For Teachers Marching From Arad to Jerusalem, the Next Stop Is 'The Future'

The teachers left Arad at 6:30 A.M. yesterday, dressed in green T-shirts and matching caps. They were on their way to Jerusalem. A bus followed them, but they were on foot. The march followed an emergency meeting convened at Arad's ORT school by the principal, Naomi Metzad, 55, where they decided to head for Jerusalem "for the sake of the future," as their t-shirts read.

And as teachers can do so well, they divided into teams - for logistics, food, sign-making and more. Their experience in annual field trips came to the fore. One teacher encouraged them all to drink; they became especially careful when the road shoulders got too narrow.

Ilana Monk was responsible for morale. She and her husband, both teachers at ORT, have three daughters, she says while marching. "To make a decent living, to send the girls to after-school activities, to pay the mortgage, each of us has to work a job and a half," she says.

Amichai Bikerman, another ORT teacher, says he hopes the strike's outcome will be good for the whole educational system. "This is not just about pay. This is about much more," he says.

Metzad agrees. "We want the hours back that have been cut, class size reduced. That's very important to us," she says. She did not forget for a moment that she is the principal. She would stop the teachers to stretch, making them stand in an orderly line by the side of the road in the desert. She took pictures.

The protesters evinced a palpable feeling of togetherness. "For most of us, school is a second home," Tzipi Yermish, 55, says. "Arad is a small town, and we are all close to each other.

The cutbacks are hurting the sense of group solidarity, they say. "I used to have five hours a week to teach languages," Monk says. "Now it's down to three, and the students with learning difficulties drop out. It's the principal's job to supervise our classes' results."

However, tension between the principal and the teachers could not be felt yesterday. This was a unified group with a common goal.

They had passed Kseifa and Hura. The next stop would be the Shoket junction. The bus picked up some marchers, so they would be able to make it to Jerusalem by Wednesday. Shlomo Hadad, the secretary of the Secondary School Teachers Association in the south, received a phone call as he marched. It was a Teachers Union member who works at the Arad elementary school. "We want to join," she tells him. But she has no child care, so she had to stay home.

Two men stop the bus just before Shoket junction. "We're teachers from Kseifa," they say. "So join us," comes the answer. They, too, are members of the Teachers Union, they say, "but the reform has gone down the tubes."

The tension between the need to protest and their task as educators might be confusing for some, but not for Monk. "This is the best civics lesson students could have. This is education. When we were asked to come and teach by court order at the beginning of the year, we came into the classrooms with stickers that read 'I am a teacher by court order.' I believe that as educators, it's our duty to explain the situation clearly to the students."