Relations within the school.

Socioeconomic Status of Arab Teachers

The socioeconomic status of Arab teachers has been declining for the past two decades. In the past teaching was considered one of the most prestigious and important occupations in Arab society -- a veritable mission. As teachers' remuneration lost ground in comparison with that of other professionals in Arab society, the social prestige of this profession also plummeted. (10) Consequently, the best students are no longer attracted to teaching; they prefer more prestigious professions such as law, medicine, and engineering. Most of those who choose teaching today are high-school graduates with low academic achievements, relatively speaking. The direct result is a poor standard of teaching.

This trend was clearly expressed in our interviews. For example, one long-tenured educator was asked which students chose teaching as a career and what careers he would encourage his own sons, who were excellent students, to pursue. He replied:

Today, in the school where I teach, the best students go to university to study the liberal professions, because they consider teaching an inferior profession on the basis of the pittance -- the low wages -- that the Education Ministry offers teachers. They also have to contend with the corruption that besets the appointment system. I myself have steered my children, who are all successful students, in every direction except teaching. My two oldest sons have finished medical school, and my third son will finish his studies as a physiotherapist in two years' time. If my fourth child, who is in tenth grade today, proves to be less successful and outstanding than his brothers, I will go crazy, because then I'll have to refer him to teaching, which I would hate to see happen. Thirty-five years ago, when I was appointed to a teaching position, my father threw a big parry in my village because his son had done well and had received a prestigious and lucrative job. Back then, when each village had only two or three teachers, everyone in the village envied my father and me because teaching was on the same level as medicine as against the other occupations available in the village. This was true in terms of both salary and social status.

A fifty-year-old history teacher in al-Jabal stated in his interview:

Long ago, when I was given a teaching position, it was a source of happiness and prestige not only in my father's home but for the entire family, because teaching was the profession of the elite.... Anyone destined to be a teacher was entering one of the best career tracks that society had to offer, and it was a sign that he was a successful student. Today, teaching is considered a low-status occupation in terms of income. If you compare teachers' pay to that of a simple construction worker, you'll see that the construction worker always comes out ahead, even though he never studied anything or underwent any training. Teaching is also inferior in social status, in comparison 'with other liberal professions that require academic training, such as medicine, law, and engineering, and those that do not require academic training, such as building contractor, electricity contractor, and so on. All of them are considered more prestigious.

Because the relative remuneration of teachers is so low today, many teachers have begun seeking additional sources of income in order to make a better living. Consequently, they are not fully devoted to their teaching duties. One of our respondents described this situation:

Most teachers in local schools, particularly in primary schools, are locals who hold extra jobs. These local teachers neither do their jobs adequately nor provide the children with a suitable level of education... and when they are alerted to this fact, they answer: "What do you mean, 'educate'? What do you think they're paying me as a teacher?" They're so badly off that even the parents go easy on them in this respect.

Some people who take up teaching regard this occupation as a temporary duty that is convenient and flexible because of the many holy days and feasts; they find that they can run business or hold another job simultaneously. Therefore, in the opinion of all of our respondents, teachers who are willing to devote their free time to teaching and consider teaching a vocation and way of life, not merely a source of livelihood, are a rapidly disappearing phenomenon.

This feeling was expressed in many interviews. The mayor of al-Zeitun said:

If you look at the teachers in the primary and junior-high schools in my village -- I am personally acquainted with all of them -- you will find that very few of them consider teaching a calling and a way of life. The others regard teaching as a convenient way to earn some money: it's near their homes, it's a flexible profession where you work only until midday, teach only half the year and spend the other half at home. It shows in their behavior and their speech.... However, if you look at the teachers in the local high school, you'll find the opposite: most of them are highly skilled, long-tenured, and serious in their attitude toward the school and the students. A substantial number of them consider their profession a good career.... The only thing that bothers them is their relatively low wages in comparison with what they've invested and what people in other professions earn.

A teacher from Bustan said:

I've noticed that teaching as a profession is losing its prestige and standing. Many teachers took up teaching, especially in primary schools, not because they like it but because it is convenient: the hours are easy and allow them to take care of their households at the same time. For example, most teachers prefer to teach second grade because it lets out at eleven-thirty in the morning rather than one o'clock.

The decline in teachers' socioeconomic status has affected students, attitudes toward members of this profession. Students, particularly successful ones, have begun to treat them with contempt, thinking (as one of the teachers stated) that "In a few years, I will be a lawyer or doctor and achieve a higher socioeconomic status than any of my teachers."

According to the principal of the school in ein-Galil, "The students treat the teachers contemptuously. Some even 'pity' us and try to avoid becoming teachers themselves." The teachers do not conceal this fact from their students or from others, and even make jokes at their own expense. One teacher in Bustan said, "When someone is asked what he does and he replies, 'I'm a teacher,' he's told, 'Never mind; as long as you're working it's no disgrace.'"

Jewish teachers, too, have been losing status over time. However, a factor that has affected the perceived status of Arab teachers specifically is that many talented students who took up teaching for lack of jobs for academically trained Arabs (11) do not contribute to their students as one might expect because of their frustration at finding themselves in a lower-status job than that for which they are qualified.

The mathematics teacher in al-Zeitun, an electrical engineer and a graduate of the Technion who completed his studies with distinction twenty years ago, explained the employment problems that talented degree-holding Arabs face. "In my time, only two Arabs were enrolled in the electrical engineering department, and since we could not find work in our profession, we went back to teaching."

Feminization of the Teaching Profession

Feminization of the teaching profession is a worldwide phenomenon. In the Israeli Jewish education system, it began in the 1950s. (12) Arab women began to enter the teaching profession in large numbers only about a decade ago as Arab society became more receptive to the idea of women working outside the home. Until then, a negligible proportion of Arab women were allowed to go out to work, and they belonged to urban communities only. Today, growing numbers of women are turning to the teaching profession, especially at the primary level, because (among other reasons) it is a convenient profession in that it allows Arab women to balance social and family obligations. "Teaching is the most 'suitable' profession for women," stated one of the respondents, "because teachers work until midday at the most, leaving them the rest of the day to discharge their family duties."

A teacher named Samira opined that "Teaching attracts many women who want two things: to bring in more income to help their husbands, and to get out of the house." Arab society is still considered very patriarchal in its division of family roles. Consequently, a mother who works outside the home, in this case as a teacher, is not exempt from housework. Some women in the Jewish sector also discharge both of these duties, but the attitude that housekeeping is women s work is more entrenched and widespread in the Arab sector, where it embraces all social strata and religious groups, rural and urban alike.

The dual burden on the Arab teacher/mother is detrimental to her performance as a teacher. In fact, the parents and the community expect this to happen, because Arab society considers it a sacred duty for mothers, not nannies, to look after their children.

Another explanation for the influx of women into teaching that emerged from the interviews is that teaching is considered a "safe" profession for women, i.e., one in which, unlike office work, they cannot form relationships with men. This matter, too, originates in the traditional structure that still characterizes Arab society.

The feminization process...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT