Raising the bar on English education in Israel
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Raising the bar on English education in Israel

What the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program is, and how it can help you and underprivileged kids in Israel

Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Desiree Eslamboly
Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Desiree Eslamboly

Ask Israeli students what Masa Israel Teaching Fellows are doing in Israel and they’ll tell you that Fellows are there to make learning English fun.

Masa Israel Teaching Fellows are tasked with improving English learning outcomes of elementary and middle school students in low-income neighborhoods throughout Israel. As high English proficiency is an admissions requirement for many Israeli universities, knowledge of the English language plays a major role in social mobility in Israel.

While Fellows assist teachers in some of Israel’s most overcrowded classrooms, most of their work takes place outside of traditional learning spaces. By working with small groups of students outside the classroom, Fellows help to decrease class sizes so students can get more individualized attention from Fellows and teachers alike.

“It is more fun to be with them than it is to be in class with a teacher because we learn in a fun way and have fun outside the classroom,” said May Levy, a fourth grader from Petah Tikvah

The opportunity to leave the classroom to play games and work on assignments in a less formal setting gives students a break from the monotony of the school day.

May’s older sister Tahel explained that English class with her teacher felt like any other class day — it’s something she has to do. “However, with them [the Fellows], we are more interested in learning.”

The relaxed environment changes the dynamic between students and Fellows from that of student-teacher to one that more closely resembles a big brother/big sister mentorship. “The students respected me like a teacher, but treated me like a peer,” said Jamie Gold, a Los Angeles native who taught English in Rishon LeZion in 2012-2013. “They knew it was a privilege to get to hang out with me.”

Most Fellows join the MITF program with little to no education experience. It is only after an intensive orientation period, which includes pedagogical training designed by the Israeli Ministry of Education, that they begin working in Israeli schools.

Those Fellows who come from the education world enjoy exploring alternative teaching methods and witness the difference it makes for the students. “I saw myself as the lead member of the English language hype squad in which my main mission was to make learning fun, and to talk about Justin Bieber and Beyoncé as much as possible,” said Jennifer Blitz, a teacher from New York who spent the 2013-2014 school year teaching in Petah Tikvah. “The kids were curious and engaged in learning.”

From pop culture to lessons on holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, Israeli teachers also recognize the benefits of Teaching Fellows’ outside perspectives that they bring to the classroom. “They expose the children to current and fluent English,” Carni, a first through third grade English teacher in Petah Tikvah, said. May and Tahel agreed, noting that they and their classmates enjoy asking questions and learning about Fellows’ lives outside of Israel.

Carni also pointed out the important work that Fellows do with those students who have special education needs and learning disabilities. For example, one of her students started the year off not knowing any English letters of the alphabet. After several months working with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, he not only knew the alphabet, but was also starting to learn how to read.

For some Fellows, this work goes beyond their teaching hours and becomes their self-designed service project. Max Unger of Arlington, Texas, currently lives and teaches in Ramle-Lod, where he and an Israeli teacher have set up a tutoring program for struggling students to continue their English studies at home after school. “In class, they’re less comfortable in front of the more advanced students and don’t want to be made fun of,” Max said.

In the school and in the community, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows raise the bar on English education in Israel. Teachers and students agree that they are invaluable assets to the schools in which they work.

Masa Israel Journey is currently accepting applications for the 2016-2017 Masa Israel Teaching Fellows. Spots are limited and applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Start your application now!