Shvit-ha (pronunciation provided by me, so take it with a grain of salt) means “strike” in Hebrew.
In typical Israeli fashion, students in Israel are very vocal about what they think and what they want. It turns out, they are also organized enough to follow through and get what they want, as well. On our second day of teaching at Lady Davis high school (13.1.15, in Israeli date notation), the students gave us a little current events lesson. They told us that very recently, a student had drowned during a high school field trip, and the family had sued the teacher. Since the teacher had no insurance coverage from the school system, he/she was in a pretty bad situation. In response, and to prevent such events from happening again, the teachers’ union refused to go on any more field trips until the teachers were granted immunity from getting sued if a student got hurt on a field trip. The high school students union was less than pleased with that decision, and after many negotiations trying to win their beloved field trips back, decided to go on a strike from school until the teachers’ union agreed to allow (and allocate funding for) field trips again. This strike, as our students informed us, was planned to start on Wednesday (14.1.15). What this meant was that on Wednesday, none of the high school students at any high school anywhere in Israel would show up; our high school, Lady Davis, would be an empty campus except for the teachers, who were still expected to be present. We were very taken aback — this never happens in the United States! — and didn’t know what to do other than show up and see what would happen.
Wednesday morning, we showed up at Lady Davis to a deserted campus. The security guard let us into the gates, and it was like stepping into an empty castle. I could almost hear our footsteps resonating from the empty hallways around us. We headed to our classroom hesitantly, waited for a security guard to unlock the door for us, and headed inside to set up the classroom. As 9am approached, to our surprise, a few students came in and sat down. As we chatted with them, students kept trickling in until our whole class had appeared! We talked to them about why they came — didn’t they have a strike? Their responses warmed my heart. These students had come to class to spend time with us, when they could have been hanging out with all of their friends at the mall, or sleeping in. Their logic was that we had come all the way from the United States to teach them, so they weren’t going to let a strike get in our way. They were the only students in the building other than the special-ed students. We had a great day with them, and covered all of our planned curriculum. However, we could sense that they were a little more restless than usual, so we thanked them for showing up and let them go a little early.
On Thursday, we showed up to a bustling school again. We were told that the strike had worked, so it had been called off! The teachers’ union had granted field trips again — though what would be done about insuring the teachers didn’t seem to have been resolved. When we talked with our students, they didn’t seem too surprised. They informed us that the student union went on strike or threatened strike about once a year, and they usually got what they wanted. I wonder, if students in the United States were this organized and pushed for causes they cared about, what would the result be? Longer holidays, more extracurriculars, more funding for programs that students cared about? All I know is, the organization of the Israeli high school students union impressed me very much, and I was so lucky to both have witnessed the strike and have students loyal enough to show up despite the strike.
Originally published at shalomsohard.wordpress.com on January 20, 2015.