Michaela Singer,Volunteer and Teacher

Profile of MICHAELA SINGER, summer 2010 volunteer hired to continue on as a junior high teacher. 

A Chemistry That's Working.

Michaela (left) with a friendVolunteering at Hand in Hand is a little like working in a language laboratory. Arabic, Hebrew and English are freely interchanged in syntactic and semantic alchemy. Aside from its celebrated bilingualism, Hand in Hand can also be proud of the enthusiasm and positive attitude of its students.

On Sunday mornings, taking a break from my own Hebrew-language learning, I volunteer as an English assistant at Hand in Hand's Jerusalem campus with small groups of children who need a little extra help.

One of these children is 7th-grader Adam. His gritty determination to learn is overwhelming. He persistently asks me for vocabulary, and as I correct his spelling and pronunciation, he furiously scribbles down words, consuming sheet after sheet of paper.

Adam wants to become an engineer, and, even at 13, is acutely aware that competency in English is something he needs to achieve this. Despite the onset of the carefree summer, Adam remains conscientious, requesting a lesson. So we take it to the playground, where we learn how to describe people in English, using fast-paced oral drills to master pronunciation. “Does he have a moustache, do I have a moustache, who has a moustache, does she have a moustache?” Adam seems to find the last question particularly amusing.

In a school where English-language ability varies dramatically from student to student, volunteers, able to help students who may otherwise fall behind, are essential. Bilingualism, or in this case, trilingualism, is not a simple state of affairs: students come to English, Arabic, or Hebrew with varying personal needs, capabilities and confidence.

Another small group I work with is made up of three 9th-graders. It’s clear that all three have the capacity to learn; instilling confidence is the challenge. One of my first Arabic teachers, a Palestinian journalist, told me to "make mistakes, and make them proud.” This is the attitude I try to instill in the students, getting them to take their hands away from their mouths, and using voice variation to articulate using “English” muscles.

We play word and grammar games, speaking games, and use rhythm and rhyme. By the end of the lesson, the students are writing on the board, using irregular past tenses to create simple yet grammatically accurate sentences.

Volunteering at Hand in Hand, one quickly gains an impression that it’s a place where something exciting and beautiful is happening — linguistically, socially and educationally. It’s a laboratory where trilingualism and education meet in the chemistry of coexistence. It's a chemistry that’s working.

A teacher at the junior high school in Jerusalem, Michaela Singer first became part of Hand in Hand’s community as a volunteer. British, with a masters degree in linguistics, Michaela has a background teaching English as a second language to adults and tutoring youth. Hand in Hand was delighted to hire her for the 2011-2012 school year to teach English to 7th, 8th and 9th graders. 

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