Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Chutzpa Of Closing A College Course In Israel

I teach in a teacher training college. One requirement for a degree in Israel - any degree - is passing an exam at a certain level of English. That means every student, has to take Academic English. The logic is sound - if you're entering academia you need to be able to read articles in English. But can you imagine having to pass an exam in Academic Russian if you want to be a nursery school teacher in Yorkshire? Or if you want to be a nurse in London, a social worker in Cardiff, a electronic engineer in Brighton..... You can see why many students hate it.

Another aspect of Israeli academia is that the students find it very hard to take 'no' for an answer when it comes to due dates and deadlines. There are reasons for this too. Firstly every male student does up to a month of army reserve duty every year. He has no say when this will be so you have to give extensions when it occurs. Also every exam has a second sitting a month later - with a different exam paper at the same level, obviously.

Secondly, Israeli students are older as they've completed several years of army service plus the needed year off to clear their heads and get out of the heat. This gap year is also when they take the Psychometric exam for university entrance so it's almost compulsory. Many students are already married with children. Female students disappear for a few weeks to have a baby and then come back. Male students are working night shifts to support their family. It's hard not to give them some slack when the reasons for being late with a paper is not because of partying.

There's always an extension. And then there's an additional extension. I teach some online courses in which papers can be re-submitted with corrections for an upgrade. During the extension period I refuse to check corrections. This is my one little power trip as in reality, online courses are very difficult to close. I still have students badgering me about finishing off last year's course (course ended 30th June 2015, 1st extension end of July, 2nd extension until Rosh Hashana, 3rd extension until the new semester starts on October 11th). I'm making them go to the college authority for special permission to continue and they are shocked at my chutzpa.

This summer I facilitated a summer course. We said it would be intensive and we said it would end on September 30th 2015. On October 1st I sent a letter to all students saying I would not accept any papers after October 11th when the new semester begins. The final final deadline was midnight on Saturday 10th October. No exceptions.

Then I did the unthinkable. At 5 minutes past midnight on 11/10/15 I closed the course. I changed the website settings so that nothing further could be uploaded by students. By Sunday morning I had three emails begging me to reconsider. By mid-morning two students had visited me personally (we work on Sundays here) to plead their cases. I was strong. I didn't give in. I want the word to get round that the due dates for English are not gentle suggestions but law.

I did it but I can't believe I got away with it.

Oh the relief of knowing that the final papers thrown at me at the eleventh hour are the final papers to grade. As the new semester started last week and I'm already dealing with new students, last week got a bit out of hand. Even DD noticed how our home was being neglected. She told me she didn't want her friends to come over because it was too messy. Woops.

I've now finished grading the summer course - no exceptions. I've tidied our apartment. I've washed up a week's worth of dishes all over the kitchen. I've done about 6 loads of laundry including the last of the sheets and towels used by my sister's family when they stayed here two weeks ago!

Bring on the new semester!


  1. Good. For. You. Deadlines are there for a reason and you've been generous enough to allow some extensions. Students, no matter their age and family circumstance, won't always think of the circumstances of the course giver and exam marker, will they?! It sounds like a change of mind-set is required? You certainly got that ball rolling! You have a very interesting job I think.

    On the language issue it would be nice if English speaking countries, like Ireland, started teaching a foreign language from an early age. We have made some changes to ensure that second and particularly third level students include a foreign language. I don't entirely agree with it though as they have mostly lumped it in with qualifications in the IT/Tech industry. Yes, those skills can be required there but a lot of students with IT/tech wired brains (think along the autism spectrum, dyslexia etc) do not have the same language abilities. xx

    1. You can get exemptions if there is a diagnosed reason. I have students who get longer exam times, permission to do exams on the computer with online dictionaries, those who don't have to write anything but have the questions read to them and they dictate their answers, and those who do lower level courses.

  2. Glad you "got away with it", but I also think that a deadline should be a deadline.. On the language issue, when I first moved to Ireland, I found that some jobs would be closed to me unless I had an Irish qualification, but I'm afraid I never got around to learning the language properly.

    1. I understand the national concern for Irish but it doesn't affect your ability to do most jobs. That's where it becomes unfair on those who are not good at languages.

  3. Good for you. There are alwYs excuses and valid reasons for not getting something completed but there has to be a limit. In English Universities there are no exceptions unless there is what's called a "special consideration". Undergraduates generally are single and child-free so partying or broken printers and unsaved work. I reminded all students I'd accept none of these excuses for late work and that they could email themselves their work every time they worked in it thus ensuring it was never lost. I offered a prize for the best excuse for not handing in a dissertation on time.

    Re language, I think us Brits seem to expect everyone to speak our language. I don't agree with this and try and learn languages where I can. I do think we should learn key languages and cultures from the day we start school and make the world a friendlier place. Xx

    1. Guess what - I was asked by the college to give students who had almmost finished anther extension. So I'm still working on this course until the end of December! Ugh!