A Pioneer Teacher’s Story – To listen, not only to teach

Tzahaynesh Adel-Krur is a pioneer teacher in the Educational Pioneer Program of the Democratic Institute and teaches in the Sgula Ulpana (girls’ high school) in Kiriat Motzkin.

As a pioneer teacher she established the “Noam Center”, a therapeutic-educational center in the Ulpana. We met with Tzahaynesh to hear her inspirational story.

Q: Hello Tzahaynesh.  Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: I immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia when I was 9.5 years old on the verge of adolescence. The experience was like a dream come true and filled with joy. However, it was also a struggle for survival in trying to understand where I was. A sense of community among Ethiopian immigrants did not really exist at the time and we were scattered all over the country. The sense of community that I felt so strongly in my village in Ethiopia no longer existed for me.  The communal “anchors” completely disappeared when we came here.

Although the neighborhood we lived in had an Ethiopian community, it was not like the family like” community I grew up in.”

My parents struggled and desperately wanted me to succeed here. Thus, I found myself in a select school in the southern part of Israel. The academic level of the school was excellent and the pupils were from a strong population, but the teachers did not know how to address my emotional needs and I felt that none of them really understood my personal situation. All the other pupils had an advantage over me in the Hebrew language and learning skills, as well as in their understanding of the Israeli culture.

I was a good pupil with high abilities but I had other difficulties. For example, my teacher couldn’t understand why I didn’t have enough time to finish my homework assignments. I found it difficult to explain that I was the oldest of 6 children and my parents worked around the clock, struggling to make ends meet. Being the eldest, I had to take on the role of parent to my 5 younger siblings while also studying in high school. This caused a clash between the two most important areas of my life. I am sure the teacher would have raised an eye brow had she known all that was expected of me and how much I was dealing with. I yearned for someone who would listen and understand and who could give me a hug of encouragement. That never happened.

During my National Service I served as a tour guide in the Society for the Protection Of Nature and following that I studied for my first degree in theater. At that time I already knew that I wanted to help people. I imagine the deeper reason for this was to fulfill my own personal needs, needs that were not met in my childhood.

This naturally led me to working in the world of education combined with social activism.

Q: As a pioneer teacher, how did the idea of creating a therapeutic-educational center in the Ulpana come about?

A: The idea for the center grew out of a need and out of the connection to my own personal experience. I was born in a rural village, into a society that was religious, had strong familial ties and a strong sense of community. That community served as a many faceted, very effective support system. In everything pertaining to the needs of mind and body, the simplicity of the village community and the clans met each and every one of our needs. Within a community one feels a strong sense of belonging and purpose. The inner resources I possessed in my childhood were good and strong.

I began working in the Ulpana 8 years ago. The principal of the school, Ruhama Hazut, received me with open arms, knowing I was interested in opening the therapeutic-educational center I had long been dreaming of.  In 2016 the Ulpana and the “Pioneer Educational Program” of the Democratic Institute set out on a common path. At that time, the center did not yet exist and I was working as an emotional therapist in the School. When Ruhama Hazut made a new list of priorities and put the therapeutic-educational center at the top…this helped turn a dream into reality.

Q: Tell us about the center. What is unique about it?

A: About 600 pupils learn in the Ulpana. This school, which is an old and successful one, took on the challenge of opening its gates to a diverse population while still maintaining its high academic level. At present, the average matriculation grade stands at 98.

The center serves as a therapeutic center and not only for the school. The therapies offered at the center are “creative expression”, “drama”, “music” and “art and creativity”. I entered the picture with a very therapeutic agenda as opposed to school management that had a very educational agenda. The meeting of these two worlds created a complex dialogue that required counseling and external assistance.  The beauty of the pioneer education program was its ability to utilize already existing strengths, simply assisting in creating a working dialogue and letting this idea take shape and be realized.

In my eyes, the “gift” of the institute to this process was in its knowing how to come and say “I see there is desire and ability for this initiative, now let’s carry it out”. Sometimes, an external perspective is required – a perspective that can assist in making the exact and unique connections needed.

The most amazing thing is that within the public-school system a therapeutic center with a holistic view of the child, came into being.

My dream is that the Ministry of Education incorporates this pilot program into the Israeli public education system.

Thank you Tzahaynesh and good luck on your extremely important initiative!!