New kids in the class

A Revivim student teaching in the classroom (photo: Sasson Tiram)October 28, 2010: They returned to high school this year armed with fountain pens and pencil cases filled with chalk. Between a cup of coffee in the teacher's room and a conversation with a pupil, here are the Hebrew University students, who will do everything in order to infuse some wisdom into today's teenagers. Meet the young teachers of 2011.

Just before completing their B.A. degrees, when everyone else is busy figuring out their grade averages in order to apply for exclusive M.A. programs abroad or fantasizing about high-class accounting firms or high-tech jobs in Tel Aviv, there are a small number of students who have decided to go in a totally different direction — one which some would say is a lot less exciting, and is even right here in Jerusalem. They are students who wake up every morning bleary-eyed, preparing a bag with a class outline, a pile of tests with comments they stayed up all night to write and a sandwich with cream cheese and cucumbers: a day at school begins.

Thursday morning in the Beit Hinuch High School in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem: Ido Gidli, an eighth-grade Bible teacher, has just finished collecting the quizzes he handed out. He lets the kids out of the classroom for a "rejuvenation break".

"They are worn out after the quiz; I am going to do some sort of light activity with them", he says. When the kids return to the classroom, in between chatting with the teacher about the latest American rock groups, they are told that the next class will be held as a "leadership game" on the subject of Moses. The kids' excitement increases when Monopoly money is passed out. "Now we are selling the qualities that you believe should define a true leader," announces Gidli. The kids start to compare amounts, bang on the tables and yell out the qualities they think a leader should have.

The young teacher, you will be happy to hear, has not lost his hearing since beginning to teach. "But maybe that is because I served in artillery in the IDF," he jokes. After a long discussion, the qualities which won in this week's game are "stimulating" and "inspiring". "Now they have to decide if Moses had these qualities," Gidli explains seriously. In the meantime, one kid throws his pencil case across the room, others get up from their seat, and the teacher remains calm and attentive. You can hear his mantra in the background, "shhhh….shhhh", which succeeds to quiet them down the second time…until the next uproar begins.

Gidli is a second-year student in the Revivim program at the Hebrew University, which trains outstanding students to become teachers. As part of the program, he has begun to student teach this year. Right after the bell rings for recess, he talks about his first steps in the profession. "The first day of school was very emotional and a bit frightening. You are going to a place where you are not really wanted; you are literally a burden to the kids." My biggest fear was that I would not succeed in coming across as a real teacher and that they would think of me as "just" a University student on an adventure."

To be a teacher, he says, is first of all a basic lesson in modesty. "You learn that the pupil's level of participation does not necessarily depend on you. Every fight at home, or just getting up in the morning "on the wrong side of the bed" affects them. At first, you get insulted easily, but little by little, you get over it."

Working Hard

It looks like Amitai Mor (28), another Revivim student and in the same year as Gidli, won't be using teaching methods which include games about Moses. Mor has recently begun to teach and is teaching eighth graders at Beit Hinuch, right beside his fellow "Revivim" student Gidli. "I know that Bible is a subject most kids hate and teachers expend a lot of energy trying to make it fun. But I think it's stupid to try all these experiments just to get kids to love the subject. I, for example, teach Bible in a way which is not at all fun, which includes a lot of writing and copying from the blackboard, and from my point of view, the pupil has to work hard to absorb the material." Amitai continues with his professional philosophy. "I did not decide to become a teacher because of idealism. I determined what my best talents are — explanation of information and communication, especially with young people — and made a decision. In a certain respect it challenges me to teach; there is professional satisfaction, but I don't see teaching as some sort of mission, which would not necessarily fulfill my expectations."

"This was definitely the best choice I ever made in my life," explains Amnon Rabinowitz (26) about the decision he made a year ago, when he decided that he would begin his professional life as a high school history and civics teacher. Although he was in a technological unit in the IDF, when he finished his first B.A. in political science and philosophy at the Hebrew University he was offered several high paying positions in hi-tech, "I preferred to stay committed to what I really wanted to do," he says, "Teaching is meaningful and exciting work. To come into class and see the spark in the children's eyes when I teach them history — or to help a pupil who is having difficulty succeeding in his studies — is everything to me… even when I picked up my first pay slip and saw my salary: NIS 3,300."

The homeroom class is about to begin in the Ziv school in Beit Hakerem. The subject for today: the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. The bell announcing the end of recess rings, and the kids begin to make their way back to the classrooms, dressed in sweatpants and T-shirts displaying the school emblem. In the hall on the way into class, cup of coffee in hand, Rabinowitz has a moment to chat with an experienced teacher about teaching methods, and to receive a few compliments from the school principal, which cause him to blush shyly.

The pupils obviously have not heard about the latest Ministry of Education directives and no one hurries to stand up for the young teacher when he comes into the room. Very quickly, a discussion begins about the topic of the day, and when Rabinowitz turns towards the blackboard for a minute, one of the kids has just enough time to stick a piece of paper with an unclear message on the back of one of his classmates. Some of the others are arguing: "Rabin's murder was not necessarily such a bad thing," says one of them, "because otherwise he would have given the West Bank to the Arabs, and they would not give up until they got all of Jerusalem, at least!" The conversation continues and suddenly one pupil shouts: "From my point of view, every Arab is a terrorist or a murderer, and I don't think he should be here!" The class is suddenly quiet.

"Yes, it was definitely a sensitive class," the teacher told us at the end of the class. "Without doubt, there is a lot of prejudice in the classes and therefore a lot of educational work needs to be done. In extreme cases like this, I think it's important to let the pupil express his opinions out loud, then we discuss his thoughts in class, and I confront him with other ways of thinking."

To Make our Parents Proud

To be a young teacher in Jerusalem in 2010 is not at all an expected choice. The salary is low, the pupils are crazy teenagers busy with things which are much more important than school —and sometimes even the young teachers' parents cannot understand what their successful child is doing with chalk and a teacher's diary!

"My parents think I am crazy," says Rabinowitz. "Think about it — who nowadays would want their son to be a teacher and not a lawyer? It looks like we, the teachers, have not only to start a revolution in education, we must also change the image of teachers in Israel, so that our parents will be proud of us."

Talia Frankel (25) an M.A. student of Philosophy of Education at the Hebrew University, also knew that she wanted to be a teacher from the time she was in high school. "I had an amazing literature teacher in high school, and because I admired her so much I decided that I wanted to be like her," she explains. Before she made her dream come true and walked into the classroom as a literature teacher herself, she had to get through the first day of school in the beginning of September at the Masorti school in Jerusalem.

"The first day was very stressful; I even dreamed about it at night. After all, they are always talking about how the youth today is going downhill and how there is violence against the teachers in schools, so I was a bit afraid. I thought about how to approach them — with 'I'm young too, let's be friends' or much more harshly, like an army officer. She laughed. "When the time came, I walked slowly into the class and said 'good morning'. They answered me in a friendly way and asked me if I had email and Facebook like them — there was a lot of noise. Okay, so there was a bit of a circus in class and I had to quiet them down, but my fears were definitely exaggerated."

By Selah Refaeli and Eli Shmueli

Originally published in Hebrew in Pi Ha’iton, the magazine of the Hebrew University Student Union