Monday, March 14, 2011

Laptops for every student?

by Andrew Wilson

Dear Colleagues,

I started teaching over twenty years ago, and since then, both as a teacher and a parent, I have seen many projects come and go. I'm sure I'm not alone in this ;)

Some projects were baked to perfection, some were so burnt that they were indigestible, while others, sadly, were quite half-baked. I have no doubt that they were all proposed and implemented with the best of intentions, and I mean this most sincerely.

I recently read an article (I'll include the link below) by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in the JP about proposed plans for 'school computerization'.  Meir Shitrit, Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman, is quoted as saying "Parents spend hundreds of shekels annually per pupil on buying schoolbooks, when an inexpensive laptop can be bought and used to download all the books from the Internet." The article then goes on to say that there will be an investment of a billion shekels to buy a new computer for each pupil.

Later on, Gila Ben Har predicted that "parents will pay half the cost of a digital book and will be able to purchase a laptop in easy installments for their children" - which slightly contradicts what MK Shitrit said, but never mind. First of all, if parents are expected to pay for the laptops in easy installments, I can already see the difficulties. At our school, there are many families who cannot afford to pay the regular school fees, never mind intsallments for laptops. Secondly, whether these laptops are supplied by the Ministry of Education or bought by parents, the problems are numerous. Our school buys books and lends them to students. No matter how hard we try to keep those books in good shape, there are always books which arrive back at the library in a very sorry state. There also those that disappear into thin air, and I understand that it is difficult to get parents to pay for their replacement. What will happen when a student breaks, drops or loses his laptop? Will the ministry repair or replace it? If not, I can't see parents doing this. Thirdly, let's assume students come with their laptops. I'm no computer expert, but if hundreds of students use the Internet at the same time, is is possible that this would put a strain on the infrastructure at some point along the line? Our school has one technician - I'm sure he'd be driven crazy in a very short space of time by requests from teachers and students to fix various problems. Finally, I have worked with students using the Internet in our computer room on several occasions and every time I have caught some 'poor lost soul' who found his or her way into Facebook  (or worse!) during the lesson. Imagine being in a class with forty students with their noses deep in their laptops. How much work do you think would really be done?

I also wonder how Ms Ben Har arrived at the conclusion that parents will pay half the cost of a digital book. Assuming that she means that digital books will cost half the price of a regular book (the phrasing is ambiguous in the article), I can't help comparing this to Kindle prices which are not so very much cheaper than regular books.

The article informs us that the ministry "will soon issue a directive to all curriculum developers that their work must be produced as digital as well as printed product". If every student has a laptop, etc., etc., then why do we need printed product? I hope it is not because they foresee problems in certain parts of the country (often referred to as "the periphery")...

It is very easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise, and that is not my intention. While not being a computer wizard, I would hope that I am not totally Neanderthal either. I personally like to teach from a book. I am aware of the need to use computers in school, and of the fact that they can complement books perfectly, but do we need to decide that every subject that is taught in school has to go over to complete computerization? I think that as far as English is concerned, the computer is a great tool. If there's so much money 'up for grabs', why not invest it in Interactive White Boards? At the moment, our school has one which is used only for designated classes. I would love to learn more about them. If we use IWBs, this will allow us to have each student focused on the same thing rather than each student working from his own laptop. My guess is that it would be more communicative, and less expensive.

I thought very carefully before writing this mail since, as I've already said, I'm not a computer expert, and it is possible that I have totally misinterpreted some points. If so, I'm sure someone will put me right. However, if there is something in what I say, it seems to me to be a (very expensive) recipe for disaster...

Andrew Wilson

Link for the article:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

English Tutoring in Israel Today - Competing in a Tough Job Market

by Allan Hirshey

Over the past several decades, the supply of English teaching professionals in Israel has not only caught up with, but has exceeded the demand.  This has resulted in a flood of mostly unemployed English teachers, trying to find jobs in an already over-crowded English tutoring market.  The latter is now strictly a buyer’s market, with no end in sight!
The underlying causation factors can be summarized as follows: the large number of local teacher training colleges/universities with English departments, pumping  out hundreds of English major & teacher graduates annually; the same institutions offering  one-year English tutor certification programs, designed for older professionals seeking career changes; the steady influx of “Anglos” toting B.A. and M.A. degrees in English education, exacerbated by the sharp downturn in the global economy;  and even the number of presently employed English school teachers seeking additional income, via the tutoring route.        

Consequently, if you want to stay “a cut above the competition”, here are some   points to remember:

1.     Hebrew Language Proficiency – the lower the age of your student target group, the higher the Ivrit level you’ll need.     

2.    Educational Qualifications - relying on only a B.A. in English education isn’t realistically competitive.  You’re either going to have to beef up your education level to an M.A. and/or obtain instructor certification in perhaps one or more of these specialties - ELS, TOFEL, or SEN . 

3.    Marketing Strategies - maintain updated CVs, personal references, & business cards. For starters, volunteer your services at local community centers and schools.   Post tutoring flyers on neighborhood bulletin boards, and keep checking the JANGLO, ETNI, & similar websites for job opportunities. 

4.   Knowledge of Local Pay Rates - don’t be caught off guard.  Know in advance what the remuneration standards are in your catchment areas for groups & individuals.  In this regard, be flexible & sharpen your negotiating skills.  You’re going to need them!

5.   Technical Expertise/Skills - bonding effectively with younger clients is critical.  This is especially true if their parents are “arm twisting them” into being tutored.  Strengthen your bonding expertise by studying & practicing psychological techniques.  NLP is a good example.         

6.   Psychometric Readiness  - develop & maintain your own system of written tests.  It’s not uncommon to get insufficient client feedback from apathetic classroom teachers.     

7.   Reference Materials -   invest in and build up your own personal library.  There’s tons of free material on the “net” you can download & file away.  

8.   Office Technology - in addition to a PC, owning your own copying & fax machines save time, money, & also increases work efficiency.   

9.   Work Environment – minimize noise & window space.  Loud colored walls & pictures can also cause distractions.  Position wall clocks behind the student.      

10. Creative Entrepreneurship – think of starting your own English tutoring business, wider in scope, with one or more partners’ (each having own specialty & separate network of contacts).  Of course, check out the potential revenues & expenses – this might be a way to go!     

With that said, focus your attention on yourself rather than on the competition.  Don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up.  Always maintain a positive attitude.  If tutoring English is really your passion- GO FOR IT!

Information about Allan Hirshey, the author

I ‘m a native Baltimorean & retired “Fed”, with a 30+ year career span, now living with my wife & four children in Jerusalem.  Having B.A., L.L.B., & M.S. degrees enabled me to “wear many hats”, during my working career.  Some of these positions included lecturing in accounting at a local community college, developing legal cases for Medicare/Medicaid fraud prosecution, and directing the U.S. Public Health Service’s Hill Burton hospital loan portfolio (San Francisco RO).  I also managed the reimbursement operation for the Community Mental Health Centers Program, a national outpatient mental health program, administered by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Baltimore, Central Office).  

After making aliyah, I decided to begin a new career.   Accordingly, I obtained professional counseling and English tutoring certificates from Refuah Institute and the Natanya English Center (under AACI auspices), respectively.  Presently, I provide voluntary counseling, including Reality Therapy, to yeshiva students. Additionally, I do English & basic math tutoring.  I also learn in a yeshiva half a day.  Express Tutoring is the name of my formal tutoring service, & business English is my specialty.  A few years ago, I developed a “Business English 101” course for an Israeli teacher’s college.

During my spare time & in order to maintain my sanity (whatever’s left) , I play tennis, write articles, listen to a variety of musical selections, do genealogical research, occasionally attend NLP workshops, and enjoy babysitting with my grandchildren.      

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teach SPEECH on the college level

By Dr. Jenny Weil

Open any Israeli newspaper and the employment ads are likely to read :”Fluency in English and Hebrew required.”  Most EFL (English as a foreign language) courses at university level unfortunately do not stress public speaking.  Most classroom sessions are spent on reading comprehension and on some writing.  These are, of course, two very important aspects of language learning.  But, in my opinion, these two pale when comparing them to the ability to express oneself in the target language.  In addition to my college teaching, I taught at INTEL and at every session some engineers were absent.  I thought that perhaps my teaching lacked brilliance, but, no.  After inquiring about these absences I was told that they were overseas, England, America, South Africa, France, etc… giving lectures on their new technical advancements.

Bryden and Scott  state in their book”The Art and Science of Public Speaking” that taking a speech course  encourages students to think of their speeches as opportunities to become opinion leaders.  These are people who influence others to adopt innovative ideas, products or processes.  Let’s be honest, some of the most successful entrepreneurs got to the top, merely by their power of speech.

Not all college students will end their education after their B. A.   Hopefully, many will continue their studies for an M.A. or a Ph.D.  Here in Israel, many of the students need to work while continuing their studies. To facilitate this process, they will have to get all kinds of jobs.  So, as I mentioned in my first sentence, fluency in English is a must.

A few years ago, I was lucky to be able to teach a speech class in my college program.  The students were elated and felt confident when speaking in the target language.When one of my students, Amikam Levy, was chosen to become the ambassador to Vietnam, I realized even more than ever before that putting an  English oral communication class into a university curriculum was crucial.

Over 2500 years ago King Solomon understood the power of speech by stating his famous quote from proverbs 18:21. “The tongue  has the power of life and death.”  Throughout history  this sentence has proven to be true.  I think that the most recent example is the meteoric rise of Barack Obama, mainly on his exceptional rhetoric skills.

I am calling the Council For Higher Education in Israel to reprioritize and to make an English communication class mandatory to receiving  a B.A.  Let my people speak (in English)!