06/01/2010

Izmir: Three Months in


I am presently undercover in Turkey as a rather convincing English teacher, working as part of the Comenius Assistant programme. Under the programme, I will be working in Izmir for almost a year. It's half-way through, and unfortunately I haven't been able to blog until now thanks to a 1) lack of internet access and, 2) a dizzying surplus of events to backlog, especially from my time in Adiyaman in the South-East of the country, where I had been living and working before the big move to Izmir.

However, I did have an extra imperative (in the form of the ceasselessly charming headmaster, Harun) to write-up a report on how things were going three months in. Here's a little taster of it that i'm happy to share, and will be of particular interest for anyone hoping to work on Comenius.

Three Months of Cem Bakioglu
I arrived in Izmir on the 10th September, having come straight from a summer working in the south-eastern town of Adiyaman, where I organised activities at a English language camp. Izmir, unlike Adiyaman however, appeared to be a sprawling metropolis. It was youthful, vibrant and full of activity - and furthermore, a lot easier to get lost in. I was going to need some help.

Arrival

Help came in the form of a man called Onur Kaya - who had been one of the teachers who co-ordinated the school’s participation in the Comenius Programme, which had involved student correspondence and teacher visits between partner schools as from far-flung European countries such as Norway, Portugal and Poland. However, this was the first time the school had accepted a visiting teacher - and it was upon Onur’s skills in persuasion beforehand that I accepted to stay for around 10 months. We met at the station in the morning and immediately travelled to school where, by chance, the first major meeting of all staff before the start of the school year was taking place. My Turkish being patchy at best, I can only comment that there was a very warm atmosphere to the proceedings - and it was clear that there was a great deal of camaraderie between the teachers whilst discussing curricular issues and exchanging ideas.

By the time the agenda came to the school’s new foreign guest, I felt comfortable enough to stand and introduce myself, and assure them that whilst my main job was to teach English, one of my chief motives vis-à-vis the time I looked forward to spending there, would be to learn Turkish and that I was sure they would help me as much as they could. An approving applause followed, and soon after the meeting was done, everyone seemed eager to extend their hand to welcome me personally. A textbook example of Turkish hospitality.

Equally, Onur was most gracious in introducing me as a valued member of the school community, as a ‘colleague and a friend’ - an attitude also expressed by head teacher Harun, and the English language department upon our first meeting later in the week.

Settling in

Despite the warm welcome, I received a number of set-backs in the first week. First off, Onur had had to accept another job out of the city - thus I had no choice in my mind but to begin looking for an apartment I could manage myself. Secondly, my passport (along with a number of other treasured possessions) appeared to have disappeared the day of my arrival in the rush to get to the school meeting. What’s more, I was to fall remarkably ill on the first week of work.

However a number of people were ready to lend a hand. The school’s psychologist, Ali housed me and helped me get myself an affordable, well located place of my own. Onur and the headmaster did all they could to help find the passport and eventually report it stolen (which was no mean feat). And regarding the lack of school contact, fellow English-teacher Ilkay, was more than happy to step into Onur’s shoes, and sent me to her family home to help me get over a severe flu.

Thus, although I was prepared for some ups-and-downs during my stay, I was reassured to be in safe hands at the school.

Classes

It was agreed that for the first semester at least, I would focus most of my energies on year 9 students (aged between 15-16), and spend only an hour a week with year 10, 11 and 12. In an Anadolu Lisesi, students begin in year 9 studying the full curriculum, and after, are required to choose a department in which to specialise - i.e. Linguistics, Sciences etc.

Given I had spent the summer with young Turkish-speakers studying at a beginner’s level, this was a suitable arrangement for me, as I felt fully able to help with their study of the basic grammar points needed to access the Language Department. Also, given last year’s drop in applicants for English, I considered it important that this year, the year 9’s become more enthused by language-learning. I hope to see the number of those opting to join the department increase, as a yard-stick by which to measure my success in teaching here. For this, only time will tell.

The course books we have been studying from, despite a couple of minor errors, have provided a good backbone for the grammar points, with good simple exercises.

The students themselves in year 9 are well-motivated to learn. They are very bright and conscientious, and although understandably timid at first, now spend much of their time preparing a barrage of questions about the UK and the English language, to assault me with during, and in-between classes. I only hope my counter-parts on the Comenius scheme who have decided to teach in England have been charmed by the same curiosity.

The only teething problems I have had so far have been regarding classroom management. As the novelty of having a foreign teacher has subsided, as to be expected, students have become somewhat more distracted and begun talking amongst themselves. I think this problem has also stemmed from the fact that in many of the classes, there is a clear line between those students who perhaps have had private courses in English before-hand - the more confident speakers - and those who feel a little more self-conscious. It has been a difficult balancing act to ensure that classes go at a pace steady enough for those with lesser ability to remain attentive, whilst making sure that it is still challenging enough for those students who are already versed in the basics.

Some of the teachers have been rather cunning in their attempt to deal with this by insisting to students that I, in fact, have the power to affect their assessment at the end of the year - and this technique has met some success. However, next semester I hope to be a little firmer. Also, having a Turkish teacher present in class every so often would help reinforce my authority and stop the return of the chatter.

The older Language Department students have also been a pleasure. I feel they thoroughly enjoy conversations, class debates and simple language games - the latter if not only to provide relief from studying some intensely complicated vocabulary and grammar points. I am glad to provide a means for the them to practise some of the points they have learnt in a more relaxed, and natural atmosphere - thus over the next few weeks I will begin planning more conversation-class style lessons, complete with vocabulary to study, for the coming semester.

Overall, it has been an eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I am definitely looking forward to the next six months at Cem Bakioglu.

Liam Murray

15/12/09