(Note: Sorry, thought I hit publish on this last night. Turns out I hit “Save as Draft”)
Today was the third “first day” of school I’ve had in the last year. I look at this as a sign of being super fortunate, since one of those first days was for a job I absolutely love, which then allowed me to take off for a month to have this first day.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon texting my co-teacher back in Chicago pictures of me waving to the kids in different parts of the hotel and kibbutz. She’d respond and say “We miss u!”, “They say awwww”, “they want to Skype”. If you know me, you know I love my kids. They are not the best behaved, or the best listeners, and I still have to remind them to stop hitting their friends, but they’re my babies and my last day with them was Friday. I hopped on a plane Saturday, essentially had a 3 day weekend, and wound up in a different classroom halfway across the world today. So while everyone else was panicking (“I haven’t taught in months/years/weeks/ever.”) I was like “I taught Friday…this was a three day weekend for me” Piece of cake.
Dramatic pause so you can guess what’s coming……
It was not a piece of cake. It was like a sheet cake the size of a football field that refused to be conquered. And I’ve conquered a lot of cake in my day.
We got dropped off at what’s considered to be one of the best elementary schools in Nazareth Illit. There were 6 of us, 2 for each grade 3-5. We walked in and the principal shows us our classrooms. I was still pretty psyched. My coteacher and I had a smart board, tons of seats and plenty of supplies for the kids. Then we get the roster…35 names written entirely in Hebrew…..and then 37 students showed up. All of sudden the smart board was not so cool, and we didn’t have plenty of supplies for the kids.
Israel took the phrase “no child left behind” to a whole new level this summer. Registration for the summer school programs closed 2 weeks ago. All the students that were going to be in our classes were registered 2 weeks ago. Until the municipality let 200 more kids register after the deadline. So TALMAs numbers skyrocketed and while I appreciate them not wanting to turn away any child, do we really think 37:2 student:teacher ratio is effective?
Second problem: Violence and the glorification of violence in Israeli schools is so common it’s like watching a 3 Stooges episode. I don’t even like calling it “violence” because it seems too harsh of a descriptor. It’s not in anyway condoned, but it comes way faster as a solution to a problem than it would in a US school. I had kids getting into fist fights about who knows what (because I can’t understand them) every 10-15 minutes. This wasn’t gender specific fighting either, girls, boys, everyone was fighting. Hitting each other with water bottles, pencils, books, hands, feet, everything.
In my preschool classroom if two kids get into a physical fight (which is so rare!) I will physically separate them write incident reports for both of them, and call their parents. But here, the language barrier is so real and treacherous, and because these aren’t really “my kids”, and they’re older, I feel weird about getting in between two 3rd graders wielding backpacks and books at each other.
Simultaneously, we had no working behavior system that the students could get invested in, so there was no motivation for the students to act any different. Not only did they fight, they were disrespectful to their peers and teachers, they ran and screamed in the classroom and hallways and they argued with teachers over basic schedules, colors of paper, who started the fight, even about why they had to wear their shoes. One of my kids crawled under my desk and just kicked it repeatedly with his feet.
I was shocked. My preschoolers acted better than these kids. They had no attention span, no idea how to raise their hands, and no better way to communicate with each other than to scream and hit.
On top of everything, when they were dismissed for recess, one of my students grabbed his bag and handed out five toy (but life-sized) automatic weapons to his friends and they ran through the halls and the playground “shooting” people.
That’s probably what shook me up the most. Especially with the bodies of the three Israeli teens being found less than 14 hours prior, I was horrified that no one seemed concerned about 8 year olds playing war. Later in the evening I pointed this out to my mentor (we’re all assigned Israeli mentors, as a contact point, and someone to talk to for advice) and said that in the U.S., kids could get sent home, suspended, expelled or even arrested for bringing, pretending or threatening to have a weapon in the building. She said,
but the difference is that we don’t have a school shooting problem. Our enemies are out there, across borders. Your students think their enemies are in the building.
She’s right. Israelis don’t have a school shooting problem or a gun control issue. Since almost everyone is required to join the army after high school, guns are literally just a part of their lives. No one is advocating against a conceal and carry law, and no one is mourning a child who died in a school where they were supposed to be safe.
Since the conceal and carry law in Chicago was passed, almost every store, restaurant, and school you enter has a “No Guns” symbol in the window or on the door. They don’t have those here. No one gives it a second thought that guns could be used for something besides their intended purpose. But I guess that poses the question, what is a gun’s intended purpose in Israel? and what is it in Chicago?
The only comforting things that came out of my first day was that everyone else seemed to have a familiar experience in their classrooms/schools, and that my co-teacher and I got along splendidly despite the face that we were both miserable.
Tomorrow is a new day, I hope.