Ein Bustan:Arab-Jewish Education - Starting Class One/Amir Shlomian
Sowing Seeds of Hope and Peace
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Home >> Ein Bustan News >> Starting Class One/Amir Shlomian

 May 2011

Dear Friends,
Over the last few weeks, I have been forming a personal decision that I have not yet shared with you. After a series of deliberations, I have decided to become a first grade teacher, along with a fellow colleague, an Arab woman teacher.
I completed my Waldorf teacher training years ago, in London. I have taught the younger grades and kindergarten children as a music teacher. The questions that still require answers relate to the integration of the various elements in my life: class teacher, Director of the Ein Bustan association, father and breadwinner. The picture will become clearer as time goes on, and I know that when one starts going down the road, the answers are sure to follow.
I am very happy about my decision and regard the possibility to implement what I myself believe in as a privilege and an honor: to teach the children of our two nations together in one classroom. Writing this sentence makes me emotional, almost on the verge of tears, and I assume you understand me.
You probably have many questions, and I will attempt to briefly answer what I can at the moment.
The co-teacher who will be teaching with me is Hasna Suweid, who is about to conclude her Waldorf Teacher Training. Our status in class is equal. In April, we started to meet on a regular basis, once or twice a week. We are developed a way to jointly study and work up until this coming summer, so that we can develop our joint work methods in the upcoming school year. We talked a lot about ourselves and about our beliefs, and we defined for ourselves what it is that we need to study, explore, etc. My feelings about our cooperation are excellent. I believe that we shall prove that two teachers is a winning model, as is the combination of two cultures.
During the Passover break we initiated two intense seminar days, during which we [Hasna and myself] continued to examine how a bi-lingual and multi-cultural Waldorf class will work, so that all of the elements will be stronger as a result of the collaboration. Participating in our seminar were Gilad Ginbar, an experienced Waldorf teacher, and Dr. Aura Mor, an expert in bi-lingual education. Within the short time we had at our disposal, we accomplished quite a bit. Gilad presented us with an overview of the curriculum and of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rhythms. Aura presented us with the main principles for working together, and for teaching two languages.
Most of the issues seem to fit together with no difficulty. In my opinion, Waldorf education and bi-lingualism complement each other, just as the two cultures that we are dealing with complement each other. For example, the curriculum that is in use in the Waldorf schools in Israel [which have a majority of Jewish children] necessarily reflects the commonly accepted Jewish narrative. This matter may not be significant in [our bi-lingual] 1st grade class, but we certainly have begun to create our own alternatives. For example, our stories of great men” [parallel to the study of Saints, in the Christian Waldorf curriculum] will introduce the stories of famous Moslems from the glorious Moslem past, and also those of Jewish Rabbis and scholars of note.
I feel excited to be responsible for the development of an educational program in which the children will be able to be proud of whom they are, and what is more - to be proud of whom they are with. They will be able to see how each of us complements the other, and how when we are together we are better, stronger and more beautiful.
We explored the question of how we will teach two sets of alphabets at the same time, and we abandoned the idea that we need to separate the children into two classrooms for this purpose. Now we have decided on a model that employs one story, which changes over from Arabic to Hebrew and vice-versa, in which we feature two letters, one from the Arabic alphabet and one from the Hebrew alphabet. On the blackboard we will have two drawings: one for each of the letters. The children will copy the letter of their mother tongue into their notebooks. We aim to complete the introduction of all the letters of the alphabet (in both languages) by the end of second grade. Aura taught us that this is possible and practicable. I have described this in some detail, and in future, we will similarly examine in further detail each matter, verse, story, etc.
Hasna and I understood that our first step should be to learn to tell a story together. This certainly cannot be taken for granted. We decided to choose a short story, prepare it, and tell it in our joint kindergarten, Ein Bustan, so that we could learn from the experience.
The story we chose tells of a good shepherd that lost his little sheep, and after many trials and searches he manages to find him and return him to the flock. An opening song, (in Arabic, without translation) with gentle accompaniment on the guitar, invites the Queen of Tales to tell as story. Hasna starts telling the story in Arabic, while I show what is happening in the story through the use of puppet figures on the area in front of us, which forms the puppet theater. With my eyes, I follow the reactions of the Hebrew speaking children, in order to confirm that they understand what is happening in the story. After a few sentences, Hasna takes over moving the puppets, without moving them from their places (the puppets sit between us). The story then continues - in Hebrew. The sheep falls in a deep well, and the shepherd hears her bleating. The sound of the sheep, the melody of a flute, a bird chirping - all of these do not need explanation nor translation, and the entire story flows easily between Arabic and Hebrew and vice versa. After the story reaches its conclusion, we sing together a song about the shepherd - this time in Hebrew, with no translation. All of the children listened intently, and none of them complained that they did not understand. The kindergarten teachers reported that the whole event was magical. Fortunately we had someone with a video camera with us that day, so I hope that eventually you will be able to see a short clip of this.
There are many questions seeking answers, and the growth that we expect in this coming school year demands a larger infrastructure. But I am sure that solutions exist and we just need to dare and ask for them. I am personally grateful for the possibility to do what I am doing, and thank you for your support: for reading about our project, for sharing it with others, for supporting us financially, and in any other way.
Yours with love,
Amir Shlomian 




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