So.Many.Stories – At the Principal’s Office

Today I am delighted to have Dorit Sasson takes us into a story of cross-cultural conflict and confrontation. I met Dorit through the So.Many.Stories project and you will see her bio at the end of the post. 

The bare white principal’s office is now a place of confrontation. The fact that I am a newly arrived English elementary teacher at a development town in Israel hasn’t sensitized loud-mouthed teacher to collaborate with me. When I finally told Tziona, our mentor, the real deal of our collaboration, I knew that I would have to work even harder to make my silent “teacher” voice heard. The voice I perhaps didn’t know existed.

The aggressive principal speaks. (I can still hear Lina’s voice) “Yael,” Lina says.  “Dorit’s a new teacher. If you’re both teaching the same classes, I don’t understand why you are both working separately. So, ma koreh, what’s going on?” Lina asks. I have to wonder what looks tighter: Lina’s intent expression or her bun.

Yael, the other teacher who prefers to teach English “her way,” doesn’t say anything.  Tziona sustains our eye contact long enough just to reassure what she has said to me before, Yehiyeh besder, “it will be okay.” But we both know it will be a long way. She leans forward, crosses her legs a bit and says, “We need to find a way to work things out together. You both can’t continue working in isolation. It makes no sense.”

Yael looks at me. I nod.

Okay, it’s time to make my silence heard.

There’s more that Lina and loud-mouthed teacher need to know. Much more.

For example, what about the time when I introduced myself to her classes and all I got was a Mona-Lisa smile …from one student?

Or when I tried to “socialize” with loud-mouthed teacher and all I heard was the noise of crunching carrots.

There is no cultural-linguistic shield to protect me now. (it’s a confrontation – how do you rely on your Israeli smarts)

I try to discern the “loud-mouthed” teacher’s eyes from her thick rimmed glasses but the light refracts what appears to be a stare. I know she’s thinking “go home you American. I take no prisoners. I’m better than you and you’re not going to change the way I work.”

Since the beginning of school, I’ve honored the Israeli teaching motto of “don’t smile before Chanukah,” and so perhaps I’ve received Lina’s goodwill. But now I have to find the right Hebrew voice. To articulate Hebrew assertively. To undo my silence. But between Lina’s tight-fisted bun and zippered mouth and Tziona’s fidgety look, I’m hoping I won’t need to talk.

Loud mouth teacher is the first to speak. She’s of course the one with “kfiyoot” – the seniority. She moves her hands in and out as if to open an oven. “Tziona,” she says raising her voice. “It’s close to impossible. We teach at different hours in different places.”

Loud-mouthed teacher now points to me. “She teaches small groups. I teach the large classes.”

“Yael, you don’t have to work together on everything. There’s no point if you have the same book and grades and you’re both working in isolation.” Tziona says. Lina nods affirmatively.

Loud-mouthed teacher looks at me. The words don’t come.

“How about if Dorit pulled out some of the lower-performing students from your group and worked with them?” Tziona suggests.

Ze lo ya’avod, it won’t work,” loud-mouthed teacher says.

“Why?”

“Because …they are at different levels.”

            What does that have to do with anything?

I say something that I hope will turn the discourse around. Even though I am still figuring out which word to say, I speak anyhow.
“I think the students I teach are at a lower performing level. They cause problems.” I am both nervous and relieved that I’ve got now everyone’s attention.

“Exactly. That’s why I don’t think it’s good to take my students out.” Loud mouthed teacher says. Her words rise like huge hot air balloons in this small office.

Aval achav hadivarim nirgeo, but now I feel things have settled down.” I say in a calm Hebrew voice.

Ze lo yishaney kloom, it still won’t make a difference,” loud-mouthed teacher says. “It’s too difficult of a situation.” She still won’t look at me so I look to Tziona for support.

“And if Dorit takes the hours she has with the non-readers and works individually with one or two students?” Tziona suggests.

“Still won’t work.”

“”Yael, you’ve got to be flexible here.” Tziona now speaks more emphatically. “This is a very difficult situation.”

“Yael, I don’t understand you. We’re talking about the students here.” The aggressive principal says something I didn’t expect to hear. “Give it a chance.”

“Okay, I’ll give it a try, but I still don’t think it will be successful.” Yael says.

All I hear is the “ani” for “I.”

Tziona looks at me, “How do you feel about that, Dorit?”

“That’s fine. I have worksheets prepared for their level and everything.”

Tziona nods in approval. “That’s a good start.”

“But it’s a difficult group. A harder group.” Yael says.

“Is there anything you want to say Dorit?” Lina asks.

“No.”

We talk it out – in their language.

Not mine.
We don’t really find a solution in their language.
Not mine.

When we leave Lina’s office, I whisper to Tziona, “That wasn’t easy. With Yael, I mean.”

Tziona says, “I know. She’s difficult.”

“Yes.”

“It’s not going to be easy.”

I go home and write about the lesson and the day in my language. This is what I wrote:

Today, I taught another lesson to fourth graders who are learning another language that just happens to be my mother tongue.
Only I’m not so sure if this cultural classroom is mine or theirs.
I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Dorit Sasson is the author of Giving Voice to the Voiceless and a speaker. She uses the power of story to help others create their life and business in story. Download your free MP3, Story Manifesto: A Guide To Stepping into the Authentic Voice and Vision of Your Story, at www.GivingAVoicetotheVoicelessBook.com. When you do, you’ll receive a complimentary subscription to the “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” ezine, including a transformational tip of the week.

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8 thoughts on “So.Many.Stories – At the Principal’s Office

  1. Thanks everyone for your comments. I love this discussion. Cross-cultural communication is such a hard medium to navigate especially if you KNOW upfront you aren’t wanted. Although there was just that one confrontation and the tension died down shoftly afte, we never were able to see things eye to eye and so we had to work isolatedly out of choice, which was a real shame. I never felt a sense of belonging at that school and thankfully, I left after that one year of teaching.

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  2. You captured the tension so very well Dorit. I found myself tensing up, my stomach churning. These cross cultural conflicting moments are stressful and pregnant with meaning and mystery and a vast range of emotions. I too am curious how ended up! Thanks for sharing this story.

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  3. Thanks Dorit for talking about how complex language and giving voice to feelings are. You piece portrays not only a difficult situation but the way words of different languages carry different meaning – subtle, rich, feelings that translation can’t always capture. Thank you – Kimberly Burnham, http://www.NerveWhisperer.com

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  4. Dorit – I’m so curious as to how the year turned out for you – as I’m sure other readers are! Did you ever make friends with the teacher or was it a grudging acceptance that you were there on her part?

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