Head to Head / Amos Avishar, why did you leave the U.S. to come back here and become a teacher?
'I tried to show the pupils, even in body language, that with me, there will be discipline. Limits must be clear.'
The excitement of a new school year is felt among teachers and students alike, even though regular studies will start a day late for some students because the Secondary School Teachers Association has said its members will appear in class but not teach. Amos Avishar, 30, of Rishpon, is one of the new teachers joining the school system after participating in the accelerated, five-week training program Hotem, a project of the Education Ministry, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Hakol Hinuch (the Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel ). The program's main goal is to enlist young people unconnected to the profession of teaching. Avishar holds a bachelor's degree in marine biology and had been working in the United States as an organizational consultant for an American company. This year he will guide a class of pupils with learning difficulties and teach biology to other classes in a Bat Yam high school.
Amos Avishar, why did you come back to Israel from the U.S. to become a teacher?
"I've thought about this a lot in recent weeks, and I've come to the conclusion, with a certain amount of humor, that I have no choice but to be a teacher. I've tried other things; I worked as an organizational consultant and a tour guide, and although both these fields provide satisfaction and a good salary, something was missing. Despite their compensations, these jobs weren't worth it. I would go to sleep feeling I didn't really know what I wanted to be. In contrast, when I worked with students right after I finished my bachelor's degree, I felt I was making better use of my abilities.
"We've already started work in the school, and over the last few days, I've met with almost all my pupils for one-on-one conversations. From one point of view, I'm working for free. No one is paying me, and anyway teachers' salaries are ridiculous. Still, I have the feeling I'm doing something of value."
One criticism of Hotem is that you begin working as teachers after only five weeks of training, while regular students in education study three to four years. Do you feel prepared to teach a lesson?
"Definitely. That doesn't mean I won't be excited or that everything will be perfect. The selection process was very difficult and tested this ability. I personally had been involved in guiding people before, but others in the program are concerned about beginning work as teachers. There are people who ask how can we possibly be ready after such a short preparation, especially those who have never been near the school system. The concern and criticism are completely understandable. On the other hand, the main thing is to jump into cold water straight away. The training will continue all year, and there are limits to the advantages of studying the theory of classroom management and similar subjects. Real teaching happens with the pupils."
It's a big responsibility to begin working as a teacher.
"I hesitated for a few days about accepting the principal's offer to be the homeroom teacher of a class of weak pupils. In this position one must be mother and father to the students, close to them, and I am still unfamiliar with the school system. I even thought I should work first as a regular teacher, and only then take on this responsibility. It wasn't a simple decision to make, but in the end, I accepted. After all, I joined the system to make a difference and reduce social gaps, the connection between socioeconomic levels and children's achievements.
"Some of the Hotem participants are worried - those who don't even know yet what there is to worry about ... their ability to control the class or transmit the material. But, at the same time, there's a lot of motivation, a feeling of 'just show me where the fight is.' During our training we got the feeling that we were a top team that was coming into the school system to make a difference. That cuts the fear a little."
What is your greatest fear?
"There's concern about disciplinary problems and violence among the pupils, especially in the classes I'll guide. That's why the individual talks I held are so important. I tried to show the pupils, even in body language, that with me, there will be discipline. Limits must be clear. When I asked them which teacher they liked the most in junior high, 90 percent talked about the toughest one, who did not concede anything to them and whose classes were conducted in quiet. The pupils are looking for these things. The next stage is meetings with parents, to enlist them in the changes."
How did the other teachers at the school receive the young Hotem participants, who came to "save the school system"? Does this stance upset the veteran teachers?
"The truth is that more than I feared the students, I was concerned about fitting into the system, about the conversations in the teachers' room. We have mentors in the school, who guide and assist us, among others things on this point as well. After I met my mentor, I said that at least one person would smile at me in the morning in the teachers' room, but the concern faded. The teaching staff is very supportive. In the program they talked with us a lot about modesty, to be expressed, among other ways, in the understanding that we aren't coming to change the way of the world at the school or to save the system, but to accomplish things in our little corner of the world, in the classrooms where we teach. Education is also a matter of personal example. If we succeed, our methods will be adopted by other teachers. We are entering the so-called blackboard jungle with the aspiration of bringing about deep changes in the long run. There are no quick solutions here."
How long do you think you'll remain in the school system?
"I plan to stay in the field for many years. That's my vision. But it's too soon to commit. I want to find a place where I can have a good influence on as many people as possible."