Instead of Dividing Classrooms by Half, Education Ministry Moves to Double Teachers per Class

Teacher trainees would enter classrooms to cut pupil-teacher ratio, according to new Ministry reform.

Emil Salman

The Education Ministry is devising another reform, this time in the wake of the “sardine protest” over crowded conditions in the classrooms. According to the new plan, students in their third year of teacher training would join veteran teachers in the classroom and run them jointly, thereby lowering the number of students per teacher without a need for opening new classrooms, a complex, expensive proposition.

The plan is being headed up by the ministry’s new deputy director general, Eyal Ram, a former head of the Institute for Democratic Education at the Kibbutzim College of Education. Education Ministry and teachers’ college officials are discussing the plan, and the ministry’s goal is to have a blueprint for the “One classroom, two teachers” program at the end of November. The plan would also change how teachers are trained by consolidating most of their academic work in their first two years, allowing them to teach in the schools in their third year, with their fourth year continuing to be set aside for interning.

For now, though, the program has no budget. The Education Ministry does not plan to pay the third-year education students who will be co-teaching in classrooms. Nor will the ministry pay the veteran teachers for mentoring them on how to teach a class of some 40 students. There isn’t even a budget for the overtime hours this mentoring would require.

A source familiar with the plan, and opposed to it, said, “The real story here is that they will take a student of education or an intern, a first-year teacher, and throw him into a classroom. The question is, Who will be mainly responsible for the teaching? Will it be divided between the two of them?

“Of course not,” continued the source, “because the one in charge is the veteran teacher. He himself is mentoring a young teacher and won’t receive any compensation for that. They’re giving the teachers a new task – to teach students how to be teachers. In addition, the one who will naturally continue to be responsible and be required to give an accounting of the students’ achievements and discipline is the veteran teacher, who now also has an intern to take care of.”

The source added that “a new teacher who enters a classroom is a problem in itself. He has difficulty with the course material and with classroom management, and his salary is low relative to that of a veteran teacher. He still can’t be a real teacher. And there’s another question: What happens with teachers who don’t want to take part in the initiative, if it’s decided to have it in their school?”

However, another leading expert in teacher training said, “This is a revolutionary idea that is still being formulated, and if properly implemented it could totally change both the schools and teacher training. The new teachers will get real experience in the field while they are still students.” This expert noted, however, that it is unconscionable to ask students to teach for free, and that funds must be found to pay them.

The “sardine protest” against classroom overcrowding erupted last May, following a decision by Education Ministry director general Michal Cohen to prohibit local authorities from paying for new classrooms. Cohen said it would be unfair to students in local authorities that cannot afford such outlays. e Parents demonstrated all over the country, threatening to block the start of the new school year, and attended a Knesset Education Committee discussion of the issue, at which Education Minister Shay Piron told them he had appointed a team to handle the problem, but that it couldn’t be solved immediately.

Yet Cohen’s order was postponed for a year, and the new classes that had been opened with local authrority money, then closed by ministry, were reopened. Piron hinted that the solution might not lie in the construction of new classrooms, but by bringing another teacher into existing ones. Among the 34 economically advanced countries in the OECD, Israel is near the wrong end of the spectrum for classroom size.