As a former teacher in a school in Gush Etzion, I have had the unique opportunity to understand the experiences of Olim students. They come into my English class during the first months of the school year with an overwhelming sense of relief. They were finally in a place where they understood the language, the material, and the activities. The rest of their day, however, was a maze of confusion, frustration, and anger. Many students report that they don’t understand the basic structure of the day.
As adults, we know that they will eventually soak up the language and start to integrate into the system. That process, however, can be terribly challenging and frustrating to children that we hope will love Israel.
Here is a quick checklist of important “do’s and don’ts” in the first year that may help you, as parents, to ease your child’s transition:
- Do share with your children that you are going through the process together. If you are in Ulpan or are struggling with Hebrew, express this to your children and let them watch you working on your language skills as well. It’s helpful for them to see that you are also new and struggling.
- Don’t put too much pressure on your children in the first year. Don’t worry if they are struggling with geography, history, or other language-heavy classes. Help them gain confidence by focusing on their successes during the year.
- Do encourage and focus on only a few subject areas in the first year. Encourage them to work hard at Hebrew, Limudei Kodesh and math. These are subjects which require intensive focus and are important building blocks for future learning.
- Don’t discourage your children from hanging out with English speakers. As long as they are also making an effort to integrate with Israeli children, there is nothing wrong with allowing them to have this security blanket.
- Finally, do be a “nice Nudnik.” Don’t hesitate to call the homeroom teacher. Get their cell phone number. Don’t feel that you are being impolite or aggressive – it’s assertive and normal for Israelis. You need to advocate for yourself and your family; if checking in with the teacher on a frequent basis will help you, then it is well within your rights to do so.
Be positive and encouraging with your children. There will certainly be highs and lows throughout the first year. Encourage your children along the way and point out that they are making amazing progress. Hopefully, they will, look back at this time period in awe, as they see how far they’ve come.