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Schools on Zoom: A reality that transcends borders

It’s 9:20 am and I’m setting up my laptop on the dining room table in our apartment in Ramat Eliyahu, Rishon LeZion. A notebook and a pen to my right. A coffee mug and a bottle of water to my left. Headphones, charger, phone and many windows open on my screen. For the next few hours, this corner of my apartment plus a corner in every students’ house will transform into our classroom.

(Everything ready to start the lessons on Zoom)

One of my placements is in Avnei HaHoshen Junior High School. Two other fellows and I work three mornings a week with 7th, 8th and 9th graders. Since our arrival to Israel, we have been going to school for some in person classes but most of them have been online. We assist the teachers the way they feel we are most useful in their class. For some, we prepare short games or activities to revise vocabulary that the students have previously learned or to introduce a new topic and develop speaking skills. In some other classes, the teacher assigns us a group of students in a breakout room and we, the fellows, teach the lesson for that day. Other times, we help the students do the exercises in their coursebooks or brainstorm ideas for a writing task.

(Avnei HaHoshen Junior High School, Rishon LeZion)

It’s 9:30 am. The lesson starts and I’m suddenly transported back home. It’s March, the beginning of the school year in Argentina and the pandemic has just hit my country. All schools and language schools are closed and in one week all teachers have to learn, look up tutorials online and adapt to this new thing called “Zoom” and start teaching remotely. I have internet connection problems because my family is using the WiFi while I’m giving lessons. My dogs bark in the background and my parents talk so loudly that I have to text them saying that all my students can hear them. And now I’m in Ramat Eliyahu and I’m texting my roommates that I’m on zoom and I need them to be quiet. I need to close the window because the noise from the kids playing in the park opposite us is too loud. Sometimes the WiFi is shaky and I freeze on Zoom. Whether it’s in Rosario, Argentina or in Rishon LeZion, Israel, teachers are doing everything they can to keep the kids connected to the school, to give them at least a space where they can feel some sense of normalcy, where they can interact with their peers.

How important it is for us, the fellows in the role of teachers or teaching assistants, to promote this space for the kids, even if it’s through a screen. It is not easy at all. Most students don’t turn on their cameras, some have technological issues or are too shy to unmute themselves and participate, others never show up. It can be very frustrating at times and I wish we could go back to the classroom once and for all.

(Avnei HaHoshen Junior High School, Rishon LeZion)

However, little by little, lessons by lesson, I start collecting moments that motivate me to continue, to be more creative, to try another idea next time. The students’ laugh at a bad joke. A “that was fun” at the end of the lesson. The enthusiastic “boker or (good morning)” from one student and the sweet “thank you” of another when the lesson is over. Their exclamations of surprise and excitement when they find out I speak Spanish and, even if they are too shy to talk to me in English, they show off the Spanish that they have learnt by watching all the teen Argentinian TV shows. I would lie if I didn’t say working in Avnei HaHoshen has been one of the most challenging things I have done in my professional life. However, I’m looking forward to continue building rapport with the students. If by the end of the fellowship I have helped at least one student enjoy a bit more their English class, then I can happily say my job as a volunteer in Avnei HaHoshen has been fulfilled.


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