Friday, January 7, 2005

Dovrat—Rotten Idea

Musings #93
January 6, 2005
The 25th of Tevet

Dovrat—Rotten Idea

The Dovrat recommendations are going to do to Israeli education what Michael Jackson’s plastic surgeons did to his face. Yes, exactly. The Dovrat Commission’s restructuring plans are superficial, cosmetic. Just like no matter what some plastic surgeon does to someone’s nose, his or her kids will inherit the original “big nose gene.” All the hullabaloo and proposed changes won’t eliminate the real problems. And believe me, there are problems.

I’m not going to get into the anti-religious aspect or the obvious financial difficulties of the proposals, such as lunchrooms, bussing and all that. What concern me are the curriculum, the teaching methods and the needs of both the students and the teachers.

First for a little background: I’m a mother, grandmother and teacher. And, obviously, I was also once a student. I’ve seen the systems here in Israel, in the states and in England. I also worked in a number of other professions, sometimes simultaneously while teaching. Dovrat is blaming the teachers for the sorry state of Israeli education. It reminds me of when I was a saleslady in a small store. The store wasn’t doing well, and the owners brought in an expert to recommend changes. The expert never asked the salespeople our opinions. We were given an assignment to keep track of how many people entered the store and how many of them bought anything. The expert insisted that we should be able to convince them to buys “something.” People did want to buy, but we didn’t have anything they wanted. And you can’t sell an expensive play outfit to somebody who can barely afford the simple socks they had entered the store to buy.

I couldn’t sell something that wasn’t in the store, and the teachers can’t teach what isn’t on the curriculum. The failures in the Israeli educational system are due to faddy curriculum planning and failure-prone teaching methods.

All over the world, studies in worker efficiency show that people work better if they can take breaks, vary their schedule, get out of the office, factory, etc. Forcing teachers to work full-time office hours will not make them better teachers and will not attract “better people” to the profession. Teaching demands a lot of emotional energy, like actors on the stage. Many of us are better, more effective teachers simply because we can restrict our hours. The fact that we have time during the week to make doctors appointments, go shopping, see family and friends and plan our lessons on our personal computers (instead of waiting on line in the school) means that when we are with our students we are not distracted. And we don’t have to be excused and cancel lessons to take care of urgent personal matters. The concept of teachers devoting all their days at the school is based on the Catholic schools, staffed by nuns and priests. It’s not relevant for people who have lives. My friends and relatives who are teachers abroad suffer greatly from their inflexible schedules, and so do their families. We don’t need that here. Life’s tough enough.

I’m an English teacher, a high school English teacher. I never planned on being an English teacher. I had heard that the “bosses” were very strict about making the teachers teach according to official policy. I’m not very good at obeying rules, especially if I think they’re stupid. I’ve gotten myself into trouble, since, as you may have noticed, I can’t keep my mouth shut. After seeing what my kids were given in school English lessons, I knew that I wouldn’t survive a day as an English teacher, so for thirteen years I was a girls gym teacher in a school with neither sports equipment nor a gymnasium. Originally I took the job “temporarily,” a year or two, until they found a real teacher. I wasn’t a real teacher, lacking certificates and training. But I kept those girls busy, and even today, years later, when my former students meet me in the pool they ask my advice on proper exercise.

Seven years ago when I was asked by a friend to teach the kids who were failing English, I was given a few minutes “training” and the green light to do whatever I thought would work to help them pass. A couple of years later I got my teaching license and I’m still at the same school. And year after year, I’m more and more disappointed in the lack of foundation language skills my students bring into the classroom.

That’s where the main problem is, in the basic learning, the foundation. Our children must be taught basic language skills and basic arithmetic. They must be taught that every letter has a sound and that combining them makes a word. It’s called phonetics. And that every number has a set value, and they can be combined, subtracted, multiplied and divided. And the basic counting by two’s, three’s, five’s, ten’s should be ingrained in their brains; it’s called memorizing. Put it to music; dance to it; shout it as a chant; yes, it can be fun. Correct Hebrew grammar must be reinforced, and incorrect must be corrected. If not they will continue having trouble learning additional languages and sound like neurologically impaired illiterates in their own.

As a high school English teacher, I waste valuable precious time teaching my students basic grammar and composition and summarizing skills. When I asked my cousin to send me a highly recommended book for teaching students composition writing, he was amazed: “But aren’t you teaching high school? This book is used in the third grade in New York City.”

“Restructuring” is not the solution it reminds me of when my eldest was in the second grade and I was trying to explain to the teacher that the arithmetic was too boring. She had done that level at the age of four. The teacher replied: “But look at how pretty the book is, how could it be boring?”

We must get beyond the superficial. I can go on and on about what I would change, but this is long enough.

I wish that I had some real influence. All I can recommend is that everyone protest however they can and demand a true education for our precious children.

Batya Medad, Shiloh
Copyright(C)BatyaMedad, Contact me for publication permission; private distribution encouraged.

1 comment:

Hokule'a Kealoha said...

this is true EVERYWHERE...the world wants a fad they dont want the we eat junk and are fat, we want the wishy washy candidate and get do nothing liberalism in government...we teach kids that 2+2 may equal 4 but you tell us what you think it means to you and how it effects you and we grade on your feelings about it. PLEASE.....2+2=4 no matter how you slice it so learn this and get on with now we have kids that are unemployable as they cant read or write...

Feel good teaching produced Princes William and Harry. I think the trip to the camps is a great idea and more time with Grandma and Grandpa, who suffered and served during the war that was almost lost by the British... hear their stories and learn from them...its time anyway Queen Elizabeth was working with her father on her duties starting at age 12.