Teaching English in Turkey – Learning Curve Part I

Teaching English in Turkey seemed like a good idea before we arrived in the country. Once there, dealing with the students was the least of our worries.

Teaching English in Turkey - come and see what it's like!

English Preparatory School buildings

We’d already been at the government university in Kayseri for a week, and despite numerous meetings with our director were still no further along in discussions about what we’d be teaching. Our latest meeting also looked set to get bogged down in old territory.

“Well, alright, as you know, we cannot, alright, refund your plane tickets, alright, until your contracts are signed. Once your contracts are signed we can refund the money,” said Hilal, our director.

“Yes we know that Hilal Bey,” I responded,” but when will our contracts be ready? Ankara has had the information for four months now.”
“Alright, your contracts. As I … alright … told you … alright … already in my, alright, emails, alright, there are alright, six, alright, steps necessary to process foreign teacher contracts. First your … alright … contract goes to the school board, alright? Alright the board said alright, the board approved the contracts, alright? And then it was … alright … approved by the university board. Now, alright, they have been sent to the Higher Education Council, that is alright YÖK, and alright when they say alright, your contracts are alright, they will be sent to … alright … the Ministries of Internal Affairs and then alright Foreign Affairs and finally alright to the Ministry of Finance. When everyone alright has given alright permission, the alright documents will be sent back alright to the university with your, alright, contracts. When they are all alright … alright? … you will sign the contracts. Alright?”

He had told us exactly the same information at our first meeting, when we’d been introduced to his idiosyncratic use of the word ‘alright’. This time it increased so much that we could barely understand what he was saying. It seemed to become worse whenever he had to give us news he thought we might not like.

The whole time I’d been listening to him I couldn’t look Kim in the eye, but something must have shown on my face. Hilal hastily rang the general secretary of the university who told us our paperwork was now in the second last department. We just had to wait.

“The other thing we wanted to ask about was our resident permits. We’re here on tourist visas and they’ll expire in a month,” said Kim.

“OK, these we can do. If you give me your passports and eight photos each, Ibrahim can arrange this.” Hilal looked surprised when we told him we didn’t have any photographs on us, but smiled happily when we said we’d bring them in the next day. He seemed pleased with his achievements and closed the folder on the desk in front of him as if to signal the end of the meeting. However, there was one more thing we needed to ask.

“Hilal, what will we be teaching,” Kim began.
“English.”
“Yes we know, but can you give us a bit more information?”
“Alright, you will be teaching reading and speaking. I think for reading you should teach B groups and maybe C groups for speaking.”
“Umm, Hilal, what are B groups” Kim asked in a puzzled tone.
“They are the top groups. The best students who come from Anatolian Lisesi and Super High Schools,” Hilal said proudly.
“Aren’t there any A groups?” I asked.

“No. When we had A groups these students thought they knew everything and didn’t work. So when we only have B and C groups they work harder.” Tempting as it was, we chose not to point out to him that this philosophy seemed somewhat flawed. “Yes, you will teach reading to B groups. It will be very good for them to hear native speakers.” I wasn’t sure how teaching reading would let the students hear me, but I decided it was simpler not to comment.

“How much English do the C groups know,” I queried.
“Sometimes none, but this will not be a problem.”
“But Hilal Bey, we have very little Turkish, how will we understand them? How can we instruct them in the classroom,” I asked with some concern.
“This will not be a problem,” Hilal Bey asserted, and the conversation was closed.

If you’re thinking of teaching English in Turkey or elsewhere, it pays to do your homework. Here are a couple of books I can highly recommend.

Teaching English Abroad 2016 (Paperback) – Susan Griffiths
Teaching English as a Second Language (Kindle) – Kathleen Strauss
Teaching English as a Foreign Language for Dummies (Paperback) – Michelle Maxom

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About Goreme1990

I’m Lisa Morrow, the person behind www.insideoutinistanbul.com. I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up a leafy middle class North Shore suburb. After finishing high school I went to Sydney University but failed to find my niche. After working as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, I went overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. My three months stay in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme changed my life. On my return to Australia I earned a BA Honours Degree in Sociology from Macquarie University. An academic career beckoned but the call to travel was louder. After several false starts I moved to Turkey and lived there for ten years. In 2017 I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, but continue to travel regularly to Istanbul. In addition to my blog I've written a travel narrative memoir called "Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul" and two collections of essays, "Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City" and "Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries". I have a regular segment on San Francisco Turkish radio and in early 2017 I released an audio walking tour called "Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk", through VoiceMap. In addition I write for various international and Australian magazines and websites, as well as for this blog. A full list of my published articles, with links, can be found on the Writing on Turkey and Writing Beyond Turkey pages.
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