Charlotte Educators Teaching in Israel

The Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte recently committed funds to sponsor six local educators to travel to Israel this summer to teach English in its partnership region of Hadera as part of TALMA, the Israel Program for Excellence in English. The program pairs native English-speaking educators from around the world with their Israeli Hebrew-speaking counterparts. In addition to professional development, the program allows American teachers to reconnect to both Israel and their Judaism. “Enhancing our community’s understanding and relationship with Israel is one of the Federation’s strategic priorities,” says Tair Giudice, chief impact officer. “TALMA provides young adults from our community the unique opportunity to spend a summer in Israel volunteering in public schools, building relationships with their Israeli counterparts, and deepening their connection to Israel and the Jewish world.”

Eliana Berger, a fifth grade teacher at Sterling Elementary, and Jesse Mazen, a special education teacher at Charlotte Metro School, will be heading to the Hadera-Eiron Region this summer as part of the program.

Eliana says, “I have been in Charlotte my entire life and grew up within the Jewish community here. I’m on the board of the Young Jewish Professionals groups in Charlotte and am passionate about obtaining a strong Jewish identity. As a child, I attended Ramah Darom for ten summers and traveled to Israel with them when I was 16. My older brother made Aliyah 11 years ago and has been living in Israel ever since. I have a very strong love for Israel and although I haven’t been in eight years, I will always feel very connected to it. I can not think of a more rewarding and amazing way to spend my summer than to work with other educators from around the world and be engulfed in the Israeli culture. I would love to represent Jewish Charlotte!

“While in Israel, when I was sixteen, I volunteered in an elementary school. At that point, I already knew I wanted to be a teacher but that experience solidified it. I am so interested in working alongside an Israeli educator and hopefully taking all of their knowledge back to use in my own classroom in Charlotte.

“I am inspired to join TALMA because I want to grow as an educator and truly believe the best way is by watching and working with other teachers. I have only ever worked in low-income schools which makes TALMA even more appealing and exciting to me. I have a passion for helping students grow — not only as learners, but as people. To know that these students are from Charlotte’s sister city makes it all the more special.”

Tisha Greene, assistant dean for the Office of School and Community Partnerships, UNCC, says of Eliana, “When I hired Eliana to teach four years ago, she was named the North Carolina Student Teacher of the Year. She is an amazing teacher.”

Also traveling to Israel is Jesse  Mazen, special education teacher at Charlotte Metro School.

“I have been to Israel twice. Once for Birthright and once for an internship with the Joint Distribution Center (JDC). During both of these experiences, I loved learning about Israeli culture and further exploring my Jewish identity. Since visiting Israel, I have joined a young professional Jewish organization to keep exploring and learning. I’ve been itching to go back to Israel as I find myself getting more and more involved with Judaism every time I visit.

I’m always interested in exploring new ways to teach and broaden my horizons. I believe we can learn something new from anyone around us. I currently work with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Differentiating instruction and individualizing programs is crucial for my students’ growth. Observing how Israeli teachers approach problems compared to American teachers will help me gain different perspectives on how I can transform my instruction to benefit my students. Behavior management strategies differ in every classroom. In special education, we are constantly using evidence-based practices to help with behavior management. My long-term goal is to work as a behavior analyst and I think it would be extremely beneficial to see what behavior strategies Israeli teachers use that differ from the strategies we use in the states.

To me, excellence is continuing to work to better yourself. My grandfather used to have a saying “Good, better, best, never let it rest till your good is better and your better is best.” I did not know this saying until I attend his funeral last week. This saying resonated with me. In the classroom, especially as a teacher, I believe we are always continuing to grow. We need to always strive to do better. Once we think we’ve reached our best we must tell ourselves “no, we can do more”. This continuous growth in our teaching is how we will achieve excellence in the classroom. This model will also inspire our students to reach excellence inside and outside the classroom.

Be sure to look in September’s Charlotte Jewish News for a follow-up interviews with Eliana and Jesse.

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