The English Teachers Association of Israel, aka ETAI, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exciting international conference! As one who has learned so much over the years thanks to ETAI, I’m honored to have the opportunity to interview the plenary speakers for the upcoming conference (see details about the conference here).
ETAI conferences have always been places to meet people who INSPIRE and Sarah Gordon is just such an educator. An educator who didn’t settle for musing “wouldn’t it be nice if…” but took an idea and actually made it happen. Sarah founded Israel Connect, an organization that partners over Skype hundreds of students and mentors in the English-speaking world to provide students who study English as a foreign language in Israel with authentic English language immersion experiences. In fact, Sarah has just been awarded the “Sovereign’s Medal for Community Service” for her work in Israel Connect. It is an honor awarded on behalf of the Queen of England for community impact.
Naomi: How was the idea for the Israel Connect program born?
Sarah: I studied teaching for two years in Israel. I took English as my teaching specialization since it was an easy way for me to get credits due to English being my first language. After I left Israel to finish my teaching diploma in North America (I actually am a Math teacher by training) I kept in touch with a few friends in Israel who went on to become English teachers. One teacher was teaching in a school in a bit of a rougher neighborhood. We were chatting and she explained to me how difficult it was to get her students up to par in the meager 45 min of English they had. Many were very disadvantaged as their parents were learning Hebrew as a second language and they did not have the opportunity to travel much. I jokingly told her that here kids are so smart they spontaneously begin speaking English at age three! We laughed, but it is true, immersion is the best and most painless way to learn a language. I started by finding mentors in my community for three of her students who struggled academically and had behavioral issues, just for some homework help. Those students turned into top students, they started sitting at the front of the class and participating nicely, now that they felt confident and accomplished. My friend then asked for more mentors. She told me some of her friends and co-workers were jealous and wanted some of their students to be tutored as well. At this point, I realized we were onto something extraordinary. These are the results you wish for when you become a teacher. I realized I was in a very unique position to help people. I quit my job as a teacher and began working on this program full-time, standardizing the process so we could scale and deliver the program across the country. And as they say, the rest is history or rather a lot of really really hard work, and no one wants to hear about that.
Naomi: That is so amazing! An idea blossomed into an organization that helps so many students!
Naomi: You currently reside in Canada and have a perspective on education in both Israel and Canada. Do you find significant differences between the attitudes toward education in both countries?
Sarah: The differences are massive. In Canada teaching is one of the best-paid professions, it is so in demand to find a teaching job that people wait on “subbing” lists for years. Classes are also smaller. In addition, in Canadian culture, being polite is a very strong cultural ideal. This is, in turn, is passed on and expected of students. That being said, in both countries no one teaches because it is an easy job, you teach because you think there is nothing more important than education. In both countries, teaching is work that comes from the heart and every teacher I have ever met gives it their 1000%.
Naomi: My final question is always the same for all the hard-working educators that I’m fortunate enough to interview: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Sarah: I do like to go to school and collect degrees, I guess you can call it a hobby.!
I’m looking forward to hearing more at Sarah Gordon’s plenary session at the upcoming ETAI conference!