First Year Completed

On 12th June 2014, I did what only six year old Angela thought I would do; I completed my first year of teaching. Though, I don’t think six year old Angela thought that she would be teaching half way across the world. I did it though. And not only did I complete one year of teaching at one place, but, a week and a half later, I completed my first year teaching at another place as well. Yes, you read correctly. I taught five days a week at my main school and I would also teach on Saturdays. I’ll get back to that later though.

It was definitely an experience filled with things I expected and things that I did not expect. As much as I absolutely loved my children (and still do), they beyond wore me out. Let’s get something out of the way here. In America, or in England, when one thinks of a private school automatically strict rules and discipline come to mind, right? Well, not here. A private school here, especially the one that I was teaching at which was a conservative (religious) private school is kind of the opposite. In these schools, the kids (or rather their parents) rule the school. The private schools in this country, for the most part, are nothing but businesses. They advertise and promote constantly creating a false sense of, “Wow! This school is amazing! My child will learn so much!” When, in reality, it’s not so much like that. There is a high turnover rate for teachers; especially for the English teachers. Everyone gets paid very little for the amount of work that they do, especially the Turkish teachers who not only work late every night, but who also must come in on the weekends as well. Aside from the fact that the turnover rate is high, these “schools” are also fairly new which means that they aren’t quite set in their ways. There are no set curriculums or curriculums that work. These are chain schools that could do really well if they focused on the actual education of these students and not when and where they’re going to open up a new school. If they focused their time, energy, and money on a school (and with the amount of money these schools have) the kids would flourish. The children that I taught have so much potential and I hope that it does not go to waste. Aside from all of this, the children are spoiled, never corrected or disciplined, and are free to essentially do whatever they please. In the beginning of the year, I was very close to quitting to be honest. The teachers who are there, though mostly lovely and nice women, don’t know how to handle children how they should. I don’t think they know the proper psychology behind everything and will constantly yell at the children (or certain children that annoy them) and call them names. Apparently though, that is the way that things are done here. When it came time for English class, though, they expected every lesson to be a strict lesson where we drilled English into their heads, but fun at the same time, and not boring, and make the children listen like little angels at the same time. Well, it took me almost half a year to corral the children and have it so they would actually sit down and listen in class. Being that they’re kindergarteners though, I knew that they also need fun time and play time or they get antsy and won’t listen. Why did it take this long? Well, in this school, like I said earlier, the children win. The English teachers are never or are rarely shown any respect by the other teachers or even the teacher assistants for that matter, so the children mimic that behavior. The children are also spoiled brats and we’re essentially not allowed to discipline them. This means that even if a child hits another child or throws toys or a temper tantrum that nothing really happens. There’s never a phone call home about it because then the parents would complain and yell at the teachers or the school because nothing is ever their little angels’ fault. So, yes, it took over half a year of different methods and straining and grief to finally get these children to listen.

Three-quarters of the year passed and we then had the huge problem where most of the English department was let go and all of our lessons were switched around. I no longer had my shared five year old class and I no longer had my 6D class.  Instead, I had 6A and 6C, which had reputations for making the teachers gray-haired. I tried my best though. Remember how long it took to get my other two classes to behave semi-normally and make them teachable? Well, I had half the time to try and do this. At first, they were ok, because, hey new teacher. But then, things became ugly. 6A was split between me and another teacher. They tended to listen to her more because she’s a bit more strict in her manners of teaching (not to mention she’s Turkish so she better at handling them) and I was just the teacher that they could walk all over some classes and other classes, if they felt like it, they’d listen and things would go smoothly. One of the main problems with that class though was that the room was too big. It was hard to get the children to focus in there. 6C was an interesting class. This is the class with the worst reputation. In the beginning, they listened. They knew practically no English whatsoever, but they listened. I was starting to wonder why they were the class that had such a bad reputation. But then, it hit me, and it hit me hard. This class will not listen to a lick of what is said if their homeroom teacher is unable to teach and the longer she is out (and she was out for like two weeks due to meetings and organizing things) the worse the class becomes. They just had a complete disregard for any authority figure (even the assistant teachers had had enough of this class and sat there in a state of utter defeat). So, I would try to teach every time, and I would fail every time. The only thing that seemed to work with this class was busywork. So, I had to have an endless supply of worksheets for these children. When I did, they’d do their work and listen…mostly. It felt like I was at the beginning of the year again with these two classes. And it didn’t get better because, as it was the end of the year, the classes were constantly interrupted for field trips, shows, or practices of some sort. So, there was no real schedule anymore. The children and the teachers all caught the end of the year fever. And then, just as quickly as it began…it finished. It was a sandwich of a year; crazy, hair pulling bread and smooth happiness for the inside.

I know I made a lot of progress with the children though. I am not the kind of teacher who drills phrases into the kids’ heads. I know that the children’s parents want to hear them speak, but they’re not at the age where they need to be learning phrases. They’re at the age that they just need to soak in as much English as they can. The drenched them in vocabulary and by the end of the year, some of them were starting to put things together on their own. Even half way through the year, I was getting some of them to have conversations. Albeit very one-sided conversations, they were understanding the things that I was saying and trying to respond with a few words and lots of gestures.

It was harder with my weekend children to get to this point though as they only had English lessons once a week. Finally, towards the end of the year, they were starting to understand some things and become more confident. The only problem I had with these children was the age differences. I had children from four to seven in this class. This meant that I had kids who could read and write and others who still can’t write numbers. It was a challenge, but three quarters of the year later I started teaching them all the English alphabet and the phonetics that went with it. It made for some more interesting classes and the children really seemed to like learning about it. Big numbers and the alphabet seemed to be a hit in that class.

All in all, it was one hell of a year. I taught and I fought and I taught some more. As much as these children drove me nuts, I love them all. There’s something special and unforgettable about your first students. They and the memories that I made with them will last a lifetime. I wish that I could check up on all of them in ten, fifteen, twenty years and see where life takes them, but only time will tell. This year is finished and new adventures await!

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Author: Una Vagabonda

ESL teacher in Istanbul. TEFL certified and FTCE Elementary K-6 certified. I absolutely love to teach and to be around children. They always know how to put a smile on your face. Majored in Italian Studies, minoring in Religious Studies focusing on the Middle East. Studied abroad in a little town in Italy called Pisciotta this summer. Best time of my life. Studied Urbino, the town where Rafaello was born, for a fall semester. Learning Turkish. I’m having severe cravings for Long Island bagels and Chinese food.

3 thoughts on “First Year Completed”

  1. Interesting insights into teaching in Turkey 😉 My first year here was a pretty challenging experience – but I’m still here, and on balance I prefer it to teaching in New Zealand or the UK.

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