One of my new colleagues smiled at me as I sank down next to her on the bus at 5pm, possibly looking about half as shattered and shell-shocked as I felt. First day teaching Turkish kids… so, how badly do you want to drink right now?
I wondered if she meant on a scale of 1 to Lindsay Lohan.
I started my new job on Friday, with the briefest of perfunctory orientations (here are the books, there are the classrooms), and started teaching my new charges today.
On the plus side, I am now much closer to what I actually want to be doing than I was in Prague. I’m a full-time member of staff at a proper school, rather than a travelling mouth who drops into a dozen different schools once a week to sing nursery rhymes. I’m the English teacher for half of the first grade: three classes of 6-year-olds I’ll be seeing every day. I have much more authority over what and how I teach. It’s definitely a step in the right direction!
However, no amount of warning from friends who’ve taught Turkish children could have prepared me for my first class. I think I’m still in a state of shock now, although things did improve throughout the day as I adjusted my tactics and reassessed everything I ever believed about classroom management skills being 60% of the job. Here, it’s more like 90%, and the next few weeks are going to be an exhausting maze of reward systems, naughty chairs, sad face vs. smiley face charts, all to the backing track of “1, 2, 3, eyes on me – 1, 2, eyes on you!”. My head hurts. But not as much as my throat.
Of course, that’s all exacerbated by the usual “I have no idea what’s going on around me” chaos that goes hand-in-hand with relocating to an unfamiliar country. There was nothing particularly unusual or remarkable about my life in the Czech Republic, other than the Happy Chef punching the occasional hole in a door. Adjusting to Turkey has therefore been a series of alarming flashbacks to my first few months in Korea. Going to work is like spending my day in one of those haunted houses where something will jump out at you around every corner. Even though you’re prepared for it after the first couple of times, you have no idea what’s coming next, and it still makes you jump and go “what the hell was THAT?!”. I really think that if this was my first experience of living abroad, I would be requiring medical attention by now.
I was actually feeling rather accomplished by the time I started my third class of the day and noted that not only were 20 out of 23 children sitting on their chairs, but 16 of them actually had their books open at the right page, and only one child was crawling around under the desks. Absolutely none of them were climbing up the bookshelves, curtains, or doorframe.
Suddenly, the door was flung open and a woman came in with a stack of chef hats made out of paper, with the school’s logo on them. She proceeded to go around my class plonking one on each child’s head, babbling away in loud and excited Turkish. Bedlam ensued once again, and I looked on in dismay, all my hard work undone. I made eye contact with the stranger who had interrupted my class in this most perplexing manner, and pointed at the timetable in confusion. Am I here at the wrong time?
Do you speak Turkish? she asked, and then shrugged in a “well, then I can’t explain” way when I shook my head. Next thing I knew, the principal appeared and proceeded to march my students out of the room, leaving me standing there in utter bewilderment, the farmyard animal flashcards still in my hands.
I stuck my head out into the corridor, and glimpsed a colleague. What’s happening? I asked helplessly, and he rolled his eyes, unconcerned, in the manner of one who has seen it all before. I’ve no idea. Something about the kitchen. I’m going out for a smoke.
I floated around in the empty corridor for a while, and then ventured up to the school dining hall, which I found after 10 minutes of getting horribly lost in a different wing of the school. Sitting at the long rows of tables were all of the first and second grade, wearing their paper chef hats and making an unholy racket as various teachers tried to quieten them down, at which point the music teacher appeared with his guitar, looking very important and proud and excited, and led them all in singing a song that I didn’t understand. When it came to the chorus (which to my ears sounded like an excited, rousing chant of “ya, ya, ya!”), in leapt a well-groomed, somewhat flamboyant middle-aged lady, singing along and jumping around exuberantly while the adults snapped photos and thrust bouquets at her, and the kids cheered and sang and clapped.
I sidled up to a Turkish-speaking colleague in utter bemusement. What’s happening? I asked cluelessly, again, for about the millionth time since my arrival in Istanbul.
It turned out that my students had been taken out of class and dressed up as chefs in order to have a cooking lesson from a famous TV personality who presents a cookery show every morning on Turkish national television. I think the song they sang must be her theme tune.
And no, I have no idea whatsoever how or why she came to be in our school cafeteria, producing baked goods, in the middle of my English class.
So, that was my Monday. How was yours?!