I am a teacher. I have been one for longer than I care to remember. I cannot conceive of myself not being locked into the rhythm of the school year. I cannot imagine not getting psyched about plotting out a fresh new class. I would be so much poorer for never having felt that sense of excitement I get when a lesson I have meticulously planned engages my students (not all of them do, believe me). It’s not all fun and games, but there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person for having had the privilege of being a teacher.
While most of my work is now in working with teachers in the field, I still teach one class a year. You see, it’s only by keeping my toe in the classroom, that I can remain attached to some semblance of reality regarding classroom society: the land of teenagers, from which each year that passes distances me farther.
Today, many students Israel sat for their English Matriculation exams. (In order to apply for acceptance into any institute of higher learning in Israel, students must pass one of the three levels of the English matriculation exams.)
Usually, exam day finds me busy pitching in, in my own school. I help out with shortening exams, testing students orally, reading through the exams and answering them, dealing with phone calls from other schools, checking that computer speakers work, not to mention calming nervous students (the red nose does make an occasional appearance) – the list always seems endless. Yet my school is very well practiced, and just like watching a trained gymnast performing the most complicated move, seemingly with ease, our team usually manages to do a high jump with a triple twist, landing on our feet at the end of the day, with grace (albeit, exhausted). In all my years teaching, I have never had the opportunity to see other teams in action.
Since my own 12th graders are taking the exam in the summer, I allowed myself the luxury of getting behind the wheel and donning my “counselor” hat, to drive around the Negev and see how the exams were going in some of the schools in which I counsel. I was slightly hesitant about how I would be received. My goal was to encourage schools, give support, provide answers when needed, and when I didn’t KNOW how to fix something, myself, I knew I could find someone who did. I did not want my presence to seem to be a threat, but I feared it might seen as such.
To my delight, I was welcomed in each school I entered, with a smile and a hug and an exclamation of surprise that I was visiting them so unexpectedly. Happily, today I had the chance to see how schools around my area manage to do the testing-tango, while getting their students (many of whom still suffer from some degree of post-trauma after having lived in rocket distance from Gaza for all of their lives) through the day in dignity! And I want to tell you – the things I saw make me proud to be a teacher!
All in all, I visited six of our high schools within a perimeter of about 50 kilometers. Two yeshivas, two ulpenas (like a yeshiva, but for religious girls) and two secular regional schools. I have to tell you how impressed I was in all six of them! I saw teams that worked together, supporting each other, filling in reams of paperwork, handing out chocolates and words of encouragement – to each other and of course, to the students. I saw students who were nervous but anxious to be arriving at the threshold of an opportunity when they knew that thousands like them were sitting down, at the same moment, to an academic performance for which they had been prepping, for years.
In all honesty, I am no fan of high-stakes assessment. In fact, if we could get rid of the matriculation, I would throw it out the country’s porthole in a heartbeat. But it is a fact of our lives, at least for now, and I see my job as a teacher to instil in my students as much of a feeling of capability as I possibly can, as they possibly can muster. Because, life, itself, is a high-stakes assessment at times. And helping students learn how to deal with these junctures in life is probably the most significant thing any adult can do for future generations. Teachers learn how to work this magic on a daily basis, and today I had the opportunity to see six different schools do it with great aplomb.
I saw not one tear. No outbursts of frustration. Only well-prepared kids and professionals getting on with what had to be done, in the most competent way possible. Kudos to the teachers and students of the Western Negev. Kudos to teachers and students all over Israel. You make me proud to be in this profession.