Today I started my teaching job in Istanbul, and what a fabulous day it was! However, I have to be honest that it didn’t exactly start out that way. First, the guy from the hiring agency came to pick me up, which was of course very kind of him. On the way to the school, he pointed out some of the places that I need to know in order to use public transportation to get there the next day, and he also walked me from the school to where I needed to catch the Metrobus to get home. All of this was fine and dandy until he started telling me about the fact that the school is “very conservative” and started talking a little about my outfit, which certainly did not make my day, especially since I had asked Müge for her approval to be sure that it was appropriate! I was wearing a dress, leggings, a sweater, and a scarf. Come on, I think I am covered up enough, right?
When we went inside of the school, the man from the hiring agency introduced me to the man in charge of the school. Seriously, I still don’t understand his title, but he seems to be in charge, so whatever. Luckily, he was very nice and all, and he and this other man explained more about the school and then they started talking about how the kids are from upper class families and can be a bit difficult to manage because their parents never tell them “no.” Fantastic! Of course, behavioral issues are nothing that I have not dealt with before, only I had to deal with classroom management issues in a Title 1 school of students from low income families in Arizona, so it was a bit different.
Then they talked a bit more about the dress code and such, but they assured me that I was dressed appropriately. They also gave me some white lab coat looking thing to wear over my clothes if I wanted to, which I did not. However, a bunch of the female teachers did wear these. Then this director guy walked me to this teachers’ room and introduced me to some of the teachers. Thankfully, one of them is British and will surely become my best friend at work! Luckily, I got to work with her today and observe her classes. She was totally hilarious explaining about the fact that she would never dress so conservatively like she does to go to work there, and she said that they had also given her one of those white coats and she has never worn it!
As far as the classes, they were indeed much louder than what I am used to dealing with even in Arizona. However, this is nothing that frightens me. As an English teacher there, I will be teaching various first, second, and third grade classes, which will be a nice change from being a regular classroom teacher when I taught ESL in Phoenix. Since I have a lot of experience with this age group, I will be just fine! I was also able to observe a Spanish class taught by a Mexican woman whose dad is from Phoenix, which is rather random! Who knows, perhaps I could also teach some Spanish and French at this school, too!
At lunch, my new friend had to leave for an appointment, so some of the other teachers took me to the cafeteria for lunch. Wow, school lunch in Istanbul is MUCH better than in the United States! It was free and totally healthy, Mediterranean food with things such as soup, lentil balls, sautéed vegetables, bulgur wheat, salad, fresh bread and some other dishes that looked good but contained meat. Yes, of course I wanted to take a photo of all of this, but honestly, I already felt like everyone was looking at me strangely, so I will have to photograph school lunch in Istanbul another day!
After lunch, I went into the bathroom and low and behold, there were the kinds of toilets that require squatting to go. Thank God there was at least one stall with a regular toilet! I am pretty open-mined and flexible, but honestly, I am really only into squatting to pee when I am hiking in the wilderness or something!
Later in the day, the director brought me my schedule, which was really the best news of the day because I have Mondays off and a rather fabulous schedule Tuesday through Friday! Obviously, this made me extremely happy to know that I am on a three-day weekend schedule! Then I went to make a copy of my schedule and go figure, the machine was jammed. When I tried to find someone to help me, I realized that seriously, none of the men would even look at me or acknowledge my presence, which is strange to me. My new friend explained that this is just how it is, that even after working there for three years, she does not know any of the men because they do not look at women, and even eye contact is rare when having a conversation.
Before the end of the day, the director came to get me to meet the principal (this is why I am confused about the titles of these people). We went into his posh office and seriously, I am not even kidding, some kind of a waiter brought us each coffee and water, then the principal offered us each a piece of chocolate. They wanted to talk to me about changes that they want to make to their English program regarding an emphasis on conversational English. During the conversation, they looked through all of my transcripts and degrees. Then what was super weird is that they said that I mustn’t use examples that reference alcohol or tobacco when teaching. Okay? Since when and where would I ever talk about smoking and drinking to elementary school kids? Seriously, it was really bizarre, especially since everyone seems to smoke their faces off here! In fact, Müge (thank GOD) is the first person I have met here who does NOT smoke and my lungs are thankful! Plus, I have not had or even been offered a sip of alcohol the whole time I have been here, so I do not quite understand why they wanted to emphasize this, but whatever!
Overall, I must say that I am quite pleased with the job, even if there is some inevitable, definite weirdness! Yes, when I was first sitting in that office and those men were scaring me about the “dress code,” I have to admit that I almost thought about just running out the door and forgetting about teaching in Turkey! However, I believe that it will be an excellent experience for me, I will learn a ton, and I am grateful that I have my British friend who has worked there for three years and will help me to adjust to teaching in Istanbul!