Low-Income, But Rich
American and Israeli teachers join forces to teach English.
‘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.