Israel Needs to Learn How to Help Arab Teachers

Possible solutions include hiring of Arab teachers in Jewish schools and broadening career choices. ‘The options open to a Jew who graduates and an Arab aren’t equal,’ says one Arab graduate.

Souhad Banna from Nazareth,who graduated with an English degree in 2016. "The options open to a Jew who graduates and an Arab aren’t equal," she says.
Rami Shllush

Arab teachers and students are outraged by the Education Ministry’s plan to reduce the number of Arab teachers by cutting funding for Arab teacher-training colleges. They say the decision will harm mainly women and are demanding that Arab teachers be hired in Jewish schools, too.

Students and teachers acknowledge that is a surplus of Arab teachers – an estimated 11,000 are unemployed in northern Israel. Nevertheless, they say, the ministry’s proposed “solution,” as reported in Haaretz last week, is worthless.

Instead of figuring out how to get more Arab teachers into Jewish schools – today, Arab teachers work almost exclusively in Arab schools – the ministry is merely imposing an additional burden on a group whose employment prospects are already far less promising than they are for Jews.

“I have no problem working in a Jewish or Arab school; the best would be a joint school,” says Nazareth’s Souhad Banna, who graduated with a teacher’s degree in English this year.

“You’ve finished your studies. You go to the Education Ministry to register. There’s a line, there’s a number, and there are teachers I know who finished 10 years ago and still haven’t worked because their turn hasn’t arrived yet,” she says.

She’s registered for a master’s degree at Tel Aviv University and is looking for work in the Tel Aviv area, just two months before the school year starts. Although Banna is optimistic about finding a job, she’s pessimistic about the overall situation. She doesn’t want to call it racism, she says, but notes, “The options open to a Jew who graduates and an Arab aren’t equal.”

“If you want there to be fewer teachers, propose an alternative,” says Katef Murad Salame, a lecturer at Oranim Academic College. “The solution can’t be discrimination – and blatant discrimination at that.”

The problem, says Salame, isn’t “a surplus of teachers, but a glass ceiling: Arabs can’t hold many jobs in this country, so for lack of any other choice they go into teaching.”

One of the main reasons it’s difficult to employ Arab teachers in Jewish schools is objections voiced by Jewish parents. A survey published by the Gordon College of Education a few months ago found that 41 percent of Jewish parents said Arab teachers shouldn’t teach predominantly Jewish classes.

Shlomi Dahan, the principal of Haifa’s Ironi Heh High School, believes that “walls of alienation” are preventing Arab teachers being employed in predominantly Jewish schools.

Souheil Zaidan.
Rami Shllush

“When I look for a teacher and ask for CVs, almost no Arab teachers apply,” he says. “It’s the chicken and the egg. Maybe they don’t apply because they were rejected in other places.”

Two Arab teachers are employed in his school, out of a total of 150 teachers. Most Jewish schools have no Arab teachers at all.

Northern glut, southern shortage

Even in Haifa, where the city and municipality support joint Arab and Jewish life, “it’s not Arab teachers’ natural choice to teach in Jewish schools. They have to overcome a psychological barrier,” says Dahan.

Roan Abu Salah, of Sulam village near Afula, is one teacher who did cross that line. She believes it’s important to offer the opportunity to as many Arab teachers as possible. “I think Arab teachers aren’t sufficiently aware of the possibilities. If they could have opportunities like I had in my school, it would be great,” she says.

Abu Salah is about to begin her ninth year teaching Hebrew grammar and Arabic in the Regional High School at Neveh Eitan, near Beit She’an. She says she was never subjected to offensive remarks there and enjoys excellent relations with the parents.

“I think it’s an ideal place – there aren’t many like it, and that’s a shame,” she says.

Despite the glut of Arab teachers in the north, there’s a shortage of them in the south. Consequently, in order to earn a living, many teachers must either relocate down south or suffer a several-hour commute.

Rula, who lives in the Upper Galilee, taught for six years near the Negev town of Hura. She got married three years ago and switched to a part-time position up north.

She says the commute to Hura was a six-hour round trip: “I’d get up at 4 A.M. and get home at about 7:30 P.M.”

After completing her teacher’s degree, Rula went on to be a certified guidance counselor. But she still works as a teacher, because “there are no jobs for guidance counselors.”

She says she also has friends who live in Be’er Sheva all week and return home to see their husbands and children in the north on weekends. Rula herself lived in Be’er Sheva for a while, but had no friends there.

“As a Christian, it was hard for me to be there, because I was outside my community,” she explains. “Down south, there’s a different culture, with less freedom for women.”

Souheil Zaidan, 30, originally studied law, but retrained as a teacher. While in law school, he founded an organization that helps schools fight violence by teaching them about the law. And that convinced him he’d like to combine the two professions.

He finds it equally hard to find jobs in either profession. He finished his teaching degree six months ago, but still hasn’t found even part-time work. He’s thinking about moving down south. Since his fiancée is also studying for a teaching degree, that could be a good solution for both of them.

Dr. Mary Totary of Oranim Academic College says the Education Ministry’s decision will be particularly hard on Arab women.

“Because women’s entry into the workforce hasn’t caused any significant change in the division of labor within the family, women prefer professions that are suited to their being mothers and prefer a job close to home – partly because of the lack of [public] transportation,” she says. “Therefore, many go into teaching. This has to be changed.”

Today, Totary notes, there are also Arab women studying engineering, which wasn’t the case when she was young. But many still see teaching as the “ideal job” for a housewife and mother.