Here are some of the lessons I learned from teaching in Israel.
1) Batter Up for the Bagrut: Different from the American system of “senioritis,” Israelis have required high school matriculation exams that are extremely challenging. These exams play an important role in determining future job prospects as well as entrance into universities. I tutored students who wanted to improve their English language scores. There is both a written and oral portion to the English exam, so there was a lot of work to be done.
2) The Psychometric Exam: You may have thought formal testing was over after high school, but when an individual wants to attend a University they have to take this standardized test to be admitted. It is similar to the SATs, however the sections are slightly different. There is a math section, a verbal section, and a special section devoted completely to the English language. It started to hit me how crucial English is to Israelis (and worldwide) because of the number of inquiries I received regarding the Psychometric.
3) The People: Though they may hide it at first, Israelis are some of the friendliest people in the world. To think of the violence between Arabs and Jews as the chief characteristic of Israel is doing an injustice to the nation. The families I met while teaching schoolchildren as well as the businesspeople in night classes opened up to me about their lives and were just as curious to meet an outsider. They come from a multiplicity of perspectives that may just surprise you.
4) The Language: Given how important English is in finishing high school and in being admitted to University, it might not be surprising to learn that you don’t need to know Hebrew if you plan on teaching in Israel. In the big cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, most people speak English. However, it is a good idea to learn the language if you plan on staying for a significant length of time. Speaking the language opens the door into the culture in a more direct way. It will also help you appreciate the learning process that your students are going through.
5) The Transportation System: Traveling to see your students or to get around in general is easy. All street signs are in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Most printed guides are also in all three languages. You don’t need a car for longer distances because the bus system is top-notch. The train lines are also highly-developed and modern. Remember: when in doubt ask questions.
6) Teaching Will Change You: It is not always a walk in the park. You must have confidence and focus; You must be vocal and develop a thick skin. I learned how to be a more authoritative teacher while I was living in Israel. I also learned that, as with almost any situation in life, having a sense of humor comes in handy!