By Josh Neuman, Israel Teaching Fellows Be’er Sheva
After almost four and a half months of living and about 3 months teaching in Israel, each day brings new adventures and delights. I have traveled to Tzvat, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, and a handful of other cities, floated in the Dead Sea and hiked in the Golan–but the greatest adventure by far is teaching.
My school, Hazon Ovadia, is a small religious school in Schunah (neighborhood) Gimmel, which is notoriously one of Be’er Sheva’s lowest income areas.
To understand the atmosphere of Hazon Ovadia close your eyes and imagine a fenced off quad with one large building housing most of the classes, another for the office and teachers’ lounge, and yet another that serves as both synagogue and auditorium.
Now layer onto that shouts of children playing soccer (they call it football) and teachers arguing with each other the way only Israelis can argue; Yitzik the school security guard prowls the blacktop keeping a watchful eye over the questionably safe antics happening in every corner of the yard. This doesn’t change much when the bell rings to signal the next class, as most of the kids seem to come and go as they please.
And the inside of a Hazon Ovadia classroom is not much different from the yard. I have seen chairs thrown, teachers kicked, and constant battles between peers. Students flagrantly ignore teachers’ pleas for order and too frequently the halls ring with the crying wails from the loser of some pointless fight.
But once you get used to all that insanity, the kids are really no different than American kids. They all want hugs and high-fives; to hear their efforts praised and a smiley face sticker brings a priceless smile to faces of all children alike. After a few months as a member of the faculty I am no longer a distraction when in class, but that doesn’t mean much in terms of establishing widespread order.
Walking the halls I now know what a rockstar feels like with dozens of fans swarming at any given time; hardly a moment passes without a high-five or answering “what’s up?” numerous times.
That alone seems to make my job worth it. Knowing that my presence can make these kids, many of whom come from broken families, feel special is an amazing feeling.
These last few weeks, however, I have really been able to see the fruits of my labors. A dyslexic 4th grader I work with has become drastically more confidant in his reading abilities and continues to tear through each new story. This morning I had a run-in with his mother, who confessed that she had seen a visible change and that he enjoys our sessions together.
Although most of the Ethiopian immigrants at HO speak very little Hebrew, I am fortunate enough to work with a few of them during the week. Masrasha, a 5th grader with some of the best English in the school has had a few literal “aha!” moments of realization–the types of moments that make being a teacher worth it. On my way home today he shouted my name as his bus passed by, waving wildly with his head halfway out the window. Needless to say I love my job.
Every time someone asks about my experiences so far I tell them flat out this is the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life.
I have never had an “easy” day at school. I have become invested in these kids, and although some days I dread those difficult students, it is just another obstacle to overcome in the process of inspiring them.
During the first few weeks of teaching there was serious doubt in my mind it was possible to truly make a difference; most of the kids speak little to no English and there is virtually no desire to learn.
But each of these small victories have assured that is just not the case. The days I teach one student a new letter, or another how to pronounce “Wednesday”–these kids make it all worth while.