Nadia Katzir

Why English teachers quit and how to reverse the trend in Israel

If you come to Israel from an English speaking country or with a degree in the English language then most likely you will consider starting a teaching career in Israel. Many Anglos become school teachers here because they are in high demand and often that is what they have been doing before coming to Israel.

Besides regular public schools run by the Ministry of Education, there are plenty of private language schools in Israel as well. They are ready to take anyone, who is fluent. Just keep an eye for job postings in English-speaking groups in social media. Experience and academic background matter little.

Anyways, this is not the point of my writing. What’s important to talk about is why many of us, who come to a teaching job, end up walking away with our wings cut and professional self-esteem hurt?

After quitting my latest teaching job, I took time to assess lessons I taught, and, more importantly, lessons I learned myself. I want to share them to help other teachers not to make the mistakes I did.

Also, I reached out to young and experienced Israeli English teachers through social media. I talked to active teachers and ex-ones, who also quit, maybe with more thought, than I did as an impulsive newcomer. In each of the groups, I listed my reasons why I could not stay in the school and asked if they related to them or had other reasons that made it difficult for them to continue teaching.

The response was immediate and eye-opening. Most of the teachers raised the same issues and struggles. Let’s look at the three main reasons why I and other English teachers in Israel quit regular schools or find most challenging to deal with.

Classes are too large

This issue, though mentioned by most of the teachers, is not the principal evil in Israeli schools. You will eventually find creative tools to manage a big group in the class. It is a matter of your willingness to invest extra time googling.

What is beyond the teacher’s limits is the infrastructure. In most regular schools, the size of the classroom is not suitable for such a high density of students. I spent half of the lesson disciplining kids, who were fighting for space and had difficulties hearing my voice unless I showed on the big screen videos with loud sound. There is no guarantee the computer or projector would be in good order either. I spent most of my breaks being annoying and chasing after the technical guy. Plus, there was almost no space to walk between the highly stuffed rows of chairs, tables, and school bags. Small place made it impossible to plan lessons with fun activities like singing and dancing, role playing dialogues, etc. The teaching process turns into a big disciplining marathon and leaves no room for creative education.

If you don’t know Hebrew, you either sink or swim

It is often the main problem that English teachers face in public schools. Most students do not have enough English to understand even basic commands like open/close your books; raise your hands, etc. They do not have enough confidence to flow with the new language, and they feel insecure.

Some people say this is not the end of the world. You can pick up Hebrew from the kids pretty fast. They are the best teachers and are genuinely very helpful. My Hebrew significantly improved by working with the kids, and more than it did in the two full-time ulpans (Hebrew programs) I attended.

The real trouble starts when you need to deal with the parents. These interactions can be very intimidating if you are not confident in  Hebrew. Well, much has been said about Israeli chutzpah.

The same happens in the teachers’ meetings that you get to attend every week. No one will expect you to make speeches in Hebrew, but it is somewhat stressful and time-consuming to fill in different teaching related tables and forms. You are lucky if there are other helpful English teachers around. In my case, it was a small primary school, with only two other teachers, who were always in a hurry to return to their families after an intensive day of teaching.

It’s a sink or swim situation. In my case, I sank to the bottom.

Not enough support from the principal or the system

The school principals in Israel are the busiest people I have ever seen. They are only available for the first two meetings when you get interviewed for the job, and then you become like a neglected date.

You will occasionally meet your principal in the corridor. She or he will give you most generous smile and ask, “Ma nishma?” (That means how are you in Hebrew). Do not be under any illusion; this expression is just a polite Israeli way to say hello. He or she doesn’t have the time to hear you out.

Do not expect too much from the Ministry of Education either, in the best case they will make sure you get your salary paid after two months. And G-d saves you from getting into disputes with parents of misbehaving kids, most probably the principal will back up the overprotective parents, leaving you feeling desperately lonely and unprofessional.

Ministry officials generally transmit a message that the kids misbehave because you are not a good teacher. That is what the Ministry-contracted teaching expert told other new teachers and me at the meeting organized in our district. I could talk more about this bizarre orientation meeting for new teachers, that for some unknown reason took place in the middle of the school year. I will only mention one other alarming tip from the ministry’s expert. She literally said — do not show in the teachers’ room that you are not managing, you never know who to trust. I believe it was intended to help new teachers navigate the cultural nuances of Israeli schools. However, I got scared even more. Finally, I realized I was in the middle of a very dysfunctional system.

With these three primary reasons that I brought up, you’re probably wondering — am I trying to discourage people from teaching English in Israel? Absolutely not.

I’m sharing these challenges and my personal story to help future teachers avoid the pitfalls and become better prepared. Also, I hope to start the discussion to encourage more experienced teachers to share their advice. It’s crucial to be honest with the faults in the system and not just to blame the “difficult kids” or write off all of your struggles to cultural differences. On the contrary, I have met the most amazing and talented kids in Israeli schools.

I wish I reached out to other experienced teachers before quitting, or, even better, before starting my first teaching job. I would have more realistic expectations and would have adapted better to a challenging and foreign environment of an Israeli school. I also wish my other local Israeli friends, who are in the teaching world, would tell me their own stories openly. Only after I hit bottom, a few people called to say they have been in the same place and chose private teaching, which brings more income and satisfaction. Well, I did not expect to buy an apartment from my teaching salary, nor did I hope to get an award for bravery. I was trying to be useful in this new country, that I now call my home.

Have you ever taught or still teach English in Israel? Would you agree with the challenges? Are they common? Leave a comment below.

About the Author
Nadia Katzir is a young woman from Russia - Siberia, who came to live in Israel and loves it. As someone, who chose to be in Israel not as a returning Jew, she could not count on the extended family network, the institutional help of absorption or Jewish agencies. Nadia made her way based on the social connections found, mainly through her networking and social media. She writes about people, who inspire immigrants, create art, communities, opportunities and her life in Israel. Nadia worked in different international cooperation, education and NGO promoting projects in Russia and Israel.
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