Pilot Program Expands Israeli Student Teachers’ Hours and Duties

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An illustrative image of a classroom in Jerusalem. Credit: Emil Salman

Third-year education students in Israel will work as classroom teachers three times a week next year in 100 kindergartens, elementary and junior high schools under a new pilot program.

Academia-Classroom is in effect a scaled-down version of a broader project the Education Ministry had begun to draft under former Education Minister Shay Piron.

The initial goal was to ameliorate classroom overcrowding by reducing the student-teacher ratio. Now the ministry is touting the plan as an advanced reform in teacher training. The cost of the program is estimated at 30 million shekels ($7.63 million) for the 2015-16 school year.

Under the program, teacher-training schools and programs will partner with schools and kindergartens in coordination with the ministry and local governments. The student teachers will be involved with the schools three days a week for between 12 and 16 hours a week. They are to spend 70 percent of the time in the classroom, working with and observing the teacher, tutoring students individually and teaching the entire class. The remaining 30 percent will be spent on other school activities, including projects they initiate. The student teachers will receive stipends for their participation.

The ministry’s declarations notwithstanding, the report of the strategy team assigned to the project still cites resolving classroom overcrowding as one of the project’s objectives. There are more than 9,000 classrooms in Israel from kindergarten through ninth grade with more than 32 children in each.

“Dividing the heavily populated classrooms is not possible because of a lack of construction and physical infrastructure for additional classrooms, as well as the impossible requirement to double the number of teachers,” the report notes. “The teacher training institutions will thus be able to make a contribution to coping with the challenges of overpopulated classrooms by integrating instructors-in-training as a significant part of the school teaching staff.”

Eyal Ram of the ministry’s Training and Professional Development Administration explained that this was an effort to deal with several fundamental problems in the system.

“We want to make teacher training more connected to the field, so that a teacher won’t enter a school after his academic studies and find the system totally different from what he thought,” Ram said. “Studies elsewhere in the world have shown that not only does this make the entrance into teaching much better and that teachers burn out less and drop out less, it also improves pupil achievement.”

Prof. Tzipi Liebman, president of the Kibbutzim College of Education and a member of the strategy team, added, “I see this as strengthening the role of the college. If it’s done right, teacher training will get a tremendous boost and it will create joint knowledge and a synergy in the creation of knowledge. I’m still a little skeptical of the compensation system for the teachers and student teachers. Now it’s just a scholarship; it could be that it will require a more expensive model; this, too, will have to be examined.”

A source familiar with the details of the plan said, however, “There’s still a problem with allowing students who haven’t finished their training into a classroom to teach alone, as if you could just put anyone in a classroom, especially when one of the principles they are trying to stress with this program is strengthening teaching as a profession.”

Each school will appoint a staff member to coordinate the project, and the teacher to whom the student teacher is assigned will be given two hours a week to mentor him or her instead of two hours of classroom teaching. Every district will appoint a half-time inspector and a steering committee comprised of representatives from the ministry, the local council and the participating academic institutions.

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