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"Israeli schoolchildren are extremely difficult. They can be headstrong, hard to teach and make you want to tear your hair out."
Such was the type of warnings I received before making aliya last September and declaring my intention to be an English teacher. While I'd been a teacher for eight years in the United States, all the warnings made me think twice and three times about teaching here. I'm glad I didn't listen.
Soon after I made aliya, with the help of a dear friend, I found my first Israeli job, teaching English to two eighth-grade public-school classes in Petah Tikva. I walked into the job not knowing what to expect, but quickly learned that my fears (and the warnings I'd heard) were completely unfounded.
Sure, I had difficulty reaching kids, as I've had in any school I've ever worked at. As I believe exists in virtually every school in the world. But nothing so terrible as was described to me. In fact, in many cases, quite the opposite was true.
ABOUT A MONTH ago, one of my students decided to "friend" me on Facebook.
I'm not one of those teachers who is an automaton in class, never discussing anything but the subject matter I teach (I famously talked baseball with my students back in the States, for instance, and sometimes even incorporated it into my lessons). However, at the same time, I make it a policy not to cross certain lines regarding access to personal information, both my own and my students'. It was because of this concern that I hesitated before agreeing to confirm her as a Facebook "friend."
After debating for more than a week, I decided there was nothing in my Facebook profile she didn't already know - my name, what city I live in and that I'm a teacher. In fact, anyone visiting my Facebook profile hoping to learn about my favorite bands, who I voted for in the elections or what I think of this or that actor will be sorely disappointed. Given these considerations, it seemed there was no harm in confirming her as a "friend."
I'D FORGOTTEN, however, that there was one piece of information that I hadn't told my students which she would find there - my birth date. I assume that's how they found out.
Recently, I celebrated by 35th birthday and my first since making aliya. It was a school day, and like any other day, I was at work early in the morning.
The girl who had "friended" me on Facebook came to find me and asked me to get to class early. It was at that point that I knew something was up, but I could never have imagined what.
I'd thought perhaps they would sing happy birthday. Maybe they'd even brought a cake - both sweet gestures to be certain and in and of themselves worthy of writing this column. However, seeing the effort they put in, I was simply speechless. They'd decorated the entire room with balloons, streamers and confetti. On the board, they'd written "Happy Birthday" and "We love you." And of course there was the requisite homemade cake.
As if this were not special enough, they proudly presented me with a gift the entire class had chipped in to buy. It was a clock; but not just any clock.
They'd chosen this one especially for me because it included on its face a standard clock and within that, two smaller clocks, telling time in London and New York. Since they knew I was from New York, they'd wanted something that would make me feel at ease in the country I've chosen to call home, while reminding me of the place I used to call home.
During the party that ensued, one of the kids asked me if I had any family here. When I answered that I didn't, he responded, "We're your family." It was at that moment, surrounded by children who I'd only met a few months before but whom I'd come to care for as if they were indeed my own flesh and blood, that I realized I really had come home.
The writer is a recent immigrant. He has been a teacher for eight years and has been writing professionally for three. His Facebook profile remains quite bare.