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The Education Ministry is launching a new, multiyear program for teachers' professional development that revamps previous rules on teachers' continuing education.

The program, which will begin on November 1, will initially be applied to some 20,000 teachers who have joined the New Horizon educational reform. Eventually, however, it will apply to all education workers, including special-education teachers and guidance counselors.

Under the New Horizon reform, every 180 hours of continuing education entitles a teacher to a 7.5 percent raise, which is one reason why the new program is only being introduced gradually. This year, the ministry has budgeted NIS 18 million for it, but eventually its annual budget will reach NIS 90 million.

The program, which was formulated over a period of several months by teachers, principals, ministry supervisors, academic experts and representatives of the Teachers Union, lays down guidelines for what a teacher must have learned at each stage of his professional development. It defines four such stages: entry level, meaning teachers in their first three years on the job; initial consolidation (teachers with four to six years of experience); advanced consolidation (seven to 10 years on the job); and expert (more than 10 years' experience). At each of these stages, teachers will be required to complete 60 hours of course work per year.

In the past, teachers were also required to take a certain number of courses, but were allowed to study anything they pleased. Now, they will be required to choose courses from among 200 ministry-approved subjects.

Moreover, the teacher will have to choose which courses to take in coordination with the principal. These will generally be either courses in the teacher's field or in pedagogy, but entry-level teachers will also be able to take courses aimed at helping them cope with the difficulties of the teaching profession.

Most of the lecturers are slated to come from either the universities or the teacher training colleges.

Predictably, not all teachers are happy with the new rules. "Every school has its internal politics, and there's a danger that principals will use their new power against the teachers," said one veteran elementary school teacher. "I know better than anyone else what continuing education I need."

But Dr. Yitzhak Tomer, deputy director general of the Education Ministry, praised the program. "This is the first time there has been a program to build an 'employment horizon' for teachers that takes their entire career path into account," he said. "Every education worker will be able to log on to the computer and see what he is expected to learn in the coming years."

If a teacher wishes to learn something that is not included on the ministry's list, Tomer said, he can request special permission. But in general, "while there will be a certain level of personal choice, we are definitely trying to steer the teachers into defined developmental paths."