Retrained English Teacher Says Officials Only Interested in Putting Him 'In His Place'

When Avi Levy left his English teaching position in a large Tel Aviv high school at the beginning of this month, it was not because of the kids' poor discipline or their low level of knowledge. Levy, who had begun teaching after completing the Education Ministry's expedited retraining program for English teachers, said "I came to the conclusion that contempt for teachers, especially the new ones, is deeply entrenched, especially by those who are meant to support us, from ministry officials to school administration. There is an intentional process of breaking the spirit of the new teachers, who have to be humiliated so that they can 'learn their place.'"

Levy, 31, grew up in Europe, and has an undergraduate degree in English and French literature from Yale University in the United States. For the past three years he taught English in various enrichment programs. Last year he was accepted to the first retraining program for "outstanding university graduates," which attracted mainly people from the field of high tech, and similar programs have been opened for math and science teachers.

Levy says the five-month program, "did not train me to actually teach." He said that despite many requests from participants, there had not been even one lesson in classroom management.

"I was surprised to find myself teaching special education classes, without any training for it," he said.

Levy says his training was completely unsuited to what he found in the classroom. "Many of the kids don't know how to conjugate basic verbs like 'to have' or 'to be,' don't know pronouns, have a very limited vocabulary, and even in eighth grade, don't know the alphabet. The training we received painted a false picture, as if non-readers were a marginal phenomenon."

According to Levy, he was teaching at a third or fourth grade level, while the demands of the Education Ministry were entirely different.

Levy said he dealt with the students' lack of knowledge by lowering his expectations, as it appeared to him the veteran teachers did.

But it was his treatment at the hands of school administration that led to his decision to resign, he says. It started when the vice-principal raised her voice to him in front of students, scolding him for having "contempt for the system" because he allowed students to write with a pencil in their notebooks, which is against the rules. Later, in the teachers lounge, in the presence of teachers and the school's administrative director, she said Levy was "damaging the school."

"After many conversations with veteran teachers and with my colleagues in the retraining program, I understood that the humiliating attitude toward new teachers was everywhere. It was not by chance that I got the weakest and the hardest classes. When I asked why I had been pushed into this depressing place, I was told 'that's the way it's done.' Instead of pedagogy, administration has taken over the school," Levy says.

Levy said the schools blurred the truth by leaning on sayings like "everyone goes home crying for the first year or two." However, he says the crying was not because of the students, but because of the lack of support.

Levy said the Education Ministry was also to blame for his resignation, including the fact that the supervisor announced their assignments to schools in very brief meetings and that they had to chase down officials to get paid during the first months. "If we're so important to the ministry, why are we treated like this? The supervisors should have looked into each of our backgrounds to discover where we could contribute best. They should have dealt with the antagonism the [expedited] program arouses in regular teachers, not let us drown in a sea of bureaucracy."

The principal of the school where Levy had worked said yesterday: "Anyone who thinks a teacher can be trained in a few weeks or months is wrong. It cheapens the profession of teaching ... especially when the new teacher has no teaching ability."

The Education Ministry said the English teacher retraining program has been "very successful" and "95 percent of the graduates are now teaching."

The ministry declined to comment on Levy's remarks about the training.