Several years ago, many of my friends and acquaintances were in some manner connected to the Teach for Russia program: one person was an external consultant, another worked within the organization, and another was an actual program participant. Because the program was constantly in my feed, I felt as if everyone that was at least somewhat interested in the field of education knew about it. Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague from another city, and it turned out that neither she nor any of her colleagues had ever even heard about the program! Soon after that conversation, I came across information about a similar program for Israel. Being that I was surprised to learn my colleagues didn’t know about Teach for Russia, I decided it could be useful for many people working in, or hoping to work in, education and Jewish education in particular to learn about this program.
The premise of the Teach for Russia program is that young university graduates of non-core curriculum studies, after completing summer training, will teach in small towns, villages and rural schools for two years in order to help improve the level of education in these areas. When I look at the program there is an idea here that truly resonates deeply in me; in my eyes, this program is not only about improving the quality of education in the area, but about the attitudes towards schools, the learning process, and even oneself. This program shows the students who, for a number of reasons, have extremely limited resources and lack of information, that the world is much more diverse and wider than they imagined, and, most importantly, that they themselves are deeper and more multifaceted than many people would think. This is, in my eyes, where there is true value in the program, and is much more important than giving the students the ability to solve complex mathematical equations. Achieving this is definitely a challenge for the teachers and their students, their colleagues and the school, and the parents. All of them face this challenge in very different ways. While communicating with the participants of the program, I heard many stories about how the locals received these new teachers, and, to put it mildly, it was not always a warm reception. Sometimes the situations even became dangerous. However, in their own words, the experience these new teachers received was of extreme interest and value to them.
The people who created the Teach for Russia program in 2015 were inspired by the International Teach for All movement, which brings together organizations dedicated to improving local education from more than 50 countries. Teach for All, in turn, is the child of two organizations, Teach for America and Teach First. By and large, Teach for All is a global umbrella organization for national organizations implementing an established educational model and pursuing shared goals within their local countries.
Of course, not everything about the program is so rosy. The different programs across the world, including the United States and Russia, are often criticized. In Russia, they say that the program participants are taking jobs away from local teachers, who, especially in smaller towns, already face low job vacancies. It is also often criticized for forming an idea that the profession of teachers is for amateurs. When young students with only five weeks of training are seen as replacing teachers with pedagogical degrees, it raises the question about the need for a serious approach toward pedagogical training. Additionally, in the United States, studies have shown little difference in success between students of teachers within the program and the professionally trained teachers.
You can view the program in different ways, but if you are interested and considering taking part in it, I would advise you to read interviews with project participants, or, even better, get in touch with one personally and ask all your questions and discuss your doubts.
While I knew that there is a Teach for Israel program, which is part of the Teach for All network and is implementing a similar program throughout Israel, just the other day I learned about a similar project, TALMA. TALMA, supported by the Shusterman and Steinhardt Foundations is being implemented in partnership with the Israel Ministry of Education. The program also collaborates with Teach for All and a number of other excellent professional communities. What stands out about this program is that it is open to foreigners and is actually implemented in English, making it accessible to those who do not know Hebrew enough! There are two options in the program: one is short-term, coming to an Israeli school for an entire summer, and the other is long-term, lasting a full academic year. Both options include covering the costs of coming and living in Israel. The short-term program is open to many (visit their website for participation criteria,) as the program participant does not lead the class, but instead joins a local teacher. In order to participate in the long-term program, you would need to have a minimum of one year of professional school experience, as you will be teaching the class on your own. Also, in order to participate in the longer program you must fit the criteria of Israel’s Right of Return laws.
Often, graduates of the summer program continue on and join the long-term program. Sadly, this won’t be happening this year, as, for obvious reasons, the summer program was canceled. However, the long-term annual program is open for those who meet the criteria, and, if you are interested, you can apply to join the program right now. I believe that this is an interesting opportunity for people interested in developing their careers in Jewish education, and who would like to try living in Israel. It could also be an opportunity for those interested in moving to Israel and working as a teacher, as it can act as a sort of test drive where you can gain experience and build your resume.
When I look at this program, I can’t help but think of the old Jewish saying, “When you teach, you learn yourself.” Go on, learn.