Our teachers need a 'quiet riot'

Not only is there a simple solution to improve the quality of teaching in Israel, but it doesn't involve rocket science or cost a single shekel.

A bit less shouting in class. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A bit less shouting in class.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Education has always been extremely important to me, and I knew by the age of 10 that I would be a teacher when I grew up. I not only taught math to high school students, but also how to teach math to elementary teachers who mostly didn’t like math and hadn’t learned very much about it. When I was pregnant I did supply teaching, so I also have experience teaching English, history, geography, citizenship and science. Now that I’m retired, my interest in education hasn’t abated.
The flurry of articles appearing recently about test scores and quality of teaching have raised many valid points, but how much longer will we continue to ignore the elephant in the classroom? The best, most highly educated and highly paid teachers in a school with an outstanding principal and ideal class sizes of between 20 and 25 students still will not be able to produce the expected results. Why not? Because the students are so busy shouting – to make themselves heard above the others who are also talking – that they can hear neither the teacher nor questions and comments by other students.
Thanks to the program, unfortunately now discontinued, “Gimlaim Chozrim Letichon” (Seniors Return to High School), I sat in on several different classes during one school year. At least a third of each class, often more, was spent on the teacher trying to quiet down the students.
I was there not to learn the subject matter (although I did actually learn a bit), but rather to improve my ability to understand fast-talking Hebrew-speakers, many of whom not only speak too quickly but also slur words. I was astounded at the constant interruptions by students, whether a teacher or another student was speaking at the same time.
Is there a solution? Not only is there a solution, but it doesn’t take rocket science or a single shekel to implement. It just requires a decision on the part of the staff of every school to insist that only one person speak at any single time. That’s it! If a teacher or student is interrupted, the teacher will ring a bell or bang a hammer, or use whatever method is easy for him to quickly stop everyone from speaking. When the room is quiet, the person who was interrupted can continue.
It may take up to three days with very little learning taking place while the students get used to the new rule – that they can speak only after being recognized by the teacher – but after that, the full class period can be spent in learning. Test scores will improve dramatically because our young people are extremely capable and need only be given the opportunity to actually learn during class hours. Students in the first grade can easily abide by this rule.
Since all classrooms will be more relaxed when the need for aggressive shouting is removed, one side effect will likely be much less noise and running in the hallways. Perhaps it may be necessary to also set rules of “no running or pushing in the hallway” and “a cellphone seen by a teacher in a classroom will be taken from the student, whether or not it is actually being used.”
When I volunteered to teach English at a high school for girls in Jerusalem, I first sat in on two very noisy English classes, where for the first time ever I heard teachers shouting. I was then given small groups of girls who were having trouble learning English and apparently other subjects as well. By the second session with each group, everyone understood that only one person was permitted to speak at a time, and that I would confiscate their mobile phone if I caught sight of it, although I was assured that no other teacher did that. The roof didn’t fall in and the girls and their teachers were extremely pleased with the improvement in fluency.
Please let’s immediately adopt this simple, effective technique throughout the country: only one person speaks at a time. Then the other excellent suggestions can be implemented as funds become available.
The author has an M.A. in mathematics and has worked as a teacher, mathematician and computer programmer.