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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
In the wake of the claims and counter-claims surrounding the current high-school teachers' strike, the only thing clearly emerging these days from Israeli classrooms is chaos and confusion. Everyone accepts that the problems of the education system are severe, but there's little agreement on how to address them.
The following true-or-false test might help clarify the issues for average Israelis.
True or false? Teachers are underpaid, but they work short hours. They should be paid less than full-time workers.
A. True and false. That teachers are underpaid is a truism accepted by all. But when it comes to the question of hours, the rules that our math teachers taught us simply get broken.
For example, "24 hours" (a full-time position for high school teachers) equals far more than 24 hours. Beginning teachers, especially, spend countless hours preparing and planning lessons. Teachers in the higher grades stay up later than their teenage pupils, grading tests and assignments. June may be the month of blooming flowers, weddings, and young love, but teachers frantically trying to complete grading for report cards rarely enjoy the beauties of late spring days or nights.
New approaches to pupil assessment, including journals and portfolios, have added significantly to a dedicated teacher's workload, as have the special dispensations granted to students with learning difficulties.
Q. True or false? Okay, teachers work many extra hours at home, but at least they come home early.
A. False, again. Many principals and department coordinators demand weekly meetings outside class time; and then there are those endless parent-teacher nights. Generally, teachers spend many extra hours inside schools, outside the classroom, meeting with pupils, colleagues, parents and administrators.
Study and enrichment courses also add hours to the teacher's weekly schedule.
Sure, your friends who work in hi-tech also come home late regularly, but they drive home in a company car, partly subsidized by taxpayers, while teachers drag themselves home by bus from some late-night meeting or course because they can't even afford a taxi. Somehow, it makes the day seem longer.
Q. True or false? Teachers work hard during the year, but they have that long summer vacation. Eight weeks doing nothing - they can sit at the beach while others are still sweating in their offices.
A. False again. Yes, the classrooms are closed in July and August. But most teachers are running to meetings, conferences and courses during the first two weeks of "vacation." In the final weeks, they're gearing up for next year, preparing lessons, decorating classrooms, meeting with principals. Somewhere in there they might get four or five weeks off - not all that much more than other workers in Israel, and with a lot less money to use for vacation travel.
Q. True or false? Okay, teachers have it tough - 40 students in a class, discipline problems, irate parents who blame their failures on teachers, long hours of preparation and grading, extra hours without extra money for meetings, lousy working conditions, miserable pay.
That's why the teaching profession doesn't attract the best and the brightest people. Today's teachers can't teach.
A. False, false, and false again. Although the difficult conditions have turned many fine potential teachers off the profession, and some of the best veteran teachers I know have left for other, less stressful, better-paying professions, by and large the teachers I know, train, and work with are bright and caring and see their profession as a calling, and not just a job. That's why they stay on, despite the problems. And that's why they deserve to work with better conditions and for better pay, and why they deserve our respect, gratitude, and help.
AS A teacher, I've always steered clear of assigning true-and-false tests, which shrink large ideas and issues into simple dichotomies. This true-and-false test certainly won't resolve the large and complex problem of teachers' status in society; but if it helps readers better understand and appreciate the men and women who teach their children, perhaps it will be a small step toward rebuilding our educational system.
For the way we take care of and teach our children is, in the final analysis, the real test of a successful, flourishing society.
The writer is chair of the English Department at Michlalah-Jerusalem College, a teacher-training institution.
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