Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Back in a Classroom

Last week I went into a classroom as a student for the first time in 20 years. Very important for an education innovator who isn’t a teacher. I am very proud of the fact that motherhood dragged me into the education innovation, but experiencing a classroom as a student isn’t experiencing it as a mother of a student, not even similar to experiencing it as a teacher, I am sure.

You can’t really comprehend the enormousness of the education crisis before you are sitting behind a desk totally dependent on someone else for the pearls of wisdom you’re supposed to get, without any say about how you’re going to get them or when, and then you’re graded for your grasp. Hmmm.

classroom I am an old fashioned schooled one. I grew up without any digital mobile instruments around me, not even a PC. I think that even a walkman was too much of a luxury, had to work and save before I could get one. And I started my journalistic career with my dad’s Hermes typewriter and working in the print house with lead letters.

So the technicality of sitting behind a desk, writing a summary of the class, doing exercises, performing to the rhythm of the conductor – all this should be well imprinted in me.

But it’s not. I’m was slowly and gradually spoiled by various forms of computers. I think it started in the early 90’s with a DOS computer, and grew exponentially until today I spend about 14 hours a day online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I rarely get disconnected. In fact I can say I am pretty addicted. Can’t go through a day with no connectivity at all. Can’t watch a movie without playing something on my iPhone\iPad at the same time. Ahmm. Yep, in the movies too.

Reading a book is one of the toughest tasks for me. When I was 14, 8th grade, I got the school’s annual award for reading the largest number of books which I borrowed from the school’s library. 400 books. Some days I finished 2+. I couldn’t get enough. Nowadays, give them to me in 140 characters chunks. I am sure if I’ll do the math I’m reading much more today than I have ever – in characters count. But I’m down from 400 books in 10 months, to 1 book in 800 days and the sad thing, I miss the relaxed experience.

This rhythm my life has adjusted to is an immediate rhythm. I’m at The State of Now.

Now think about the generation born into this reality and this rhythm. About the toddlers trying to swipe the photo in the frame on their grandparents’ mantle. How are they expected to take a break for 5-9 hours a day and go back from rockets to horse-and-carriage?

People, when talking about the education crisis, worldwide, know that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and think Titanic.


Commit To Your Students’ Success, Please!

“We’re committed to the rules and regulation”, said my son’s teacher to me, as she’s trying to explain why the school wouldn’t let a 7th grader attempt a specific test one more time.
“No”, I said, “You are committed to your students’ success”.

This, apparently was not clear. “There are guidelines we must follow”, she tried again.

“The only guideline is your students’ success”, I repeated. “If a kid gets 95 and 88 and 87 in some tests, and then 35 in one other test, you should let him retake that test until he is content with his achievement. You can’t just leave him with the 35 because some city clerk wrote a rule saying ‘be tough on the kids and don’t let them repeat the tests’..”.

At that point I was advised to perform a 3,000 shekels total evaluation of his learning difficulties. Yea, one of “the rules” is to abide by recommendations produced by such a diagnosis.

Don’t get me even started on what happens to those students who cannot afford such an expensive diagnosis. Just a quick reminder: Almost all students in Israel go to public schools and the law states students’ right to get free education for all. We already know it’s not free – with hundreds of shekels spent on books and booklets. But a law that requires parents to spend huge amounts on a private psycho-educational evaluation is just crazy, not to mention unfair.

People in Israel talk a lot about gaps breaking the society. It’s a small country. We’re only 7.7 million people. There are less than 900,000 students in grades 1-6, and about 600,000 in grades 7-12. That’s all. You’ll be correct to ask yourself how big a gap can occur within such a small country.

And I’m just left with the echo of my conversation. How can teachers feel more committed to the system’s rules then their students’ success?

What if a heavenly teacher doesn’t really have wings?

I’ve been pouring my aching heart over failing teachers and education systems here for the past 3 years at least. Recently I came across an amazing story, of a heavenly teacher.

She’s the teacher I would have dreamed of getting for my little boy. A dream come true. She’s kind, warm, and serene. She speaks calmly, never raises her voice. She leads the kids into learning, developing their curiosity. Makes them ask for more. Gives them a feeling the classroom is a safe harbor. Yet with all this her boundaries are crystal clear. They know they have to prepare their homework. They understand how to behave in the classroom. They know they have to respect each other in and out of the classroom, and that some games will be frowned upon. They know the right and wrong. And they are only on 3rd grade.

One day the teacher came to the school management with an announcement. She told them that she has developed friendship with one of the single parents in the classroom. “Over the past year”, she confessed, “it became evident that this is more than just friendship. This is love. We do not plan to move in together right now or become full partners, but I thought you should know”.

After about 3 weeks or less of pondering the school has decided the teacher should not continue to teach this class. In spite of the special relationships that have developed between the kids and the teacher, and even though they realized she’s the perfect teacher for this class and despite the fact that in this school it is customary that the teacher remains with her class till 8th grade – all this made no difference. In fact, the only reason the teacher wasn’t let go altogether was, perhaps, the fact that she is – really – a great teacher.

I am not school management, but I am an experience mother: Very experienced into education systems. I have seen teachers discriminate between students with no reason at all. I have seen teachers teaching relatives with no favoritism at all. I have never seen such a good teacher (except for maybe my daughter’s retired teacher from 2nd grade). I can’t help thinking; Did the school management really weigh the gain vs. the loss here? Or was it simply the easy way out of potential-maybe-someday headache? What do you think??

A facilitator or a teacher?

Which is it? A learning facilitator or a teacher? Which of those would better serve the future of education? The future of today’s students?

I have been pondering over this question since I read and loved the post by WM Chamberlain who wrote “…I evolved. I am a better teacher … My students have a better opportunity to succeed … In a few short years I have become less of a teacher and more of a facilitator for learning. My students are taking a responsible role in their own education.”

So here is the thing: I am not a teacher. I am a parent. I consider myself an educator, and I know I am a good facilitator of learning. But I am not a teacher. So what does distinguish people like me from teachers? Is it enough to facilitate learning?

I’ll start at the end. Some kids really do not need teachers. At least not for all topics. Not all the time. Some of the way they can do by themselves. But I wouldn’t start closing teaching academies yet. I have enormous respect for teaching methods, instructing, guiding. Even when discussing facilitating learning – there are different ways to do it. A parent-facilitator will never be the same as a teacher-facilitator. But somehow I feel there might be some things in common here: first, the credit a facilitator offers his students. The trust in the students ability and motivation to learn. Second, or perhaps this is the main thing, the ability to see the individual learner, and not a group, a class as one.

In a few years of web evolution, the importance of the individual has grown, starting with personalization features about a decade ago, and discovering the importance of the individual in huge social networks, that would not have existed without individuality.

Still, when it comes to education, no real development is happening. Wavy movements of for and against homework, recurring pressure regarding class sizes, the status of teachers, new books and booklets, replacing old books that looked so similar.

Our hope is really such unique teachers like Mr. C., who take it upon themselves to evolve professionally and bear a promise to change the future of education.

Kindergarten and the molding of a community

A unique event took place yesterday in my city, Ramat-Gan. A neighborhood, that is – the group of parents and kids who live in the neighborhood, produced a show and brought food to a well organized farewell party, made in honor of a preschool teacher, who decided to retire after 25 years at the job. One of the residents even made sure the mayor himself will come to speak and honor this unique preschool teacher and bid her luck in her new way.

On early graduation photos of the preschool Ronit Shimshi looks like a teenager. She couldn’t have been much more then that. Now, at the age of 46, she is leaving the job and intends to study special education. Her first students are adults now. Some are parents who got their kids to the same preschool they have sweet memories of. On the short clip that was made for her party, kids of 5 to 18 were interviewed about what they liked about Ronit and her classroom, and the impressions are those of a home – the hugs, the food, and the holidays.

But the most important and valuable asset Ronit gave all of her students, and their parents and in fact, the whole neighborhood, is the family sense. “Every kid in my kindergarten becomes, together with his or her family, a member of the kindergarten’s family”, she explains to every new family who joins. “And since we are a family, graduates do not just leave to school, they remain family members and keep visiting”.

And so, every Friday, which is the last working day of the week, the “graduates”, who are now school kids, join the kindergarten in the weekly ceremony of receiving the Shabbat. The kindergarten, built for 30 pupils, can sometimes hold 3 times and more. Parents gather at the end of the day to meet their children, and the family grows, and ties are constantly made.

Whether this idea started with her difficulty to bid her graduates farewell, Ronit has laid foundations for social networking many years before the version we know today. This is so simple really: Find a common ground, and plant the seed – that’s all it takes.

Good luck Ronit!ronit at Yonatan’s birthday

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