Holy Balagan!

Let me start by explaining what a Balagan is.  In Israel, the word Balagan is used to describe something that is typically chaotic or a mess.  In the weeks leading up to entering the classroom, many warned that Israeli classrooms were balagans.  With typical class sizes in the mid 30’s to 40’s, it’s no wonder!

Monday was my first full day in the classroom, and to my surprise, it was VERY similar to classrooms I have been in while teaching in the US.  In my school, I teach 4th through 6th grade, and classes have between 25-30 students per class.  All of the classes have the really good students, some struggling students, and everything in between.  My main role in the classroom is to help encourage the students to actually practice their English speaking.  To help in this endeavor, when introducing me, my teacher told all of the students that the only Hebrew I know is “Cen” and “Lo”, yes and no, which meant the students had no other option than to speak to me in English.  During my introduction, my teacher told the students my name and who I was and then asked the students if they had any questions about me.  Students asked a lot of the typical get to know you questions, like how old I am and where I am from.  The question I found most interesting was from a 4th grade boy and girl.  First, the boy asked if I was wearing a Magen David (Star of David), and when I responded yes, the girl immediately raised her hand to ask if I was Jewish.  Again, with my answer of yes, she asked if I was born in Israel and then moved to the US.  The students had never met a Jew that was born anywhere else in the world and thought all Jews were from Israel!

Most of my first week was spent interacting with the students and helping the teacher with basic things as the students become more comfortable with me, which came more quickly with the 5th grade than expected!  On Thursday, all elementary schools in Migdal HaEmek participated in a community wide clean-up.  My teacher and I joined two fifth grade classes as we went around a neighborhood right outside of the school to pick up trash.  We were about halfway through our path when we got to a park, and the kids dispersed to pick up trash in the area.  The students kept coming up to me to show me how full their trash bags were!  As we started gather the students back up to continue around the neighborhood, the true Balagan of the week began.   Out of nowhere, this huge dog appeared and starting running after the kids!  Now, I could tell by the look on the dog’s face that he was happy and just trying to play with the big bags the kids were holding, but from a child’s point of view, it just looked like this giant dog was chasing them.  The English teacher and I were able to grab ahold o ft he dog as the other two teachers got the students to start heading down the street away from us.  The dog was trying to get loose, so the English teacher grabbed her cell phone to call the police.  As she was dialing, the dog got out of our grasp and sprinted down the street where he started jumping on the students, scratching them, and ripping the trash bags out of their hands, sending trash everywhere!  This time, the English teacher grabbed the dog on her own as the two other teachers had about 3/4 of the class collected to continue walking away from the dog.  The other 1/4 of the class (about 15 students) were terrified on the opposite side of the dog than the rest of the class.  They were in tears and wouldn’t move to join their classmates, so I went to them and comforted them as best I could, until they were comfortable walking with me around the dog.  When I safely got all of the kids to join the rest of their friends, we all walked down the street and around the corner until a police officer arrived and we were able to know the kids were all safe.  While I have never felt my language barrier more in this moment, this whole experience allowed the students to connect to me on a level that would never happen in a classroom.  Once many of the students I comforted calmed down, everyone was excited to ask me questions in English about dogs, if I like dogs, or if I have any pets.

This may not be a typical experience for any teacher, but it was something that I feel ended up turning into a very positive chance to connect with my students.  I am so excited to be able to go back to school tomorrow to see how the 5th graders are doing and to see how this experience will positively affect our our relationship in the classroom.

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