For Randallstown resident Princess Agha, teaching is everything. A Teach For America alumnus with a master’s in education from Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, Agha taught grades 3, 4 and 5 in both South Carolina and Washington, D.C., before beginning her current job as a program director at Central Scholarship in 2017.
When a friend told Agha about her experience as a teaching fellow in Israel, her curiosity was piqued. The program is TALMA, a fellowship where international teachers instruct English-immersion programs for low-income Israeli elementary school children during the summer. Agha was accepted into the fellowship and spent a month between late June and late July in the Jezreel Valley.
Agha said there were two things that drew her to the program. First, she couldn’t pass up the chance to go to Israel.
“I’m from Baltimore County and I went to middle school in Pikesville,” said Agha, 26. “I had a lot of friends who were Jewish, some of them had parents from Israel. I went to bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs growing up. I’ve been learning a lot about the culture since then.”
While Agha was in undergrad, studying at the University of Maryland College Park, she worked as a resident advisor. Many of the students she lived with were Jewish and Agha had ample opportunities to celebrate Shabbat with them.
With an existing exposure to American Jewish culture, what better place to continue her Jewish education than in Israel?
The second aspect of the program that Agha was drawn to was TALMA’s use of co-teaching models, a strategy that allows a pair of educators to share responsibilities normally assigned to one teacher, such as instruction, lesson planning, and assessment of students. The model is still uncommon in the United States, but is most frequently used in settings that aim for inclusion of students with special needs into the general studies classrooms.
“There’s so many more things you can do when you have a co-teacher,” said Agha. “There would be times where we’re doing two separate activities with different groups in the same class. We also played off of each other’s strengths. If there was one teacher that’s super fun and exciting, and there’s another teacher that’s more focused on discipline and learning, we’re able to balance each other out.”
Much like the style of teaching, Agha said the behavior of Israeli students is different than in the United States. During their training sessions, the fellows were told that Israeli students tend to advocate for themselves more than American students do.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this student is not behaving’ but then I remembered back to my training,” said Agha. “The coaches said, ‘No, no. That’s what the Israeli students do. Listen and see if you can incorporate that into what you’re doing.’”
While Agha spent much of her time in the Jezreel Valley, living and teaching in the planned communities of Mizra and Nahalal, she spent two weekends in Jerusalem. One of those weekends, Agha and other TALMA fellows immersed themselves in Shabbat customs, not using any electricity and spending much of the day outdoors.
More than anything, the trip for Agha strengthened her desire to learn about more cultures and visit more places.
“It certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for different cultures, even though a lot of cultures are not all that different,” said Agha. “I appreciate being able to see so many different cultures in one country.”