English teachers vow to block controversial literature program
Dozens of English teachers this week said they would block the national implementation of a controversial English literature program which the Education Ministry intends to launch on September 1, Anglo File has learned.
"We will refuse to teach the program and send more letters and faxes of protest to get as many people as possible involved," said Tessa Shrem, a South African-born teacher from Jerusalem who is among the leaders of the fight against the new program.
The teachers insist that the current program be changed so that teachers are not required to grade more tests, for which they are not paid, than they already do. When the ministry has made changes in certain other subjects that required extra work, it did compensate affected teachers, according to a veteran English teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to discuss the subject.
The threat not to implement the new program for high schools may lead to a breakdown in protracted negotiations between the ministry and teachers opposing the ministry's new English literature program, which they say is pedagogically ineffective and too demanding of their time. "The Education Ministry has not addressed our concerns about the new program and we will not teach it," said Shrem.
The ministry will implement the plan nationally this school year, according to its official schedule.
Citing "additional unpaid work which the program generates," the Secondary School Teachers Association called for a boycott of the initiative after it was announced in 2008 as a pilot.
In February, the opposition group voiced its concerns and proposed postponement of the program's implementation in a meeting with the ministry's director-general, Shimshon Shoshani. The opposition group offered to continue the program as a pilot or on an optional basis until "all the problems are worked out." Shrem said Shoshani told the teachers he would take their concerns into account and respond by September 1. "We are still waiting for his answer," said Tessa Shrem.
The ministry did not reply by press time to Anglo File's query as to how it intends to address the teachers' concerns, but Michal Tzadoki, a ministry spokesperson, said the issue was being examined by Shoshani and Judy Steiner, chief inspector for English language education.
The new plan aims to give pupils tools to analyze literary text and nurture extensive student engagement in reading and writing exercises, and to reintroduce English literature into the high school curriculum. English literature was taken off the matriculation written exam in the mid-1990s, and consequently stopped being taught in some schools. "There are some schools that decided that we'll never win and that we might as well teach the program," Shrem said.
The program's opponents say it's not suitable for all students, and especially problematic for weaker pupils. Another point is that the program uses literature "as a vehicle to teach thinking skills instead of actually teaching literature," according to Shrem.
In January, the ministry announced that testing on the new program - known as HOTS, an acronym for Higher Order Thinking Skills - would begin only in 2013 instead of 2012, but teaching on a national level would commence this school year, scheduled to start Wednesday. The curriculum appears in this year's school books.
Canada-born Linda Winter, a retired English teacher from the Galilee, said that "many schools will start implementing the HOTS program next month despite the boycott. There are many teachers who like the program, though it is not perfect, and schools that participated in pilots have given some positive feedback."
Anat Zohar, the ministry's director of pedagogic affairs, said the new program "suits all pupils in their different levels," adding that teachers were responsible for "supporting pupils with difficulties in text analyses."
In an attempt to strengthen dialogue between teachers, the education ministry's English inspectorate recently launched an English-language website which offers teachers to join "partnerships" - small groups of education professionals who exchange information and advice online.
Meanwhile, the anti-HOTS teachers set up a Facebook page which functions as the group's message board. It has 74 members.