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Hot Spot Interview — Report From Israel

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Three years ago, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, thanks to an introduction by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, I’m interviewing Judih Weinstein Haggai from Israel, who also took the photos in this post.

What do you teach, where do you teach, and to whom do you teach?

I teach EFL to kids from seventh to twelfth grades. I seem to work with the ADHD set (although that has become a given throughout our student population) and those who are special ed (dyslexia, dysgraphia), as well as those who are slow starters for various reasons.
I work in a school that combines two once separate populations: from our kibbutz settlements as well as from moshav (rural farming) settlements. This particular school is in its fourth year and was built as a hi-tech building, fortified against rocket attack.

Nofei Habsor is in the area just east of the Gaza Strip,and fortification is essential for our students’ safety.

I also teach puppetry to a select group of pupils in the eighth and ninth grades. We build our puppets and work on our own skits.

I am mentoring morning meditation sessions in the seventh and eighth grades, which fortifies me for the day along with the pupils and their teachers who do it with me.

What led you to become an English teacher and, in particular, to teaching where you are now?

I was in an experimental children’s theatre troupe a long time ago and started to work with kids to write their own plays. When I moved to Israel, I wanted to begin a similar English Children’s Theatre. When I asked for a grant from the Jewish Agency, they suggested that I become an English teacher and bring my theatre into the classroom. At the time, my friends encouraged me to take the required courses to upgrade my BA in Literature to a English teacher’s degree and licence. I did, got all the required paperwork, but continued in my career as a puppeteer. I found myself teaching PuppetEnglish in small workshops and then easing into the school system as parents asked that I teach native English speakers with my methods.

At the same time, I began working with BBC computer programs to teach beginning readers and I was delighted to see that dyslexic children, bright children loved learning with games and attractive tactile applications. This was in 1989.

I moved into regular school teaching and have been in my current job since 1995.

How does the Israeli/Palestinian conflict affect you and your students in your lives and in your teaching and learning?

Most of our students have lived their lives under threat. They don’t remember the period of peace we enjoyed. Our kibbutz had workers from Gaza and we had very friendly relationships until the start of the Intifada. At the time, the workers found themselves labelled as ‘collaborators’ if they came to work for us, and so that was that.

Our students have been brought up in an atmosphere of tension and with each rocketfall, we have to work harder to suggest that one day peace may be possible.

The teachers are more optimistic than the students, and there are projects to work for co-existence. Adele could tell you about the projects she’s been involved in.

I have students who have worked with JITLI, a project to work with Jewish, Arab and European youth to promote leadership for peace.

However, in general, the situation is simply part of our daily lives. We live mostly in relative quiet, but we are in constant alert. Many students show signs of anxiety, many are unable to focus, but perhaps that’s a general statement for the new generation all over the world.

We look for ways to capture their interest and have them self-motivate. We use digital methods when applicable, and subject matter that speaks to them.

If during our schoolday there’s a warning alert, we stay inside our classrooms and continue to study, or if we’re outside in our beautiful landscaped campus, we duck into a building or shelter.

Normal life is simply normal! Students and teachers study, meet at breaks, and take tests, do exams, projects, etc.

At the end of the day, students go home on buses and we are in touch via What’s App. Regular school patterns!

What do you see happening in the next few years — do you predict any kind of beginning resolution to the conflict?

I predict that it will take a while for the conflict to subside. It will take something unusual to shake us all into the realization that peace is the only operative choice. It might take a natural disaster, or a brilliant set of leaders, but the solution is coming.

This young generation must be encouraged to see that solution in the making, as it will be in their hands. Our job is to encourage that vision and to promote the independent creative form of thinking that is required to build that peaceful resolution.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

I’m heading a project creating a live bridge between pupils in Albany New York and our kids in the seventh grade (the top picture is of students involved in that project). We talk by google hangout, and chat, as well as sharing youtube clips and regular mail messages. I’m participating in a special project of educators and entrepreneurs called MIndCet. We’re working on EdTech to promote learning.

Personal details: I am vegan, with four children. I have blogs, I write daily morning haiku. I live on a kibbutz in the Western Negev..I love MOOCs, from Coursera or iversity. That’s about it for now.

Thanks, Judih!

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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