American vs. Israeli Schools

This week’s participant blog post comes from TJ Ohley, one of this year’s participants on the Yahel Social Change Program. Participants on the Yahel Social Change Program volunteer in a variety of places in the community, including local schools. Here, TJ reflects on his time working in the schools. The views expressed in this post belong to the author.

I’ve been teaching English at one of the local public middle and high schools for about 8 months. It’s been a great experience, and I’m going to miss it when it’s over. I teach students from 7th to 12th grade, and I’ve found my time teaching has taught me a lot about Israeli culture. There are a lot of differences between Israeli and American schools. Keep in mind that I haven’t been to many Israeli schools, but from what I’ve heard from parents, teachers, students, and peers, many schools are similar to what I’ve experienced.

First of all, there’s the relaxed vibe here compared to back in the States. Students address their teachers by their first names. I think this shows that things are more personal and less distant that the American schools where students are not allowed to address a teacher by their first name. On top of that, students have their teachers phone number and text or call them with any questions or concerns they may have. The students even text their teachers during class sometimes! Because Israel is so small, it’s not uncommon for students to know a lot about their teacher’s personal life due to family or friendly ties from outside of school. Teachers also know a lot about student’s personal life due to this same reason. I think this relationship between student and teacher carry over into the workforce as well between employee and employer. This personal relationship between student and teacher is a very interesting comparison to American schools.

This week's blogger, TJ, with his students at the local high school
This week’s blogger, TJ, with his students at the local high school

The other major difference is students’ behavior. Students in Israel on average act up in school much more than students in the US. One reason could be because punishments are not nearly as severe and don’t occur as much as in the States. Students are fairly free to speak up in class when they want, yell, get up out of their seat, show up late, etc., often with no punishment except a quick raised voice from the teacher as a result. Students who do this all the time are sometimes moved to a special class with students that also have a hard time following the rules. Students are almost never expelled from school.  Many students jump fences to leave or enter school grounds when they want. All schools are surrounded by fairly tall metal fences for security reasons, and have multiple guards on duty. Teachers and security guards often see the students do this, but do nothing about it. My opinion shows that students in a way make up their own rules much of the time.

The quality of education here varies greatly from student to student. However, I think the behavior issues in Israeli schools has a negative impact on the quality of education. In my opinion this has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence of the students. I’ve found these kids to be extremely smart, I just don’t think they are being applied as well as it could be. On the other hand, I think there are also a good amount of students trying very hard to get into a good unit in the army. Poor school results often result in poor army placements, and vice versa. The schools offer special classes such as robotics to prepare students for jobs in the army. Also, some students do well so they can go to college before the army, paid for by the army, to apply what they learned in the army.

My experiences teaching kids in middle and high school has helped prepare me to have a slight idea on what to expect when I join the IDF in March with people who just finished going through what I have explained above. It’s important to understand those who I will be surrounded by, seeing how we came from different backgrounds.

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