7 Tips For Surviving The Israeli Classroom - Buzzfeed
The reaction I received when speaking to Israelis about my decision to spend a year in the Israeli school system was shocking. Their descriptions led me to believe that it would look something like the mall and cafeteria scenes from Mean Girls. I saw a reality in which human children had completely abandoned domestication in favor of assuming the untamed characteristics of our primate cousins and other land mammals.
Life in the Israeli classroom is a far cry from the anarchist chaos that was described. I find the Israeli children to be a self-governing bunch. For example, students are often left in classrooms without adult supervision – something that would never happen in my elementary school. In these cases, the classroom usually becomes a self-contained social atmosphere. On one occasion, I did witness a class’ collapse into full-out warfare using band instruments. Regardless of the chosen activity for unsupervised time, the class immediately becomes quiet, standing at attention when an adult enters the room. Unless you become President of the United States, you may not have another opportunity for this kind of reception upon entering every room, so I suggest you cherish it.Here are some additional suggestions to the non-Israeli about to enter the school system.
When in the Israeli classroom, one is sure to hear the teacher say to the class commandingly, “Die!” It will be alarming the first 27 times you hear it, as you are sure these educators are instructing their pupils to promptly end their lives. In actuality, they are using the Hebrew word for “enough” – remember Dayenu from Passover? Same word. However, knowing what “die” means does not lessen the initial shock to an English speaker in the classroom.
2. One finger.
Israeli schools use what I find to be a much more effective system than the hand-raising system I grew up with in the States. Instead, pupils raise one finger to be called upon and two fingers to go to the bathroom. It took me several months to notice this system. Instead, I thought the second finger was a quiet protest for a more peaceful classroom environment.
3. Non-partisan approach.
I have been told time and time again that Israel is a very political country. This sentiment is certainly reflected in the students of my school. I recommend that any visitor to the Israeli Classroom take a staunchly non-partisan position on the major issues when confronted by a child. As such, I repeatedly choose to answer “no comment” to the hotly debated issues of Barcelona vs. Real Madrid and Justin Bieber vs. One Direction. (But just so you know, amongst the cool kids, Biebs is out and 1D is in.)
There was a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was his name-o. The English teachers put on this song and the kids go completely insane-o. It is as if you are watching Oprah’s Favorite Things and she has just announced to the audience they are all getting new cars. There’s jumping, there’s screaming, there’s tears and blissful pandemonium at the sound of Bingo’s first note.
5. Instant stardom.
Have you ever dreamt of being a star? Does being bombarded by the paparazzi seem like a dream come true? All of this and more can be yours by simply making your presence known at an Israeli elementary school. Being young and non-Israeli makes you beyond novel to the students. Forget the simple days of walking school hallways in peace and quiet. Once you’ve stepped foot on campus, you are sure to encounter the sudden (and prolonged) embraces of your fans while doing your best to answer the onslaught of questions from an excited public that anxiously awaits your next appearance in their homeroom class.
6. Guilt is great.
This tactical approach of your beloved bubbe is highly effective when educating the youth of the Jewish state. Discipline through punishment becomes a thing of the past when one can use Jewish guilt to quiet a room. One of our mentor teachers has a particularly effective approach, upping the guilt factor with every transgression. She starts with, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to have our Americans come back to this class again if you’re not quiet.” I joke with my American counterparts at the school that what starts with a classic guilt trip regarding loss of a privilege will quickly escalate. “If you guys can’t behave, the Americans will return to the United States, severing all ties with the State of Israel and, through a series of events, you will effectively cause the collapse of the global economy and civilization as we know it.” It works.
If you remember nothing else from my crash course on the Israeli classroom, remember this: at the end of the day, these children only want your respect. Treat them like humans and they will behave like them. I’ve found this tactic to be effective on human children of various nationalities. When I talk to the kids I work with, I make sure not to talk down to them. As a result, they open up to me and I am constantly impressed by the emotional and intellectual intelligence they demonstrate. Brace yourself for interactions with children that are unforgettable and inspirational.
Thanks to Holden Sperling, a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Petach Tikvah, for providing this list.