After nine months of teaching English to Israeli students in second through sixth grade, I have officially finished the job as an Israel Teaching Fellow. I have spent the past nine months seeing numerous students improve their reading, writing and oral skills and I take brazen credit for teaching them, the impressionable sponges that they are, not to listen to Justin Bieber. It’s been magical. I’m, especially as an educator, easily delighted, but the things my students have done and the ways they have blossomed and outgrown themselves over and over? It has felt like a miracle to me every day.
When my students felt happy with their writing, they closed their notebooks with a grin. They point to their progress and when I would see a page that was correct, I would write metzuyan and they’d be impressed at my feeble attempts to spell it in Hebrew. My students learned English from the videos we’d watch on YouTube and they would sing the songs. My students are hardly musicians—more shouters than singers—but in their own songs there are, to an educator’s ear, a special kind of music.
*Me and Katrina, one of my favorite fifth graders! February 7th, 2014*
Taylor, how are youuuuuu? What’s up? We play iPad? You have stickers?
I would hear How are youuuuuu? at least six times a day. They want to know how to use a tense correctly or why I don’t have a boyfriend. They want to teach me EVERYTHING THEY KNOW.
I have helped my students read stories and see how they smile when I tell them tov at the end of a sentence. They cannot get the “th” sound right most of the time, but they feel confident and proud. Passion is more important than accuracy when you’re young, isn’t it?
With my advanced students, the ones who can speak three or more languages, they seem to make up a sense of hyperbole at every lesson; their stories always have bits of the best and funniest adventures ever. Their stories are full and elaborate and contain both important facts and small details.
Sometimes I tend to zone out if I haven’t had enough coffee, so I have to listen again, asking questions with a cheerful tone of voice and be thankful for all of their words. Even when my students aren’t talking, I can still hear their thoughts going towards the sky.
*From Dasha, one of my fifth graders. February 25th, 2014*
Observing my students over the past nine months has not been through my black glasses, but through rose-colored glasses. My students picked them out just for me. Usually, rose-colored glasses is not seen as a positive thing; it implies that a person doesn’t know what goes on in the real world, someone who lives in blissful ignorance or is maybe just not all there. Does it always have to be this way? I think looking at my students through my glasses that have a bit of a pink tint to them is a blessing.
After moving to Israel almost ten months ago, my life has been slowly moving forward. My students came into my life after a month off for Sukkot and Simchat Torah and during the month of September, life seemed rather bleary. While I reveled in the fact that I got to live in the land that many Jews will never get to go to, I was still trying to make it through the month while dealing with situations on the home front, worrying about money and not having friends or family in the country. But my students awoke me, along with Israel herself, and I learned about how this country and her people can show me that life is beautiful even when it seems like everything else is going nowhere.
Underneath my students’ hair clips and hats, strong spirits rose without even doing so consciously. These tiny fighters certainly gave me a run for my money in my courage zone. I came from a country that was fast-paced and I never had the chance to breathe being split between my amazing nanny job and my other babysitting clients. But everything changed in Israel. It was almost as if Israel said to me without a sound, “Pause and look at what’s around you.” So I did.
There have been days where it hasn’t been easy to see. Some days were blurred and there was no black or white—just grey. My students must have known that I needed a stronger prescription for my glasses, so that’s why they gave me rose-colored ones. My new lenses felt odd. I wasn’t used to them and couldn’t tell if they fit on my face properly. The sun seemed more colorful, but I didn’t know if it was real. Was I meant to wear these glasses? I had thought my old frames were fine before.
After getting into teaching, more things became colorful. Domestic situations didn’t completely improve, but I could brush off annoying things for the most part. A grey world didn’t stop me from living because the joy I felt with my students would radiate when I put on my frames. Of course, there had been times when I wouldn’t wear them and wanted to chuck them in the trash. But every day that I went to school, my students kept going, so I had to as well.
I often wonder how these children knew that I needed a new pair of frames. There is only one reason they picked out these glasses for me.
They were born wearing them.
The design for my frames are situated in my students’ souls. With their zest for live, they hold the key to slowing things down and taking things day by day. They radiate happiness and beauty because it’s in their nature. Their rose-colored glasses are not due to them being out of touch with what goes on in the real world; they know what is happening in an unfair world as they live in a country that is constantly threatened. My students didn’t pay for their glasses or go to a store to try them on; they seemed to be tailor made for them.
My thoughts have been that if my students are always wearing these glasses, I can do it, too. I wear them, most of the time, anyway. They seem to work for me. While I have the choice to wear these frames, I know that I owe it to my students to keep them on my face.
My students didn’t choose to have to have their country constantly being belittled, nor did they pick any of the other battles they have had to deal with for simply being Jewish. I wish I could take away their pain, but sadly I can’t.
However, what I can do, is choose a chance to pause. I can choose how I react to things. I can choose the right to be as Jewish as I want. I can choose my job. I can choose to have or not to have children. I can choose how I look back on my experience here in Israel as an Israel Teaching Fellow.
*Me with Lihi, and Ava, two of my favorite third graders! May 27th, 2014*
With a whirlwind nine months of teaching under my belt to the best students any teacher could’ve asked for, I can say that, thanks to these frames, life sure seems very rosy these days.