One of the first lessons I learned when my kids started gan (Israeli preschool) is the importance of a good “saya’at,” or teacher’s aide. The saya’at prepares sandwiches, washes dishes, and cleans floors. She helps children in the bathroom. She cuts up construction paper. In her free time, she gives cuddles and helps teach kids to use scissors and write their letters. When the children work in groups, she sits with one of the groups. A loving, warm saya’at can make up for a lot of faults in a ganenet (preschool teacher).
Saya’ot don’t work only as teacher’s aides. A child with special needs who is mainstreamed gets a saya’at in gan or elementary school. A child with a medical condition like diabetes might share a saya’at with another child.
The saya’at, though, has a different status from a ganenet. The ganenet is hired and paid by the education ministry. Like all teachers in the system, she gets paid sabbaticals and a salary based on education and experience. But the saya’ot are untrained, minimum wage workers, whose salaries are paid for by the municipality. That’s why there are so many strikes in gan: When the education ministry goes on strike, the ganenet stays home. And when the municipality strikes, the saya’at stays home.
Their situation has worsened this year, with the implementation of the law requiring free education for 3-year-olds. In most municipalities they are one of the two staff members to care for 35 children, a number of whom may not be toilet-trained. Some municipalities did hire an extra worker, but only for the first month. In some cases the staff spends most of the day changing diapers and assisting children in the bathroom.
The saya’ot held a conference before the holidays to protest their conditions. They complained that they have an important job, and often do the work of teachers. Yet they fall between the cracks—they work in the educational ministry, but are hired by the municipalities. No one wants to take responsibility for them. And when the teachers negotiated higher salaries for working longer days (ofek hadash), no one worried about increasing their salaries.
As I wrote previously, the preschool teachers also feel disenfranchised, in their case by the teacher’s union who negotiated the long day for preschoolers without consulting them. The union finally woke up and is planning a strike on their behalf. They hope to pressure the municipalities to hire an additional saya’at.
Thanks to Laura Ben-David of The Aliyah Book for the picture of her daughter.
Is a Long Day of Gan Good?