Low-In­come, But Rich

Amer­i­can and Is­raeli teach­ers join forces to teach English.

Forward Magazine - - Education - By Em­me­line Zhao

‘F ell in love” is how a hand­ful of teach­ers, largely from the United States and the United King­dom, de­scribe their first­time ex­pe­ri­ence in Is­rael. That love is what has brought them back to the Holy Land sum­mer af­ter sum­mer — not for va­ca­tion, but to ed­u­cate hun­dreds of Is­raeli chil­dren, re­gard­less of re­li­gion or so­cioe­co­nomics.

TALMA, the Is­rael Pro­gram for Ex­cel­lence in English, is in its sec­ond year. This year the pro­gram brought 80 teach­ers from the United States for a sum­mer English pro­gram in umpteen public schools across four Is­raeli mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Teach­ers from English-speak­ing coun­tries are se­lected based on their ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions, as well as for their ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­est in Is­rael. The United States is the largest co­hort. For five weeks, the Amer­i­can teach­ers are placed in class­rooms with an Is­raeli coun­ter­part to co- teach English to low-in­come stu­dents in grades one through four. The pro­ject is a col­lab­o­ra­tion among Is­rael’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Schus­ter­man Fam­ily Foun­da­tion and the Steinhardt Foun­da­tion for Jewish Life, and seeks to ex­pand to grades five and six next year.

TALMA’s mis­sion is three­fold, the pro­gram’s na­tional di­rec­tor, Alon Fut­ter­man, said. For Is­raeli chil­dren, the pro­gram seeks to close so­cial gaps by ad­vanc­ing their English-lan­guage abil­i­ties, re­gard­less of fi­nan­cial back­ground or re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion. Ex­ist­ing sum­mer camps in Is­rael are sim­ply “over- glo­ri­fied baby- sit­ting ser­vices” and not ed­u­ca­tion-cen­tric, Fut­ter­man noted. TALMA hopes to im­prove Is­raeli ed­u­ca­tors’ teach­ing by learn­ing from their Amer­i­can co-teach­ers. For the Amer­i­can teach­ers, the pro­gram wants to ex­pose them to the cul­ture of Is­rael be­yond what they know of the coun­try as por­trayed in the media.

“The teach­ers get to work with some­one who’s do­ing what you’re do­ing, but in a dif­fer­ent part of the world,” Fut­ter­man said. “You learn new tech­niques, new meth­ods for class­room man­age­ment, and you’re ex­posed to new ideas to take back to your own class­room dur­ing the school year.”

The pro­gram pi­loted in the sum­mer of 2014 with 60 teach­ers out­side Is­rael, largely re­cruited from Schus­ter­man and the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of Metropoli­tan Detroit. This sum­mer, 80 ed­u­ca­tors were se­lected from a pool of more than 500 ap­pli­cants. In just two sum­mers, TALMA stu­dents have shown sub­stan­tial English­language progress, Fut­ter­man noted.

And fol­low­ing a visit to TALMA schools in July, Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem an­nounced on Face­book that he hopes to ex­pand the TALMA pro­gram ten­fold next year. With 16 TALMA schools in Jerusalem and 55 in other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties this year, the pro­gram is slated for ex­pan­sion.

In more pop­u­lated or af­flu­ent Is­raeli mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, stu­dents have more ac­cess to English—whether through for­mal school pro­grams, pri­vate tu­tor­ing or op­por­tu­ni­ties to travel, noted Robyn Fialkow, a New York City ed­u­ca­tor who taught fifth-grade read­ing and writ­ing in Brook­lyn and is mov­ing to a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion po­si­tion on the Up­per West Side of Man­hat­tan. Fialkow par­tic­i­pated in TALMA’s pi­lot 2014 year. The op­por­tu­nity gap for stu­dents in low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties is great, Fialkow said, and English opens many doors for higher ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers that lead to “suc­cess­ful tra­jec­to­ries.” TALMA is an ef­fort to bring eq­uity to Is­raeli ed­u­ca­tion.

But some of the teach­ers said that they them­selves have learned the most from the pro­gram.

This marks the third sum­mer that for­mer Teach for Amer­ica mem­ber Olivia Gold­stein has been in Is­rael, and her sec­ond as a TALMA ed­u­ca­tor. Dur­ing the year, she teaches preschool in Chicago to 3- to 5-yearolds, 100% of whom are English Lan­guage Learn­ers with Span­ish as their first lan­guage. Jewish by name but not by re­li­gion, Gold­stein had a tough first few days of Birthright Is­rael: She couldn’t read He­brew and didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t even read the signs at break­fast that la­beled the food. Then she had a panic at­tack.

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