Masa teaching fellows provide 2,500 hours of online study

Some 220 teaching fellows with the Masa Israel Journey organization came to the country last year to teach English in Israeli schools.

A businessperson working at his computer (Illustrative) (photo credit: PIXNIO)
A businessperson working at his computer (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PIXNIO)
Masa Israel teaching fellows from the Diaspora provided around 2,500 hours of online English-language classes to 20,000 Israeli pupils around the country during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Some 220 teaching fellows with the Masa Israel Journey organization, which assists Jews from the Diaspora to join educational and vocational programs in the Jewish state, came to the country last year to teach English in Israeli schools.
But with the advent of the COVID-19 epidemic in Israel in March, it appeared that their time teaching would be cut short when the government shut schools down as part of the greater country-wide lockdown.
Nevertheless, approximately 75% of the fellows decided to remain in the country and continued to teach their pupils through the use of video conferencing programs.
One such fellow was Ben Fechter, 24, originally from Columbia, South Carolina, who worked as a teacher with immigrants in Harlem, New York, and in a school in Richmond, California, before coming on Masa’s teaching fellows program.
Fechter spent the first half of his fellowship teaching in a school in the state-religious network in south Tel Aviv, and then went on to teach in an Arab school in Nazareth while living in nearby Nof Hagalil.
Despite the coronavirus shutdown, Fechter and many of his colleagues decided to stay on in Israel instead of returning to the US, and provided online lessons to their pupils.
He used various methods to keep pupils engaged with the lessons, despite not being in a classroom setting, including music, social media, and other media to keep them interested and spike their curiosity, as well as conveying the requisite course material.
“It was also about trying to give them a sense of normality, since many of the pupils after the initial period didn’t like being at home all the time, felt a bit down and that they were wasting their time,” said Fechter. “I saw my role as providing them with a stable presence in an unstable time.”
Asked why he did not return to the US, Fechter said that he felt a sense of commitment and obligation to his pupils.
“I had planned to be here for a year-long program and I felt an obligation to fulfill what I saw as a contract, my commitment to my students,” he said. “I felt leaving them high and dry would not only be negative to my students, I didn’t think it was right in a moral sense to leave them when things got bad.”
Additionally, Fechter says that he has been so inspired by his 11-month program in Israel that he has decided to make aliyah and is doing so without going back to the US, which he said would be especially difficult given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four months into the program he said he began re-evaluating his situation and eventually decided he wanted to stay in the Jewish state.
Acting CEO of Masa Israel Journey, Ofer Gutman said that this school year had obviously been very different for its teaching fellows program, but that the challenges had brought new opportunities as well.
“Our fellows produced incredible initiatives enjoyed by students across Israel who are learning English in more innovative ways than before,” said Gutman. “We wish the students and teachers an enriched and healthy summer vacation and look forward to opening our 10th Masa Israel Teaching Fellows programming year.”