This story comes to us from the TALMA program, an immersive summer-long teaching experience that brings talented educators to Israel to improve elementary school students' English language skills. TALMA is a joint program of Israel's Ministry of Education, the Steinhardt Family Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Below, TALMA teacher Rachel Morrison reflects on her experience thus far! This post first appeared on the TALMA blog.
Today started out slightly chaotic. We all struggled to wake up (in true teacher fashion), hurried our way to our bus, and arrived in Kiryat Malakhi thirty minutes earlier than yesterday. My school ended up remaining locked for awhile, until someone came to open the door. The person with the key is someone who I've never met. He started asking me questions in what sounded to me like rapid-fire Hebrew. Caught off-guard, all I could muster up was "English? Teacher? TALMA?", while pointing to my name tag, wearing my kindest (and slightly nervous) smile. After doing my best to reassure him that my co-teacher would soon be coming, I walked into the empty school, made my way into the teacher's lounge and immediately turned on the air conditioning. Long skirts and long sleeves are no joke!
Let's stop for a second. Even as I type out my morning, I'm laughing because it sounds like it would be stressful. Early morning wake-up, waiting outside for more than a half-hour in three layers of clothing, and not understanding the language being spoken to me. Yes, those things could have all resulted in me feeling unsettled, inadequate, defeated. But as I waited, I had time to reflect. In these 40 minutes in the beautiful Israeli sunshine, I learned a valuable lesson that set my intention for the rest of the day.
In those 40 minutes, I looked around. I don't just mean I noticed the scenery and heard a few birds. I really tried to take it all in, to understand the story of the area. At the most basic sense, I was in the gorgeous sunshine. Everything seemed to be a bit brighter, happier. I saw many people walking to work, hanging laundry, stepping out on to their balcony for their first peek at the morning. I heard the frenzied voices of parents getting their children ready for Summer School and the morning prayers of the young girl standing next to me, waiting for the door to be unlocked. How diligent she was, holding her beautiful siddur, reciting the prayers as she does each morning. Her focus was on nothing else but the task in front of her, barely giving me a glance as I stood there.
When I first sat down in the teacher's lounge, I admit that I was slightly uncomfortable due to the heat and the morning's chaos. But approximately thirty seconds after I heard the joyful voices of the sweet girls I'm lucky enough to teach, this all changed.
Three of the girls immediately started poking their heads in to the few doors to find me. As soon as they saw me sitting alone in the teacher's lounge, their beautiful eyes brightened, they ran inside with their arms wide open and embraced me in a gigantic hug. They began to speak hurriedly to me in Hebrew, telling me how excited they were to see me before prayer, before realizing I understand very little. They burst into laughter, switched to English and called out, "Good morning teacher!" and "I love you!" as they were ushered into the hall for morning prayer.
I sat there for a second, taking it all in. Oh, how I had forgotten how truly remarkable it is to be in a classroom where love is given so freely and unconditionally. The lack of personal space is so refreshing. I'm not sure I'd be able to count how many hugs I receive, hands I hold, or children that spontaneously wrap their arms around me.
Sitting there though, I realized just how incredible it is to actually be viewed as a human. The love these kids show for a teacher they just met yesterday, is a beautiful thing. Add in my inability to speak their language and communicate my own words of affection, and it becomes even more unbelievable in the best way.
I can already hear people saying, "But you're their teacher. They need to respect you."
Yes, I agree. But it is in my experience that respect cannot be present when you are unable to love another person for who they truly are. The moment you are able to remember that we are all human, respect and love can flow freely, surpassing fear.
I'm different than these girls in so many ways. I'm secular, they are extremely observant. I'm 29 years old, they are nine. I speak English, they speak Hebrew. I am from America, they are from Israel. You get the idea.
But we've got one thing in common. We share a genuine tenderness for each other that goes beyond words. It is through their hopeful, curious eyes that I feel loved. I feel human.
I am overwhelmingly certain I am in the right place, doing exactly what I am called to do. These next few weeks will be challenging, that's a given. But in a place where love is given so freely and unconditionally, despite language barriers, anything is possible.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.