Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Shudder to Think....

I started teaching in a non-religious public middle school a couple of weeks ago. My first time in a non-religious environment - boys with an earring and gelled-up hair, girls with shorts so short, you wonder why they bother, and one 8th Grade student who yesterday walked in from her Hafsaka with cigarette breath. (Allowed, by the way...)

Later this morning I have to tell a young lady that she didn't pass the requirements of the English-speakers' class. In fact, she failed. Her English language is passable in most Israeli circles, even superior, but, compared to the kids who have spent several years abroad, or have an English-speaking parent, she's no where near.

She had been in an English-speakers' class in elementary school, probably because her father insisted. And probably because in elementary school the admissions standards are not as high. But we have an entrance exam that every incoming 7th Grader was required to pass in order to make it in. And she didn't. Simple as that. But is it?

It should be noted that she has gone through the following procedure:

1. She was turned away by me, as per the rules, a week after school began, when she walked into my classrom and announced that she belonged there. She was on no such list and hadn't shown up to take the admissions test, in the summer, when the rest of the students had. I had been told the day before, by a senior English-speakers' teacher, that registration was closed. "Try again next year," I was to tell the ones who tried to get in.

2. Her father called the school and spoke to the head of the English department who knew of no such rule and GAVE HIM my phone number, since it must be some kind of mistake! He then called me to ask why his daughter was turned away. I got more of her story and found out she was in English-speakers in elementary, she had been away for the summer, she was sick for the first week, etc. So I had pity on the kid and told the dad I would reconsider her. After all, why should red tape keep a viable candidate from her appropriate English education? Especially if she qualified....

3. She took the test during the next class period, but not until her father met me in person outside the school office. He wanted to be there while his daughter took the test. I told him that was out of the question. I reminded him that if she didn't pass the written section, she wasn't entitled to an interview. And we would leave it at that. Then he remembered "one more thing" he had to tell his daughter before her test and asked me where my classroom was. I don't know. I figured he would have asked a random kid in the hallway and found out anyway. So I told him. He then went to pressure her and remind her she had to do well.

4. She failed the written test, and I should have left it at that. But I called to tell that father that she failed. I also reminded him again that I did not have to interview her. But I knew he would pressure me to interview her anyway, so I pre-empted him. I told him that, although she had failed, I would test her verbal skills to see if she would Wow me. Could I please have his home number? He told me he wants me to meet with her face to face, and I told him that since we were beyond the test-dates, he would have to settle for a phone interview. He went on to say his daughter was extremely busy with after-school activities and couldn't possibly be reached until 8 PM. I only found out why later. He'd be home then... He also asked me to show him her test papers. Completely out of the question, I told him. We never do that, and don't even share the exact results. That much I knew. He tried to persuade me, but I wouldn't budge on this.

5. I called the girl at 8 PM and her father picked up the phone. Needless to say, she didn't Wow me. At the end of the 10-15 minute interview, I told the child I would let her know in school tomorrow. Jeez, I'm such a coward. I keep delaying the inevitable. We hung up, and two minutes later Dad called me back. He wanted to know the results. I told him I would let his daughter know tomorrow. He said, "You know I was listening to the interview on the extention." I guess I could have figured that out. (Ma Zeh Chutzpan!!!!)

6. I decided to call the head of the English department and ask her advice. Something about this guy doesn't sit well with me. She told me to tell the kid in school that she failed and call the dad from school to tell him, too. That's the procedure. I really believe that the principal should call the dad so it doesn't become personal. It should be explained as "school policy" and not MY personal policy. Truth is, I don't care either way. I can teach anybody.

I was once in a position similar to this one in Detroit. A kid was on probation and was in my class. When I asked him at picture-taking day, outside the classroom, where he got that thumbtack, he slammed it into my hand and broke skin. He was kicked out that day. And I was scared of his dad, too.

And it should also be noted that anyone who wants to can carry a gun here. And also that it's 2 AM, and everything freaks me out at this time of night. Maybe I'll have one of the guards escort me to class tomorrow. There are FIVE!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Grade Prayer

My baby asked me to write a note to her teacher. She said I could write whatever I wanted, as long as I wrote it in her notebook. Oh, and it had to be in Hebrew. Which wasn't happening. But I wrote the letter anyway, in English. And because I can't send it to the teacher, I am putting it here.

Dear Teacher,

N is my beautiful, sweet daughter. She has been blessed with love, health, friends, happiness and a love of learning. And this week, we put her education in your hands.

I hope you can give her the keys to unlock the alphabet and teach her to love reading. Unravel the mysteries of numbers for her, and teach her the value of math. I hope you build onto the foundation of Judaism which we have constructed for her.

Tell her stories about the world and pique her curiosity about her environment. Transmit to her a deeper love of Israel, of God, of Religion.

Push her, but don't knock her down. And when she falls, gently lift her back up and send her on her way. I have three children, but only one daughter, one baby. And I am entrusting her to you for this first year of formal education.

N's Daddy