The/my first semester at our university is officially coming to an end. The last 5 months have certainly been a great learning experience for me.
Working full-time, or rather 8-5 took some getting used to. Not that I didn’t work full-time before – I often put in 12-hour days, and some days my last lesson of the day would finish as late as 10 p.m. But my schedule was fairly flexible and about half of my classes were with individual students. I would sometimes go shopping in the middle of the day, or have long leisurely lunch with my mom, or take a morning off to go run errands and have most of my lessons later on in the day.
Now I am teaching 20 hours a week, which isn’t much, until you add all the lesson preparation, meetings and paperwork to the equation and the day goes by pretty fast. Add to that the fact that I am teaching large groups of rambunctious students in their late teens and early twenties, and it’s pretty understandable why most nights we are in bed by 8.30 p.m. Not that I`m complaining – this is what it means to be a teacher in a prep program and there are a lot of great things about my job. Let me break it down into several parts:
1. My colleagues. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the staff at the School of Foreign Languages comprises around 60 teachers, around 15 of whom are foreign teachers (including me). I have been enjoying getting to know my colleagues, expats and Turks alike and have been learning loads from them. We had several outings together, which deserve a separate post. Here is a photo with 2 of my colleagues on the way to lunch.
And here is my spreading the joy to my colleagues with a backet of muffins
2. Another thing I enjoy about my job is interactions with my students. Yes, teaching a group of 20 very young and quite spirited students is very different from teaching motivated and responsible adults; it’s at times trying and it has tested my patience to the limit quite on a few occasions, but that in itself is a good learning experience. I`m also learning loads about managing and motivating large groups. But sometimes it does feel like this:
One funny thing about teaching here is what the students call me. As I mentioned before, my Turkish students call me Teacher. Even when they are writing to me on Facebook (as in “Hi, Teacher, I like your picture”). So at the beginning of the second quarter, during the first class with a new group, I asked my new group to call my Yulia. One student raised a hand and asked me if they could call me “Sir”. Part of me wanted to say yes just for the fun of it. And it’s not an isolated incident, either. Now that my faculty (1st and 2nd year) students are handing in their final assignments, I get a lot of emails with requests and questions and quite a few call me sir. (“Thank you for approving my request, sir.”).
Yes, it’s this time of year:
Aside from sir, some of my prep school students also call me Mrs Yulia, Miss Yulia, Yulia Teacher and, 99% of the time, just Teacher.
Here is a photo of Sir Yulia with her 1st year students in her Academic Reading and Writing class (the theme was Causes and Effects of Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster)
As it often happens with mainstream education in schools and universities (as opposed to language schools) students are not always motivated as they are not studying English by choice. It’s not always they case, and there are some genuinely interested and keen students and interacting with them is always a joy.
In our attempts to motivate students, we always try to come with activities that would be both interesting and beneficial for students, but unfortunately some ideas make us teachers more excited than the students. But they do enjoy some of the things we come up with, like this creative writing project:
Or this series of lessons where students worked on a project where they had to design a tour and then present it:
Having said that, activities don’t always work or work out they way they are supposed to. When they taught us about fluency lines in CELTA, they never said that when you put your students in a line they would put their arms around each others’ shoulders and start doing a traditional Turkish dance. In the chapter on Running Dictation, there was nothing about students letting their competitiveness get the better of them so that they start cheating by taking mobile phone pictures of the text they are supposed to memorize and dictate back to their partners or sending 2 or 3 people at the time to read the text instead of just one. I try to view these things as something positive, and they are positive in that they are making us be more creative and inventive and come up with our own twists on the popular techniques.
Our lessons are also made more interesting with the use of interactive smartboards. In our university, we use Promethean Active Boards which are connected to our laptops and basically act as a giant tablet – you can open things on your computer, you can write using a special pen or even your finger. It worked great when we had a series of lessons on giving directions. Students’ favourite activity was when they gave each other directions and one student would draw the directions on the smartboard. They would make up long convoluted routes, sending each other doubling and tripling back all over the map.
Have you noticed how much photos with students I have? They love taking photos here and taking a group photo usually starts a photo-taking frenzy during which I must have my photo taken with every student in class.
Here is a photo with a very nice and courteous student who would help carry my stuff to another classroom.
Here are some funny things my students said to me in the last 3 months:
1. Teacher Yulia has babyface (when asked to describe their teacher’s appearance)
2. Teacher, what is my dog’s name? You don’t know? But you liked his picture on Facebook! (looks upset, then perks up) And do you remember my bird’s name?
3. (During a quiz) Teacher, you don’t look for 3 minutes, because we need to copy. Please, teacher, WE NEED TO!
4. A student comes up to me and points to my short sleeves: “Teacher, are you ok?” (every other person is wearing sweaters and even their coats). It’s not that cold, I say. The student thinks for a few seconds, looks at me thoughtfully and asks: “Teacher, are you crazy?” I was laughing while also noting that he managed to produce a completely accurate grammar sentence.
5. After a trip to Cappadocia where I got some sun. The student: Teacher, you are burn! Me: Yes, I got sunburnt. Student: (mishearing me and pointing at my face) No, teacher, not SOME burnt,A LOT burnt!
6. (In the middle of the class, a student raises his hand) Teacher, your face is good. (I’m sure it was a compliment, but a strange one).
7. (Written on a desk and pointed at by a male 19-year old student). “Would you like to have me adopted?”. During the break:”Teacher, ok? You adopt me? I learn English, you learn Turkish. Me and husband are friends. Ok?
He kept this up for about a week and I was never sure if he was deranged or joking. Other than that he was very sweet and a great help during classes.
I wasn’t sure about sharing the following on the blog, but Michael convinced me it was fine, so all offended parties should direct their rightful indignation towards my husband.
One day, during class, a male student calls me over and says, “Teacher, your ass is beautiful.” I was at complete loss for words, but suspecting this was a test to see how I would react I calmly said, “I`m sorry, but that’s not a very polite thing to say, especially to your teacher.” He looked at me, hurt, and repeated, pointing to his face, “But teacher, your ass are beautiful”. It then dawned on my that he was complimenting my EYES, not my behind, so I smiled and thanked him, and walked away, my cheeks still flushed with a mixture of bewilderment and embarrassment. And that seems to be a typical mispronunciation of the word ‘eyes’. Some of the other memorable quotes are: “Yulia teacher has babyface and green ass” and “Teacher, I`m so sleepy I can’t open my ass”. It always takes me a few minutes to process and remember that they are saying eyes, not ass.
My students also speak quite a lot of Turkish to me. They know I don’t speak it but I think they are trying to wear me down in the hopes that after enough answers in Turkish there’ll be a breakthrough in my understanding. Because of this, it’s all the more rewarding when students engage in meaningful interactions in English with each other or me. It is for this reason I don’t mind students adding me to their friendlists on Facebook – I feel that every attempt at communication in English should be encouraged.
But the best thing my students have ever done for me was on the last day of the term. A bit of background first: Each prep school class is taught by 3 teachers. One teacher teaches 8 hours of grammar while two other teachers are responsible for teaching ‘General English’ based on a textbook. This means we work pretty closely together with our Turkish colleagues as we plan our lessons together and meet up on a daily basis to discuss our classes. One of the 3 teachers is a mentor of a class. A mentor is responsible for keeping attendance reports and uploading them to our online platform, Moodle, along with grades and test scores.
So it was my mentor class that prepared a wonderful surprise for me on the last day of the term. The cynical side of me is thinking that they were simply trying to get out of 3 lessons in a row of revision, or wanting to kill us with sugar, while the emotional part of me is still feeling teary-eyed and extremely grateful remembering that day.
When I walked into the classroom, the desks were pushed together to make one large table; there was food on the table and the students were clapping and smiling at my astonished face. Some girls made cookies; someone brought a past salad; someone’s mum made a huge dish of yaprak sarma, or grape leaves stuffed with rice. But the best part was the cake – not only was it gorgeous and delicious, it had ‘Yulia’ written on it. My co-teacher Tuba told me they were trying to write ‘We love you, Yulia’ on it, but there wasn’t enough space. At that moment, I forgave them every moment of frustration, impatience and disappointment I had felt in the last 2 months and was filled with gratitude and immense goodwill towards them. I announced that I might cry and one student got very excited and said, “Yes, teacher, cry!” and gave me a pack of tissues. Another student told me I was a good woman and then I really did want to cry.
I cut the cake, and we tucked into the food, and took about a million pictures and it was a lovely, lovely afternoon.
3. And finally, one of the perks we enjoy at our university is our delicious and free lunches, lovingly cooked by our chef, Murat Bey. On a hard day, a good lunch is one thing that will keep you going. It’s also an opportunity to spend some time with my colleagues. Here are some highlight of our lunches. That lamb shank in particular was the highlight of a very busy and stressfull Thursday.
Ashure or Noah’s Pudding is a Turkish dessert that is made of a mixture consisting of grains, fruits and nuts. It is served during the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, on the Tenth of Muharrem, or the Day of Ashure. “Ashura” means “tenth” in Arabic. Ashure is part of the culinary tradition of Turkey as well as many of the surrounding countries, and Christian and Jewish cultures as well as Muslim share similar versions under a variety of names. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashure)
Famous Turkish baklava (yes, we get desserts, too!)
P.S. Here is a collage a colleague made of me because I shared a lot of activities and worksheets that month: