Before I go off to my second day of work, I thought I'd share my thoughts about my first day of volunteering. I've spent a bit of time over the past few days watching addicting TV shows like Weeds and Heroes… so now it's time to write.
We're here in Yeruham to gain something, but even more we're here to give to the community. Already, when the teacher whom I work with Pini was giving us an overview of what we'll be doing, he said that we're a gift to the students – fluent English speakers – and they're excited for us. The kids that I work with on Mondays and Wednesdays have a very low level of English, and while they may have an overall high motivation to learn, it's hard for them to be on top of the task. Why is this so important? Because by the time we leave, they will be taking their Bagrut tests, the standardized tests they have to take to move on to each grade. They can't fail English. That's just an overview of my purpose.
While we remembered a couple of different times that the yeshiva wanted us to be at school, we got there at around 12:30 p.m. I had just eaten lunch, which was a big mistake because it turns out that 12:30 is lunchtime, and it looked very good. I was told just now that they in fact would love for us to eat there even on days when we don't work so that we have more interaction with the students and befriend them more. Mincha follows lunch, and then it's work time.
9th and 10th grades have English on Monday. There are two teachers: Yonina and Pini. Pini is the host father of my friends Ally and Kowler, so I had already met him Friday night. Yonina teaches the high classes, and Pini teaches the low classes. I'm working with Pini, and the kids he teaches have very minimal English. As was true in my language classes in high school, they wish for us to really only speak English, as if we don't know Hebrew. Of course I'd be capable of speaking with them in Hebrew with very little issue; yet even for those who don't have much fluency in Hebrew, speaking only English is an obstacle. The most basic things in English that they don't know are very hard to express in other English terms, so I try my best until sometimes I resort to Hebrew. One thing that Pini also warned us about is that because of Rosh Hodesh Adar, kids are starting to get rowdy out of excitement and that may continue all the way through Purim.
My first class was the 10th grade class. I'm not going to use names as I describe the students. The student I worked with in this class is a very nice, friendly guy and wants to succeed. What we're doing is of course very difficult for him. They have passages in English with questions following as would be on the Bagrut. Part of the issue is not only knowing the words in English, but also being able to determine what are the important pieces of information and good strategies for being efficient. Students may use dictionaries on the exam, and so he has an English-Hebrew dictionary, but it's not easy for him to find things. It's also a pain in the butt – I can empathize with that, having had to scramble through the Jastrow dictionary to find different Aramaic words when I study Talmud. I look forward to seeing him work hard to succeed.
I then worked with two kids in the 9th grade class. They have a book they use and started a new unit. At the beginning of the unit are vocabulary words they have to translate. Then they had an exercise, which to get them to understand the task itself wasn't easy, and I felt bad because it was frustrating for me to have very few outlets for expressing myself in English. They're also nice kids – one has better English than the other. In the end, I did not have too much time with them. We'll see what happens from here.
While it's in some ways a bit overwhelming, I see the sort of impact I can have on the students and the ways I can go a bit above and beyond. As each day goes by, I hope each one ends having accomplished something greater that had not been achieved the time before.