Saturday, April 20, 2013

Smells Like Israeli Teen Spirit

Shalom, chaverim! With schoolwork and "work" work increasing at an ever-frenzied pace, you may have noticed that my blog posts have become less frequent. This will probably continue until the end of the school year, which in Israel comes at the end of June. These days, my days are filled with running from one lesson to another, and if I'm not teaching, I'm either preparing to teach, or am cleaning up the "residue" of teaching (i.e. grading papers). When I'm not doing that, I'm studying how to be a better teacher and writing papers about it. My stepmother recalls that at a party she once attended, she met a new couple.  Enunciating each syllable with extreme precision, they said, loftily, "We are educators," by way of introduction. I'm not an "educator," I'm a teacher, and am so grateful to be one here.

The kids crack me up every single day, which makes coming to work a joy--albeit an exhaustion-inducing kind of joy at times. One girl in my 9th-grade remedial class deigns to take notes, but prefers instead to take pictures of the whiteboard with her cellphone after I've painstakingly filled it with carefully presented and "scaffolded" information. Given the big international pedagogic wheeze about turning our students into "digital learners in the e-classroom," her approach seems both elegant and logical. Too bad the testing procedures still insist that she actually writes answers by hand, with--gasp--a pencil, rather than text-messaging in her "evidence of competence." Making my best effort to put on an Emily Littella/Church Lady voice, I remind her of this fact frequently. "Osnat," (not her real name), "you need to practice writing English by hand, otherwise you won't be able to write quickly on the exams and you will lose points because of it." With a well-rehearsed shrug, a Gallic frown, and a fully raised eyebrow, Osnat tosses her hair and replies "mah la'asot?" This translates roughly as "whaddya gonna do?" Remembering the same charming teen attitude I used to throw at my poor mother and stepfather, enhanced by a sneer and a cold, unblinking stare, I ask myself, what am I going to do, indeed? Oh, the joy of receiving one's own karmic payback!

Some of the most interesting research I've been paying attention to lately is about teachers are "getting it" about how each and every classroom is full of individual students, each of whom has their own learning style preferences. This isn't cutting-edge research, of course, and some teachers pay more attention to it, and try to incorporate it more into their teaching methods, than others do. In a nutshell, the theory says that some students do better when they hear information explained to them verbally (i.e. auditory learners), but others may retain it better if they can read it or are shown diagrams (visual learners). Some are highly kinesthetic--in other words, they may not do very well with reading or writing, but they can fix anything that comes their way, or play an instrument beautifully, or create art projects of great creativity. Many are combinations of these learning styles, with one style perhaps dominating the other.

Further complicating matters in the classroom is discovering the students' cognitive and social strengths: are they social leaders or are they followers? Are they good at strategy, are they good at tactics, or both? How is their ability to maintain attention and focus, to follow rules and procedures, or to navigate their own physical body space and control their movements? How do they handle conflict? How do they express emotion?

Fortunately, I have a few perfect laboratories to witness these textbook concepts playing out in real life: my seventh grade classes at the Druze and at the religious girls' school where I work. I confess, I have come out of their classrooms on some days and have described them to fellow teachers as "a bunch of chimpanzees who have swallowed Mexican jumping beans and hit the crack pipe," in the past. Readers, if you ever come across a middle school teacher, please give them a big thank you and bless them for doing this holy work. Incidentally, "Bad Teacher" has become one of my all-time favorite movies.

In other news, there have been some changes going on at home that may lead to a rather big announcement in later days. (No, Elul and I are not splitting up, nor is either of us sick, so don't worry!) This is another reason I've been keeping somewhat quiet on this blog. However, I promise that as soon as things are finalized, I'll let you know all the details. I'll give you a hint, though: after every ending there is always a new beginning.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, April 5, 2013

Blooming Where I'm Planted?

Shalom, chaverim! This has been the longest break I've taken from this blog since I started it, but now that the Pesach (Passover) holidays are well and truly over, it's time to get back to the business of talking about what life is like in least, what life is like for middle-aged American immigrants to Israel.

The past month has been a whirl of activities. In the run-up to Pesach, I found myself increasingly scattered and overwhelmed, as there seems to be a massive, national push to "get it all done" before the holiday started. Emails, letters, and telephone calls were flying thick and fast. Everyone and their dog seemed to want a piece of me, and of everyone else. Stores were crowded, women were angsting about not getting their houses cleaned in time, and as the holiday grew nearer, a typical refrain from everyone was "look, I'm incredibly busy right now, and nothing's going to get done until after Pesach, so call me back then, OK?"

And then, finally, Pesach came. Ours was very low-key and lovely, and we attended a beautiful seder at the home of our buddy family in Nahariya. This being a modern Israeli family, however, their children and most of their grandchildren were missing because they had moved to America a few months ago. Still, the tiniest granddaughter helped out by leading one of the traditional songs...via Skype!

I was also put through my paces, a week later, by needing to learn a few Pesach songs in short order for my performance at a local retirement home. As a relatively new "ger," (literally "stranger," but in the context of Judaism "ger" refers to a convert) my canon of Jewish holiday music is pretty meagre. Every holiday that comes up, it seems, I find myself scrambling around and asking other Jews "what songs are traditionally sung for this holiday, and is there a YouTube clip somewhere that I can learn it from?" Like a cutting from a hybrid plant, struggling to thrive in new soil, sometimes I bloom and sometimes I just wilt on the vine.

As the holidays came to a close, I reflected on my good fortune to have met some amazingly kind, funny, intelligent and courageous women here. All of us made Aliyah within the past year or so, and we quickly bonded. Before we all scattered to the winds of work and school again, I wanted to have them over for an afternoon of conversation and deserts...and belly dancing and hats. One of our friends, Ziva, is an accomplished belly dancer who performs and teaches. She brought over a collection of sparkly belts for us to wear, and in true Middle Eastern fashion, we had a blast dancing around together in the living room. Since it had been more than twenty years since most of us had done anything like it, it was funny to hear our pops, cracks, and groans erupt so quickly.

"My right knee is good. My left, not so much."

"Are we really supposed to be sweating like this? Is this normal?"

And my favorite: "Selah, you're not an airplane trying to land...just turn around and use the other foot to lead with!"

The hats element of the afternoon were courtesy of our friend Jody, who is a jewelry, hat and handbag designer extraordinaire. (You can go to her company Facebook page here:!/interestingstufff ) She takes found and donated objects, then repurposes and upcycles them into hats, bags, and jewelry of exceptional beauty. As we were being "ladies who were all fancy like that" for the afternoon, it seemed appropriate to don them and pose for pictures.

Five women and one bottle of wine between us--we get high on life!

So, now it's back to the fray in all its glory. Shabbat shalom, everyone!