5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Teaching English in Israel
“We are always looking for English teachers!” you hear Aliyah advisers say. “It’s a career that’s in demand!”
Well, not so much. Here is a list of five things that you aren’t told about teaching English in Israel. This is especially relevant for people who haven’t made Aliyah yet and are looking for a temporary career to work in before they’ve settled into Israeli life. These are things I wish someone told me before I started my career in English education.
1. There Are Always Open Positions
This is partly true. Yes, schools are always looking for English teachers. However, in the main cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ra’nana) with large English-speaking populations, they aren’t looking for full-time English teachers. Sure, you can pick up 4–6 weekly hours at some random high school, but if don’t want to be working 4 jobs at once, this is not true. If you want to live in a more remote place, like a random Yeshuv, or in a city with a lower number of English speakers, you will be more likely to find a full-time job. However, that is less appealing to most Olim because you want to establish yourself in a community first, especially if you are single, before moving to the middle of nowhere.
2. Anyone Can Teach English
If you are a native English speaker, then no, you cannot just start teaching English. You actually need training, especially in the grammar rules. If you don’t know how to explain what the Present Perfect tense is, then no, not anyone can teach English. Remember, this is teaching English as a second (and sometimes third) language. You’re not starting with teaching students how to analyze a piece of literature and continue on writing beautiful pieces of creative writing, as I imagined. Nope. It is more vocabulary building exercises and lots of, “Why is English like this? I have no idea.”
You also need to be certified in teaching if you want to work for a (good) school in Israel. The teaching certificate programs here are very useful, and last about a year if you have a BA. You learn helpful things like how to control a wild class full of middle school Israeli kids, what rights you have as a teacher working with the Misrad HaChinuch, and how to advance your career.
I learned the hard way that you really don’t need a master’s degree in Education to work as a teacher. Unless you want to specialize, doing your master’s degree is a waste of time.
There are many Native English speaking classes that are offered for new olim who do not have a great grasp on Hebrew yet, but these kids are brutal. Keeping control of a class is not very possible unless you show competence in Hebrew. Faking it is fine if you are good at that. I am not. I let the students see my fear. That was my first mistake.
3. Heterogenous Classes
Schools do put the students in different levels for classes, including English and Math, which I think is helpful. However, there is still a disparity between the students in these leveled classes. In many cases, a low-level class in 7th grade could have students who still are not fully literate, as well as students who are on the level of the book. Without a teaching degree or past experience, I personally had no idea how to tackle this issue. This was a huge challenge for me, especially since the classes I was teaching had 30+ students in them.
Another shock to me was that as a first-year teacher, you are assigned the worst-behaved classes. The lowest level students who are also dealing with real shit at home are just gathered together and the new teacher is thrown in to “see how it goes.” Boy, does it not go well. My first year teaching was mostly crying. (If you would like to read more about what it’s like to start teaching in Israel with no previous experience, see my blog post here: https://alanaschwartz-19067.medium.com/how-to-build-yourself-up-after-getting-fired-4111662faee9). I don’t know why this system is in place when there are so few good teachers who actually care about the students and want them to improve. It seems to me that this is just a way to set up new teachers to fail.
4. Special Education
In America, most schools have extra funding for special education classes, as well as support for the teachers, extra resources, and time allotted to these classes. In Israel, it really depends on the day. Will the students even show up? Did the government get its shit together in time to pass a budget for special education programs? Does the school have working computers? This is always a mystery and it changes day-to-day. Whoever works full-time in special education in Israel is a true angel and deserves a pay raise.
“Teachers are so lucky! They get paid in the summer to do nothing!”
Yeah, no. The #2 thing that drives people out of this career is the salary. (The #1 thing being burnout, obviously.) Yeah, you’re not going to be a millionaire if you’re in education. But in Israel, where salaries are depressingly low in general, does not have salary benefits for teachers. Also, if you don’t have a full-time job with the Education Ministry, you won’t get paid in the summer at all. Most part-time teaching jobs pay per hour, and that’s it. No vacation or sick days. Only if you work within the small parameters of the Ministry can you get a slow pay raise per year. I work in universities and private companies and do get a higher hourly rate, but because they are not part of the Ministry, I do not get Ministry benefits. Makes sense, honestly. It is great to work for the Ministry of Education, where you get yearly raises from 1) spending more time in a specific school and 2) taking professional development classes, as well as access to a union that probably also has great stuff.
Really, the #1 thing you need before working in education here is tough skin. And for me, it took a while to build it up. But now it’s there and thank God, I am a better teacher for it.
Hope this list helps! Good luck out there.