met with Gazeet, we were familiar with her alternative teaching style. She had grown up and been educated in the States herself, and took an approach to learning that addresses all the different ways in which children best process information.
It truly is a disappointment, knowing that the United States is not the only place in the world where the education of the next generation goes unaddressed and is undervalued. I am not unaccustomed to the results of this kind of practice, having just student-taught in a 7th and 8th grade English class in downtown Buffalo this past Spring. Schools lack essential resources, and what little they do have is stretched far too thin. The end result; it’s the kids who suffer, most of the time completely oblivious to the injustices being committed against them. But there is still that glimmer of hope, and it shines in the people who commit themselves to making what difference they can. Despite the vast differences in the way each of these women choose to educate their students, they somehow manage to harness and channel the seemingly boundless energy into something productive. Not only that, but their commitment has started a chain reaction, providing a future educator with invaluable lessons, a means to reach kids who are afforded so little and give them something they only have one opportunity to receive, an education.