There are as many has 9 hours (periods) in a day, but the English department only works from hours 1-6, with one 7th hour block on Thursdays. One striking observation about my school is that there is no lunch period- students are given two 15-minute breaks throughout the day to eat… barely enough time for me to even grab a cup of coffee! Also, because Yeshurun is a religious school and the girls say the morning prayer service, I don’t start my first class until 8:30 ish, ish being the key word. Classes don’t really start on time here in Israel, and that is probably because teachers oftentimes don’t show up on time to class. They just don’t. Timing is not as strictly adhered to, and it’s not uncommon to find a teacher coming to class ten minutes after the hour starts because she was either in the teacher’s lounge or casually late to work. However, despite being a punctual person, I’m not in a position where I can say this is unprofessional or inefficient because that is just the way things are here. Even more so, I just perceive the system as disorganized because I come from a privileged American lens only having been exposed to stellar schooling systems in the States.
I will however admit that being here in Yeshurun has helped me live out one of my childhood dreams- to be a famous celebrity. Seriously every day is like being swarmed by paparazzi at school. My co-teacher and I can’t walk around the halls without groups of girls bombarding us with flailing arms, phones flashing around trying to snap selfies, every random English word known thrown at us to see if we understand, questions about whether we are friends with Chris Brown, oohs and aaahs over my Pandora bracelet (which is apparently much more popular in Israel), and girlish squeals and giggles when we give any one of them the time of day. Right now, I am definitely living up my fifteen minutes of fame, and I genuinely wonder how long we will continue to be the “shiny new object” at school. My guess is it won’t be soon before long that my students quickly become disillusioned by my American glamour as I am grilling them for not doing their homework ;)
Thus, I am struggling with gaining an identity at school as Allison, myself, rather than “Allison and Emily: the Americans,” which is how we are introduced and referred to. People see me for what I am that is different from them, which is American. Students see me as the American, not the teacher. They don’t know who or what I am, but just care to get to know me for the sole reason that I am an outsider. The next few weeks I will really be trying to push the idealized superficial perspective away and have my students and fellow teachers know me as that sweet girl, or the one who works hard, the one who really wants me to learn, etc,. Don’t get me wrong, I will be riding this wave as long as possible because it will play to my advantage- students will be more wiling to listen to me because they’re intrigued, I can’t really be disciplined for mistakes because I currently don’t know any better. It will be an interesting process to see how I am received once this grace period or “honeymoon” phase ends and I am integrated into the greater professional community.
Another challenge is the language barrier- but not because I don’t speak Hebrew. In fact, because my Hebrew improves every day I am losing leverage in the classroom. We get up to the front of the class and introduce ourselves as not speaking any Hebrew. But, when I hear a question and automatically, subconsciously respond in English, their eyes grow wide when they realize that I understand them (even if I respond in English). For example:
Student: ?עברית מדברת את (Do you speak Hebrew?)
What I should respond, as a non-Hebrew speaker, would be what? Unfortunately for me it’s misleading to my students because yes, maybe I understand when they ask me in Hebrew Where are you from? How old are you? Are you wearing Pandora? But, thinking I understand them won’t force them to speak English and then they proceed to say things to me in Hebrew that I actually don’t understand!
Yet, from the other side of the scenario I am at a loss because as I am finding out, teaching English grammar to people who don’t understand English is quite the challenge. It’s not like I’m teaching elementary school and can draw a picture of an Apple. We are teaching more complex concepts like Past Progressive verb tenses. Even the vocabulary is unexplainable, with words such as “get by,” “even though,” “except for,” and “artistic nature.” There is no picture, no charade, and no way to even describe the word because they don’t know English. For now, I’ve been preparing before class with the vocabulary words in Hebrew so I can make sure my students fully understand and can translate in their head before going over sentences and higher-level comprehension. The strategy is okay for now, but I am considering other methods as well.
If you’ve read this far, I am genuinely impressed and would like to reward you by ending this post with an anecdote from one of my classes this week, just to help articulate why it is so important for native English speakers to be in Israeli schools.
My co-teacher and I planned an activity for our class that was learning about letter writing and “connecting words” (i.e. first, then, after, later, in the end, etc.). I wrote a generic letter to the class about my Sukkot vacation, starting with the fact that I spent Shabbat with my aunt in Ramat Gan. Their task was first to read my letter and then respond with a letter of their own, sharing a personal experience. To test their reading comprehension, among the slew of questions I asked with whom I spent Shabbat. One girl, who spent the whole class sassing the teacher and talking with her friends finally decided that even she wasn’t too cool to participate in our activity. Cockily, and ready to impress her friends, she screamed out “Anat!” I was extremely confused at who Anat was and my co-teacher and I gave her the blank stare for a few seconds. I repeated the word back to her and she replied, “Anat- You spent Shabbat with your friend Anat.” With another quizzical look, I asked her if she meant to say my Aunt? Immediately the whole class erupted into laughter and the girl’s ego definitely bruised.
Not that I am condoning the situation but this scenario brought out a true sense of humility. And, a reason to become a better communicator. When I tell people I am coming to Israel to teach English when I a) have no teaching degree and b) don’t speak Hebrew, I meet a lot of resistance and skepticism. And yet, my host teacher later came up to me after class and explained that this moment meant everything to her as an educator: showing the importance of learning English and learning it well. The urgency in studying out of necessity and in order to communicate. Just by being in the classroom we give students a reason, a motivation, a want to become better. And to rebut the critics of English teaching programs like this, I would have to agree that you cannot put a price on sparking passion or giving students a role model.