A day in the life of ... Amanda Caplan

Teaching English to 12- to 15-year-olds in a state junior high in Rehovot, Israel, is challenging when their first language doesn't even use the same alphabet. But making paper planes helps

My school day starts the night before when I pack my bag. Apart from the usual lesson plan, textbooks and board markers, do I need dice, counters, a ball, some other props? Yes, props - teachers are also actors.

The alarm rings and, as I wake up, I run through my lesson plans for the day. Eight o'clock comes and I'm in the classroom with 35 students, the usual five still on the way, and only 32 chairs. Some find chairs, others settle on the floor.

Out come the students' notebooks, I give today's topic and they start writing; fluency, not accuracy, is the name of the game. The students scribble away, trying to express their creativity in English, a second or even third language for them. Not an easy task as none of them uses the Latin alphabet in their first languages of Hebrew, Russian or Amharic.

I know without looking who has forgotten their notebooks and who can't think of anything to write. Within minutes, everyone is busy - most, but not all, of them on task. What's that in the back corner? The ubiquitous mobile phone! I approach the guilty party: "Your bag or mine until the lesson ends?" There's a "discussion" that ends with: "Come and see me during break."

I implement my lesson plan - writing, role play, a grammar-based board game. It's a double lesson but these students don't disappear in the five-minute break between as they are working on their role plays. There are no computers in the classroom but never mind: homework is to watch a YouTube clip and to respond using Web 2.0 tools. Most students have computers at home; some will even do their homework.

In the 10 minutes between lessons, I brace myself for my challenging class. This is my "small" group, only 20 students. None of them really reads English despite four years of lessons. It's my job to show them they can succeed. I fix a smile on my face and walk in. No one takes any notice. I take a piece of paper, write my name on it, draw stick figures and write "my children". I make a paper plane and propel it across the room. Suddenly, the students realise that I'm there and, when I promise that they, too, will make planes, everyone eventually sits down.

I hand out paper and pencils. There are no expectations here of students bringing their own. I ask them to write their names and the name of something important to them, and tell them that they can draw a picture. The girls help the boys to make paper planes; gender stereotypes are strong here. Soon we have 15 planes flying around the room. Students pick one up and read it aloud. I'm pleased: 75 per cent participation, they're reading and writing in English, and there are even a few smiles. The bell goes. Today's lesson was a good one.

Time for the "long" break. Fifteen minutes, coffee or sandwich, no time for both. And I have to speak to my phone addict from earlier. It's a relief not to have playground duty.

Two more lessons, then I invigilate a history exam. English is considered an important subject, but it always seems to be the English classes that are cancelled.

Now it's my turn to give an exam. Reading comprehension, spelling, grammar and writing. There will be plenty of marking when I get home and more lessons to plan.

No meetings today, so I can go home. I always smile when I leave school. Either it was a good day, so I'm happy that I'm a teacher, or it was a bad day, so I'm happy to get out of there. Today was the former: I'm happy.

Your day

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