November 22, 2014

Saturday Adventure Mix

My latest adventure in Turkey involved honeycomb, acting, a mini propane tank, 40 coats, Arby's sauce and a cinema intermission.

I think I may have just ruined any hope of punch-lines in the following recount of my day's events, but let's see.

My days started at 9:00 AM when I woke up from a deep, though short sleep. We had friends over for the first time last night, and it was a lot of fun, but we stayed up a lot later than usual. We had to wake up at a reasonable time though, in order to make it to our Turkish breakfast on time. Our Turkish teacher had arranged a breakfast and cultural event for us. The breakfast was held in the staff dining room on campus, the same place where we eat lunch every day. I think I've raved about Turkish breakfast before, and this one did not disappoint. The Turkish breakfast involves about 100 small plates of the following: black and green olives, assorted cheeses, honeycomb and clotted cream (superb combo on bread), bread, pancake-like bread, savory pastries, pepper and onion omlette, spicy sausage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and of course--tea. The plates of these things are dispersed around the table so that everyone is within arm's reach of everything. It's all delicious and incredibly filling. During the breakfast, our teacher and some of our Turkish colleagues (who were invited to spur more Turkish conversation in the group) helped us with vocabulary and were very patient with our halting sentences.

After breakfast, we all went to our school building for a presentation about the process of asking a woman's hand in marriage. Our teacher, Fatma, explained how the families get together for an evening and exchange small talk and ceremonial blessings on the couple. The process includes a coffee and chocolates service, done by the bride-to-be. Turkish tradition holds that the bride-to-be should replace sugar with salt in the groom's cup, and then the whole party watches as he tries not to wince while drinking. His drinking of the disgusting brew symbolizes his commitment to his wife through thick and thin, and when directly translated, "drinking poison from her hands." We then practiced cooking turkish coffee over a mini propane tank. I volunteered to make coffee for the 15 people in attendance, because I kind of know my way around a "cezve" (turkish coffee brewer), but I can say that making 1 or 2 cups at home is a lot different from trying to time the preparation of 15. M attempt was mostly successful though, and we all enjoyed small cups of coffee together. Once we were  re-caffienated, we tried to act out the Turkish family gathering. Alan and I were the prospective bride and groom, so we had important roles in the action. However, as tradition dictates, two of our male classmates playing the father characters had the most lines in our little play. The show was pretty hilarious, as we hadn't practiced. In the end, our "fathers" consented to our marriage, so all was well.

After the events at school, several of us decided to go downtown to the major shopping center, Kayseri Forum. We stood in the cold, sleeting weather at the bus stop for no less than 50 minutes watching as the hour's only bus--packed full--cruised by us without even stopping. Then we gave in and called a taxi.

Safely at Forum, the hotspot of activity in Kayseri, Alan and I set off on a mission to find me a winter-weather coat. I started in a department store with a wide selection of coats. Every clerk greeted me, but only one was brave enough to deal with the foreigner. The small man bravely perservered, handing me coat after coat to try. I (and sometimes Alan) managed to reject around 40 coats in that store, on the basis of fit, color, boringness, matronlyness, sleeve length, and tacky buckles. As the Turks say, "Ooof ya." What a let down. We headed back out into the mall, and I suggested that we visit a store where the clothes are generally a little less expensive, but where there are copious choices. After nearly giving up, I spotted a cute navy-purple pea coat hybrid lined with white fleece. I tried it on, and angels sang. I swear. Or at least I was too exhausted to try on more. I picked out a tartan plaid warm scarf and headed to the register.

Alan's compromise for shopping with me was that we see the new Hunger Games movie in Forum's cinema. Before watching, we stopped at Arby's (yeah, they exist in Turkey) for some Chipotle Sandviçler and curly fries. They really need to import Arby's sauce to Turkish Arby's--that's all I have to say about that.

The movie was a fun change of pace, though I can't say it was my favorite of the Hunger Games series. One interesting part of the Turkish cinema is the 10-minute intermission mid film. A chance to empty your bladder, get another popcorn (yes, they have it), or--the most likely--take a smoke break. What a quirk. I love it. Someone else in the audience recogninzed us form school and boldly introduced himself. It was a little weird, but kind of made me feel like a celebrity.

As usual, our last stop at Forum was to the big grocery store with the wine aisle. I stocked up--four bottles--because my favorite wine was on sale. YES!

So, that was my big day. I'm tired. I've got a glass of wine. Life is good.

November 15, 2014

One Quarter Down or A Teaching Philosophy in Question.

Günaydın (Turkish for "good morning"). It's Saturday morning here in Talas, Turkey. Somehow, my husband motivated himself to join a hiking group at 6:30 this morning to tackle the local mountain. Three hours later, I peeled myself out of bed thanks to a friend's blog post about how women reach their athletic peak around 30. As a 27-year-old who was looking for a reason not to exercise this morning, I felt compelled to get up and do at least one video from my new favorite indoor exercise, Blogilates. The coal-burning around this city is intense, and the subsequent smog doesn't motivate me to go outside to huff and puff in it. Seriously, the air is brown-ish grey.

Ok, so the mild soreness in my midsection feels like a mediocre physical accomplishment, but I am saving some energy for a walk to and from the grocery store and a party later.

What I really wanted to write about this morning was a reflection on my first quarter of teaching English in Turkey and how the reality does and doesn't match up with my training.

First of all, classroom management was my most unexpected challenge. I remember wondering why one professor spent so much time on in in our practicum class. Now I know. Wrangling a bunch of 18-year-olds who share a common first language, and who are experiencing the freedom of university for the first time---is sort of like trying to get your pet cat into a carrier to go to the vet. First they avoid you, then they cling to the carrier door with all their might so you can't force them in. Finally, when they are inside with the door closed, they yowl and howl and look at you with pathetic eyes.

My groups of students last quarter were energetic and chatty, which is normally a good thing in the language classroom. However, when the chattiness continues while I'm giving directions or after I have turned off the lights to signal that it's time to finish the activity, I get a little frustrated. Pile this on day after day, even after seating arrangements, warnings, and every technique I could think of, and the result is a major breakdown in the middle of a meeting with my colleagues. I'm not sure I've ever cried at work before, especially not out of frustration, and I hope that it never happens again. My colleagues tried to warn me about the students, but I thought they were just being pessimistic. Nope. Turns out that the students can be downright disrespectful and seemingly impossible to teach.

I was a very good student in my master's degree, so I know I paid attention during the classroom management discussions, but in a program focused on current research on language acquisition, some of these daily teacher things didn't surface as among the most critical information. A former yoga teacher once advised me that teachers are never fully prepared, you just have to get in front of the class and deal with it. I think this advice holds for me. In every new context, you can never be prepared for the students or the curriculum. It's a matter of getting in the classroom and dealing with what happens.

On the flip side, let me tell you about the last day of teaching one class that I had particular trouble with. For the last hour, I had planned a review game. however, when I came to the classroom, more than half of the students were gone, and the only people left were the sweetest female students who had shown me respect all semester. They bought coffee and cake for everyone and we sat in the classroom together, as human beings, discussing Turkey and my experiences so far. It was an incredible moment for me as a worn-down teacher---who at times during the first quarter questioned my ability and desire to be an educator---to once again feel the human connection that I love about teaching. My students used English (and I used a little Turkish) to talk and laugh about our differences and our similarities. Make-up and the head scarf were fun conversation, and we took a handful of selfies together. At some point, I realized that they were using vocabulary that we had learned in class, and I was beaming with pride. The language teacher's dream is to have students apply what they learn in a boring textbook to a context that they really care about.
C11 selfie--about half the class isn't pictured here.

Coffee and cake with the ladies of C10

Ladies of C10

Many of my Turkish colleagues, and I'm sure many of my colleagues in general, avoid getting to know students. Instead, they maintain emotional distance and focus on the material. Their classrooms are what I imagine the military to be. Completely dominated by the teacher, orderly, and fear-driven. I'm painting a grim picture, but I know that traditional teaching follows this pattern. The teacher is the ultimate authority, and students never question it. This is also a leadership style that was common in the past, and remains in many parts of the world today.

My teaching style, though, doesn't run on fear. It runs on respect and genuine interest in student success. For better or worse, I make every effort to treat my students with respect as autonomous adults (I can hear some colleagues saying, "that's your first mistake") who deserve the best lesson I can give because they will go on to use English in their majors or in their careers.

For most of my, albeit short, teaching career, I have generally had success with this approach. I think students appreciate my approachability and my interest in their success outside of my classroom. However, the first quarter of teaching here basically took most of my teaching philosophy, ripped it in half and buried it in my bottom desk drawer under waded up tissues of my snot and tears. "Prepare them for the test, check their homework, threaten them with visits to the administration, and get the heck out of there" became my survival mantra.

On Monday, I will have three new classes. One general pre-intermediate class, and two sections of intermediate listening and speaking. I am really excited for the listening and speaking classes because they are students came into the program with higher proficiency (usually accompanied by better work ethic, in this context, anyway). The pre-intermediates will take more patience from me, as they are the graduates of the classes I taught last quarter. They are finding their way through a year of manditory English en route to their private university classes in Engineering or law (only some students will take university classes in English. Others will study in Turkish). Enshallah (God willing, or "hopefully") my students will respond more to my efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. I'd like to pull my tattered teaching philosophy back out, dust it off and continue the success I've enjoyed in other contexts.

Alan is back from his hike and he is working on breakfast. I see him cutting up a pide (delicious flat bread), and I hope there will be some eggs with it. Maybe it will be Turkish style, with olives and tomatoes on the side. Until next time, Güle güle! (that's a Turkish send-off meaning go with a laugh).