Meet Irit, Teach First Israel 2010

Teacher Spotlight

Meet Irit, Teach First Israel 2010

Teach First Israel
Teach First Israel
Irit Shimoni,Teach First Israel 2010, teaches history and Jewish studies in Haifa. These are her words:
 
Have you ever considered the stress students handle daily? Unlike adults, who choose their schedule, students must adjust themselves to a packed schedule that involves running from classroom to classroom, changing “bosses” every 45 minutes, dealing with peer and academic pressure and trying to recuperate with five-minute breaks between classes (but quickly, because if they are late for class they will be disciplined).
 
Our students have no time to breathe, something vital for us all. This overload and lack of rest drowns out a person's inner voice. Adolescent students are forming their sexual, social and academic identities, and they don't have even a moment during the school day to understand where they come from and where they are going.
 
I realized this during my own overloaded day. Everything that could go wrong, did: the alarm clock didn’t go off, my son refused to wear the clothes we had picked out the night before and then he spilled coffee on me. To top it off, he cried at the kindergarten gate, shouting to the whole neighbourhood that he didn't want me to go to work. I arrived at the first class of the day late, frazzled and convinced that the day should already be over.
 
I walked in and asked loudly, “Why aren't you already in your seats?” One of the students replied, “But Ms. Shimoni, why are you so upset?”
 
I realized that I had to restart the morning. I turned off the lights and sat by my desk silently. I tried to breathe deeply and whisper to myself, “The students aren't to blame for your bad morning. Get a grip. Now.”
 
It didn't really help.
 
I remembered a guided meditation exercise from a birthing class and decided to try it with the students. I asked them to close their eyes and lay their heads on their desks. To my surprise, they did so gladly. After three minutes I felt that I was ready to begin the lesson, and I asked the students if it would be okay to leave most of the lights off. Not one student objected.
 
The lesson went smoothly. The students participated and asked questions. There was real learning. I felt that the success of the lesson was derived from the way in which it had begun. The different start to the lesson and lower lighting had helped create a better learning environment.
 
I decided to try this with the next class. This time I was smarter and the moment I walked into class I turned out the lights and began with meditation. Here the students were more skeptical; the sudden difference between the routine of the previous lesson and the change I was implementing confused them. Fortunately, children grow accustomed to change faster than adults and it took them no more than a minute to cooperate.
 
Now, many months after the morning that began unpleasantly and ended with a great discovery, students wait for me quietly with their heads on the desk at the beginning of every class. I realized that starting the lesson in a relaxed manner, with every person quiet and alone with their thoughts, is vital for us in the stressful, overloaded life we lead.
 
Now I want to change the demanding, stressful environment of the school as a whole. One small way I do this is with a box of small squeeze balls. I give a ball to any student who looks jittery, exhausted or impatient. Now, students take their extra energy out on the unfortunate ball and not on the other students in class. This also eliminates the constant question, “Ms. Shimoni, can I go outside for a bit of air?” Students don't feel the need for it anymore.  There's enough air in the classroom.