In what may be the beginning of a revolt by the country's English teachers, over 30 English department heads at Jerusalem-area schools have signed a petition saying they will refuse to implement a proposed revision of the literature section for the English matriculation (bagrut) exams, because of widespread dissatisfaction with the syllabus.
The petition, which was sent along with a letter two weeks ago to both Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Education Ministry Director-General Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, states that teachers' concerns over the new program have not been addressed, save for "a few very minor alterations," and that the ministry's English Inspectorate, with whom the teachers first discussed their reservations, had given the issue "no real consideration."
"Although we all enjoy teaching literature and recognize its value, we unanimously refuse to implement the program as it stands now," the letter read.
"We insist that implementation be delayed until the problems, concerns and issues raised by the teachers in the field are dealt with in an acceptable manner."
In addition to the petition, the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO), has also declared that its members will not attend the in-service training course that qualifies teachers for the new program, meaning that the "rebellion" could spread beyond the Jerusalem area.
"We fully support the English teachers in this matter," a union spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "We understand their concerns, and that the amount of work this new program would add to their already heavy load is completely unacceptable."
While one Jerusalem-area teacher told the Post that the current impasse would not likely result in a teachers' strike, it could cause "much confusion" if this program were forced on the teaching staff, only a few years after the English exam had undergone other major changes.
"A lot of teachers just aren't ready to take this new program on," the Jerusalem-area teacher, who requested anonymity, said. "But if they are forced to implement it, I don't see how they'd even be ready to begin teaching by the beginning of next year."
Moreover, the teacher added, those who had already participated in the training course for the program had given the ministry negative feedback on what they had seen.
"These are experienced teachers who have been teaching for a long time," the teacher said. "It's as if the [Education Ministry] doesn't trust our intuition."
K., a Tel Aviv-area English teacher, said that she would refuse to implement the new program no matter what the consequence, saying that the new requirements "took the joy" out of teaching English Literature.
"It's killing one of the last things that English teachers treasure, which is literature," said K., who has been teaching for 34 years. "I will refuse to implement it, and if they fire me, then they fire me."
Explaining that one of the aspects of the new program was the introduction of "higher and lower-order thinking skills," K. said that forcing on teachers a uniform method of presenting concepts that they currently have more creative freedom to explain would "take all the fun out of teaching."
"I like to read Robert Frost poetry with my students," K. said. "But now, instead of discussing the passages of poetry - what they mean or how they make the pupils feel - I'll have to ask them about 'cause-and-affect analysis' and other highly technical phrasings, that in my opinion, will be lost on pupils whose mother tongue is not English."
Another addition to the previous syllabus is a writing log, which pupils could submit in lieu of one of the exam's modules, K. noted.
"Not only will it take forever to grade these logs," K. said, "they're almost impossible to assess, because the material is all subjective, it's all arguable."
Other teachers also complained about the logs, claiming that they would increase the teacher's input into a pupil's final matriculation score from the current 50 percent to 62.5%.
"That leaves a lot for room for abuse," said the Jerusalem-area teacher who had asked to remain unnamed. "Not only will teachers be pressured to give pupils better grades in order to pass them along, I'm afraid that it will decrease the value of the bagrut exams in the eyes of universities."
The Education Ministry responded with statement on Tuesday, in which it said that Dr. Judy Steiner, who heads the ministry's English Inspectorate, "rejects the teacher's complaints and said that the program is fitting for the pupils' varying levels of English."
"Dr. Steiner stresses that before the decision [to introduce the new] program was made, the ministry conducted a pilot, the findings of which indicated significant success amongst the pupils," the statement continued.
"As such, the teachers and pupils who took part in the pilot reported that it improved levels of reading, writing and comprehension."
The statement also attributed a comment to Steiner that said teachers who had made complaints about the program had yet to undergo its training course, and as such, their complaints were "unjustified."
"But teachers who did undergo the training course have given negative feedback," said the same Jerusalem-area teacher. "They're trying to force us to accept this program, and I'm afraid it's going to push a lot of the older, experienced staff out the door.
"They are refusing to listen to them," the teacher added. "No one really knows where this is going to end up.