Feature Stories

Teach First Israel Shapes the Leaders of Tomorrow

Steve Schwager, JDC CEO, with four TFI teachers in Jerusalem.
Steve Schwager, JDC CEO, with four TFI teachers in Jerusalem.

Shmuel B., an elementary school teacher in Or Yehuda, Israel, recently got the kind of affirmation that inner-city educators dream of. “Teacher Shmuel, Teacher Shmuel, I am already on Chapter 5 of the book you gave me.” Marmit had never read a book before but now she sits on the playground and reads during recess.

Shmuel is one of the 66 teachers who comprise the first cohort of Teach First Israel (TFI). This innovative program—a joint venture of JDC, Israel’s Ministry of Education, and others—places top Israeli graduates in schools serving disadvantaged pupils across the country.

TFI’s mission is to provide children with top-quality education and the opportunity to choose their future, regardless of their socioeconomic background. By recruiting Israel’s best and brightest to educate and inspire students, the program aims to make a profound and much-needed impact on both the country’s education system and social fabric.

As a new teacher, Shmuel sees himself as a “generator of initiatives” and works hard to develop close relationships with students to better understand what motivates each one of them. One of his first initiatives at the school was cleaning up and restoring the library, which was in complete disarray when he arrived. He recruited student and teacher volunteers and has utilized the project to connect disparate stakeholders to a common mission. “These students are the future of society,” says Shmuel, “Adults have the skills and vision to guide them to make good in this world and spread the light.”

Shmuel is representative of the kinds of exceptional and committed young leaders TFI believes can transform Israel’s troubled education sector which, among other challenges, is turning out a generation of kids whose poor levels of achievement are correlated to their socioeconomic status. In addition to its efforts to buck this trend, TFI tackles the stigma that teaching is an unglamorous profession.

Based on the well-reputed Teach For America and Teach First (UK) programs, and a member of Teach For All (the global network of independent social enterprises working to expand educational opportunities in their countries), TFI is a scalable model that recruits and selects top candidates, trains and places them in classrooms in socially and economically depressed areas of the country, and provides them ongoing support throughout their two-year commitment to the program. During this time the teachers will gain the conviction that children from all backgrounds can achieve at high-levels and become alumni committed to TFI’s mission. Many will make the important decision to remain as teachers or become principals while others will continue working toward this goal from other sectors such as policy, social work, business and media.

Since TFI has ambitious aims of impacting thousands of students, the program seeks out applicants who demonstrate the traits to be highly-effective teachers. Many are putting off opportunities to earn high salaries in hi-tech, finance, law, and other sectors. In turn TFI offers its applicants an innovative training program to develop their leadership skills and hone their commitment to bringing about social change, as well as a full scholarship for their teaching certificate and scholarships for advanced studies. While TFI recruits for applicants with various academic backgrounds, there is a special emphasis on subjects where there is a shortage of teachers – Hebrew, English, math, and sciences. Teach First Israel received more than 700 applicants in its first year and will reach over 1200 in its second (and only a 10% acceptance rate), demonstrating that it is possible to incentivize Israel’s best and brightest to enter the teaching profession.

Currently 23 participating middle schools and high schools are benefiting from TFI, all of which are either state-schools or state-religious schools located in the social or geographic periphery. “Through Teach First Israel, children from low socio-economic backgrounds have an opportunity to meet excellent and inspiring young teachers,” says Shlomit Amichai, a TFI Chairperson.

TFI Co-Founder and CEO Asaf Banner sees a bright future for the schools that are touched by the program. “No system can be better than the people who are in it,” he says on behalf of JDC. “That is why we are infusing the system with new leaders today capable of becoming the leaders of tomorrow.”

Find out more about Teach First Israel.

Tags for this story: Children, Education, Youth / Young Adults

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