For the Kids

After a purposeful hiatus where I felt the need to fully experience Israel and avoid turning every event into my next blog post, I am back on track to my normal, blogging self. It was good to step back from taking a step back and I believe I am better for it.

And as my last week in school comes into focus, I have come to realize one thing: I am going to miss these kids.

I went into this ten-month program knowing that it was set up as a “voluntourisitic” way to lure young graduates to Israel: teach for half the day during the week, travel around the country, learn Hebrew and enjoy the culture. It’s a pretty sweet deal whether you are in favor of the idea of “voluntourism” or not (some programs can be surface level and just plain ineffective).

Yet in contrast to feeling that my lack of educational training and inability to speak the language would be a hinderance and make my presence utterly useless, I’ve been pleasantly proven wrong. I know I have made a difference with some of these kids, I guess it just comes down to what extent and by what means.

I think the most surprising realization was the amount of progress I made outside of the “traditional” lessons. I taught my fair share of grammar and spelling, but the best moments were the ones unrecorded, the spontaneous lessons that could never be planned.

I’ve noticed differences in students outside of the classroom. Some were so shy to speak English with me and now, 9 months later, I can’t get a word in edgewise. Although pronunciation will always be a problem, some are much more aware of the way they sound. One boy now knows how to spell “because” for the simple fact that I made him write it on the board five times after getting it wrong constantly. Now every time he waltzes into the English room, he’ll make sure to write it big and bold on the white board. We smile at each other as he begins to let in about the latest on Messi and Barcelona.

Some students have matured and become more friendly. After learning childish ways of getting attention didn’t work on me, Agam finally learned that a nice hug and a simple, “how are you?” elicits a much more pleasant response on my part.

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Saron, a 4th grader from Ethiopia talks to me about why her family moved to Israel and loves giving me a big hug every time she sees me. She writes me letters, one most recently which brought tears to my eyes. She thanked me for all of my work on the English play and told me that no one could have prepared the kids for the show like I did.

Saron’s brother, Nethanel, a sixth grader who has a reputation for major discipline problems always shows his true colors (a sweet and charming boy at heart) when we are practicing his role in the school play. He’s not one to show emotion and fully commits to the “tough guy” act, but you would never guess it while he’s performing his rendition of “Love is in Open Door”. After the school play he ran to ask if I would be at school the next week. He was worried he wouldn’t see me again…

Sometimes, just my presence seems to be what a child really needs. Liel seems to have trouble on the playground so she hangs out in the English room most days where she asks me about my life in America, my plans after the program and if I am ever going to get a boyfriend.

So maybe all of these little interactions don’t add up to much in the grand scheme of things, but maybe they do. Maybe I’ll be the person ten years down the road that will help them get a little closer to that job that requires a decent level of English. Maybe they will remember the word frozen from the English play, Frozen. Maybe they will even remember my name.

I didn’t come here with huge goals in mind. I didn’t come expecting that I was going to improve every child’s English level or even connect with each kid I met. But I remember wanting to do my best and teach a group of students things that I know and hopefully have them pick up some English along the way or at least enthusiasm to learn. After teaching them my favorite Penn State football chants, creating dances for the school play and just being an open ear or someone to hug, I feel good about what I’ve done. I’ve succeeded in making relationships with children that really needed me and it feels damn good.