Crisis and Opportunity: Network Members Talk About Their New COVID-19 Realities – Nerit Katz

Nerit Katz is the Chief Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s School Mathematics Division.

“I’ve worked in the education system for years. This week, I watched it change before my eyes. Everything we knew, everything we had learned, everything we’d thought – it all changed. The very components of school which were so natural only three weeks ago – a classroom, a teacher, a student – are no longer in the picture.

The Israeli education system has been forced to face a radical change. We are reinventing ourselves in the moment to create something new. But are we ready for change? What are our capabilities in this framework? And how will we create a new function for teachers, dministrators and students?

Until a few days ago, my role as the Director of Elementary School-Level Mathematics in the Ministry of Education seemed a bit simpler. I implemented math programs in middle schools. My job was to work with teachers and students on math so that more students would learn and excel.

But my job is getting a bit of a twist now. If we want students to learn math and we continue our great efforts to increase the number of people who learn while preventing dropouts, we need to adjust ourselvesSo every day for the last few days, I’ve thought to myself – how do we do it?

All our activity has gone online: we provide teachers with online responses, operate an online learning system for students, disseminate relevant knowledge, materials and content for teachers and students and distribute lessons and content to students who are currently learning without a teacher’s organized framework. All this is being done through the computer.

We’re not just math teachers anymore. Our job in teaching math is not to prepare students for their upcoming high school final exam. Instead, we’re working to maintain the status quo, to give students something to do, to preserve contact with them, to show them that we are here.

And this process is difficult. Shifting to doing everything online within a day is difficult. We didn’t come into this with the necessary skills. In order to effectively teach a lesson from afar, a teacher needs to have technological skills on the one hand, and the ability to lead a remote lesson on the other. If it’s difficult to lead a class while the teacher is physically in the same room as his or her students, doing so in a virtual, new and unfamiliar space with no eye contact or true control over all that goes on is that much more challenging. For most teachers, they need to continue teaching while learning on the go themselves.

I’ve been working on creating a new initiative over the last few days. Its goal is to learn how to teach as effectively as possible. Not only to preserve good practices, but to continue to improve, as well. MAOZ has accompanied me in my work on this venture, which I’ve conducted in collaboration with the Branco Weiss Institute for Education and Teaching, with which I connected through the Network.

We decided to focus on groups of 10th grade students who are starting their high school final exams this year. We are building them an entire system for remote learning 
– not only for them to maintain their learning and stay connected, but to create a mantle for continued standard learning, as if they were in class today.
This strange period also has its tougher moments. Like when I stop myself and think: ‘Wait a second – how is carrying this whole thing out from one moment to the next possible?’

MAOZ helped build a group that accompanies me along this new road, sometimes on Zoom and sometimes on the phone. Thanks to MAOZ Network members’ shared commitment, I have received an advisory team that helps me plan, formulate and focus on my course of action so that I receive the answers I need.

I’m a big believer in math. I’ve always believed in it. At home, when my own child needs a moment to recharge, I send him to do some math. I think this is always true, especially in the coronavirus era.”