Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Year of Teaching Abroad

A Year of Teaching Abroad

My name is Hayley Wright. I am a current candidate for a MS in Educational Theatre with Initial Certification at the City College of New York. Last February, I was given the opportunity to teach English in Israel for a year through the program TALMA. After much consideration and Jennifer telling me there is no better time than the present, I packed my bags and set off for the unexpected. And when I say unexpected, I mean it. I moved to Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. If you are unsure of where that is, find Tel Aviv or Jerusalem on a map and go south. Keep going. Keep going. Yep, there is Mitzpe. In the middle of nowhere. In the desert. This city girl was becoming a desert girl and no one could predict what was going to happen.

 At this point, I have been in Israel for 7 months and my experience thus far can be summed up using the three pillars our program uses daily; pedagogy, advocacy, and artistry.

Pedagogy. I can't even begin to describe how my pedagogy has been affected by my time here. Because the education system in Israel is much different than in the States, I have had to learn to adapt my teaching methods. We are taught to be culturally relevant, assimilate while still holding true to ourselves. Let's just say, this is easier said than done. An Israeli classroom is loud, chaotic, and for the lack of a better word, passionate while at the same time frozen. Students are in their seats the entire lesson, occasionally getting up to write on the board. My theatre background deemed this as unacceptable and wanted to push all the desks and chairs to the side and get these kids moving. However, my teacher/Jennifer/Sobha voice told me to take a step back, observe, and see how things operate. The word for slowly in Hebrew is “layat” , so I told myself, layat, layat . As I started teaching my own groups, I began to move them around the room. I quickly realized the kids don't know how to behave when they are not at their desks. Chaos breaks out and the room goes from a medium level of noise to through the roof within seconds and let’s just say there is an explosion of passion. The disorganization and lack of routine in the classroom is difficult to fathom being the type A personality I am. This became extremely relevant while trying to visit other classrooms in order to do my research. My observations and interviews got pushed back at least twice. The pedagogy I had developed over the past 2 years at CCNY came in handy. You can't dive head first into a pool full of sharks, you must stick your big toe in to test the waters. And when I say sharks I mean Israeli students...I needed to meet the students where they were not only academically but physically, spacially, and emotionally while also understanding where they are coming from culturally.

Advocacy. I don't think I have ever had to advocate for myself and for my students as much as I have done this year. When I began teaching on September 1, I started just observing in the classroom. I needed and wanted to see the level of the kids and how the other English teacher worked. I also wanted to see how the kids responded to her, what worked, what didn't work, etc. After the first day, I pretty much had seen enough. I could see what the students needed and I
wanted to help. I told the other English teacher, I felt comfortable taking students and she would give me 2 or 3 to go teach them a lesson or review the alphabet or read with them. By doing this, I could see the level of English varied among the entire class. Some of these kids were not keeping up with the rest. It was not fair for them to be sitting through a lesson that went over their head. I told the other English teacher my thoughts but she thought it would be too much work to separate the weak and strong students because “it is very difficult to only teach the weak students.” This blew my mind. One of our jobs as educators is to make sure each child is getting an equal education, I could see this was not happening. So I met with the principal. I told her what was going on and if we couldn't share the responsibility of teaching the weaker students, I would do it. I wanted to. These kids need to learn to read and they are not going to advance sitting in a classroom where they can't even read the words they are writing down. I told the principal, we have the teachers and the classroom resources to do this, so why not? I was giving my students a voice while also standing up for myself and asking for more responsibility. I soon began to take larger groups and was able to slow down the lessons for them. I could instantly see progress through retention and their positivity.

Artistry. Over the past 7 months, my artistry was lost. I had to rediscover it and find it in Israel. I was trying to incorporate my artistry in the classroom, some days more successful than others but I still felt like something was missing. Over the fall semester, myself along with my cohort of teachers took a class at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva called, “Minorities in Israel.” While this class was informative and helped me to understand the social dynamics in Israel and my classroom, I felt somewhat empty. I was not doing anything that was feeding my work and passions. When we were told for this coming semester we didn’t have to take a class and could find something else to do, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. I contacted The Goodman Acting School and Theatre of the Negev, one of the most known acting schools in Israel outside of Tel Aviv. I did not hear back from so I did something people would say here is “very Israeli.” I marched myself over to the school and introduced myself asking to volunteer with them once a week. I was lucky enough to meet with the artistic director. It took a while to create a job for me but now once a week I work at the school, translating contracts, helping with their English website while also socializing with teachers, students, and administrators all serving the artistic community of the Negev (southern part of Israel). But most importantly I get to see theatre! As I am writing this, I have only worked there four times but I already feel apart of the family and my artistry being served.
The thing about Israelis is they mean what they say. It is extremely refreshing, for example, when an Israeli says “come stay with me anytime,” they mean it. When an American says it, they are secretly hoping to never hear from you again. One of the dance teachers at the school told me to come take his class and I went, no questions asked. As I continue my journey teaching abroad, I need to be more culturally relevant, not just in my teaching but especially in my day to day life.

I have to remember the New Yorker in me, while also embracing my Israeli traits. I know if it wasn’t for the skills I learned teaching and living here I would not have gotten the opportunity to work at Goodman. In New York, we are told to follow a certain formality but sometimes if you are truly passionate about an opportunity, go for it. Take a risk. The worst thing they could say is no. And then what? Onto the next, but still you can say you tried. You are enough. Trust that.

To sum it all up, my year of teaching abroad has showed me how to firsthand advocate for myself and my students, reaffirmed my love for the arts, and altered my pedagogy, in the end ultimately making me a stronger more effective teacher, learner, artist, and human. 

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