Teaching in Istanbul

Article written for Yabangee.com
English teaching is the most common way for Yabangees to make ends meet in Istanbul. If you are considering a career move to teaching, or are new to the city and need to start somewhere, you might want to start off by asking yourself a few questions. Where are you eligible to work? What kind of hours do you want? And how much money should you be making for your time?

Below, as part of the first of a series of articles on teaching in Istanbul, is some information to help point you in the right direction. Many people find that they could have had a more satisfying working life if they had only looked into things better before signing the contract. After all, the small stresses of everyday life in the city – public transport, daily expenses and a hectic social calendar, make it all the more important that your working life, at least, is not a pain in the ‘arka taraf’.

There are several ways to teach as a native speaker (or someone who has graduated from an English-speaking university). We’ll go through each of these below, complete with their pros, cons and rough pay scales. 

State School
  • Pros: Better behaved kids, informal work environment, health care and insurance benefits, no after-school duties
  • Cons: Usually limited contract work, lower pay ceiling, poor materials, over-crowded classes
  • Pay scale: 1800-2400TL per month
  • You need: A degree, ELF qualification, some experience
State schools are not an option technically, as unions tend to kick up a fuss at any suggestion foreign teachers could enter them, but you can sometimes stumble upon loopholes such as special government projects or the EU-funded Comenius Programme.
As work environments go, state schools are relaxed, as they lack the sometimes cut-throat competitiveness that characterises private school staff and creates extra work duties to cater for fussy parents. The class sizes can be a problem – around 35 children to a class in some places, but this is balanced out by generally much better behaviour and respect for teachers. The state course-books are riddled with minor errors and concentrate on grammar rules, so creativity is key.
Great class in Izmir's Cem Baki Anatolian Highschool

Language Schools
  • Pros: Informal work environment, sociable, no extra duties, no clock-in/clock-out times
  • Cons: Most classes take place on weekends, strange hours in the week, amount of classes varies by the month. No visa arrangements
  • Pay scale: 18-25TL an hour (25-30 hours a week)
  • You need: An EFL qualification
The work is quite easy if you have a personable character and an appreciation of language-learning. Most schools have a good array of materials to help you and, because of the diverse range of students – from middle-aged professionals to school leavers and graduates – English classes can be interesting and dare I say fun. New-comers to the city generally find it a good starting point to work at a language school, as they always need staff and don’t have the same level of commitment required to work in, say, a private school.

There are countless language schools in Taksim, Etiler, Beşiktaş, Bakırköy, Kadıköy and the other main commercial hubs of the city. The main schools have interchangeable search-engine inspired names like “English Time”, “English Council”, “English Now”, “British Culture” etc. You will see them everywhere. This means that the options are wide, so you can probably find a language school within a reasonable distance of where you live.

You will get paid better according to your experience and qualifications, as there is no set wage. You are likely to earn enough to make ends meet, and a lot of teachers make around 2500-2800TL a month. Some places are notoriously bad at paying on time, so make sure to check the bank as soon as your salary is due. A few other things to keep in mind: your time table will change on a weekly basis as some classes start while others finish, so you have to be flexible. It is preferable to work somewhere close to home as you could have, for example, a two-hour class in the morning and a three-hour class at night, leaving the whole day in-between to twiddle your thumbs. Also, be sure not to cherish your weekends so much anymore, as these are the main class days. You will get one day off a week, normally a Friday.
Many schools will hire you without regard for a work visa and pay cash in hand. This is risky if you are stopped by police for any reason during your time in Turkey, and also means that unless you want to pay a heavy fine at the airport on the way home, you will have to arrange all your residence permit issues alone.
  • Pros: Working with small children, fun environment, never boring, steady hours
  • Cons: Working with small children, tiring, never boring, clock-in/clock-out time
  • Pay scale: 2000-4000TL per month
  • You need: An EFL qualification, degree from English language department/university, experience working with children
Kindergarten teaching is not for everyone, and it takes someone with patience and experience to fill the role best. However, it is an enjoyable teaching post as there is no expectation to drill grammar rules and prepare exams. Duties will mostly include thinking up activities, attending schools trips and assuaging pushy parents with homework assignments and school reports. Rest assured, that there are assistants on hand to take the little treasures to the toilet.

There has only recently been an amendment to national education in Turkey, requiring children to begin school at the age of five. That is why until recently parents had to pay for the privilege – hence the many expensive kindergartens for children aged 4-6.

Depending on the school, you may have to stay on premises between certain times. This will definitely be the case if you are a class teacher as opposed to a branch teacher. Class teacher means you will remain in one class throughout the year, and hopefully build up a strong bond with the kids. On the other hand, if you are a branch teacher then, as with art and PE, you will be moving between classes, which can be more difficult if you don’t have a knack for teaching small children, or if the class has the right amount of ‘problem-children’.
The pay is fixed and is higher depending on how well-established the school is.
Elementary/ High Schools
  • Pros: Good work experience, steady hours, more pay for less teaching hours, visa provided, summer holidays
  • Cons: Extra duties, student’s often bad behaviour, clock-in/clock-out times
  • You make: 2500-4000TL month
  • You need: An EFL qualification, degree from English language department/university, experience
My class of third-graders at Birikim. Little geniuses.
Working in one of Istanbul’s many private schools is a different experience depending on where you work, so either look for reviews on the internet from any former employees, or ask around the yabangee community in Istanbul to see if somebody has any recommendations. The extra caution is deserved, and read your contract carefully as there can be many rules and extra duties. The rule that receives the most criticism is probably the one where you have to stay on the school premises from 9:00am to whatever time the boss says, usually 4-5:00pm, even if you have no classes and there is not much work to do. After school hours you may be expected to attend department meetings etc., which may or may not be conducted entirely in Turkish. Many schools also expect you to show up for weekend meetings every couple of months.
The quality of the material and curriculum provided by most schools is normally very good. Classes are also much more manageable in size than state schools. However, discipline is an unsolvable problem in around half of all private schools. You should expect to teach around 25 hours a week.
These schools’ main focus is on pleasing parents, which means there are many cases of stat-fixing (i.e. allowing students to cheat at exams) and a fixation on after-school activities and end-of-year shows. Foreign teachers can expect great help from other members of staff, however.
Pay depends on experience and qualifications, and every successful interview candidate has the right to adapt parts of their contract, or argue for higher pay, before starting. Some schools may not mention pay during the summer, but most can afford to, even if this is a little lower than for work months. The main perks, of course, are the holidays – not so generously given in language schools, and working legally – with your work visa and insurance fully paid for. Most schools provide a service shuttle to get you to and from work, so commuting is not so much of a problem.
  • Pros: Good work experience, better pay, steady hours, visa provided, summer holidays, options for study, English-speaking staff, no parental involvement
  • Cons: Exam-grading, extra duties
  • You make: 2500-4000TL month
  • You need: An EFL qualification, degree from English language department/university, 2-3 years of teaching experience
The duties expected of instructors are the same, whether Turkish or native. This means grading and paperwork are all part of a day’s work, but at least there is a greater sense of solidarity between staff because of this. Co-ordination skills go a long way in this sense.

University hazırlık, or preparatory departments, are where students entering university take a year-long course exclusively in English. Upon graduating from this department they can begin studying for their chosen major.

Universities can be extremely stimulating or extremely depressing depending on the students and the management at the institution. Many students are either not natural language-learners or are studying majors like law, where English is not a necessity – although they are still forced to pass the year. For this reason, motivation can be a problem. As discussed in the private school section above, behaviour can be an issue at universities, and where most of the intake students are from private schools without a bursary, old habits die hard. However, without constant parental oversight, and the very real risk of having to repeat the year again, university students can be mature enough in the right setting. It actually all depends on the university’s standing and age – the more recently-established universities focusing on the quantity rather than quality of students. Class sizes are 20-30.
Job Agencies
  • Pros: Visa arrangements, paperwork and contract issues can be handled by a third-party, many options for extra work
  • Cons: Some companies can take a cut from your wages, work for schools rather than teachers
  • You make: 2250-2750TL
  • You need: An EFL qualifications, An English-language degree
For schools: There are a number of teaching agencies, whose job it is to hire teaching staff for schools on their behalf. You will still have to attend an interview with the schools themselves, but the agency’s recommendation is a great foot in the door. Agencies are generally language schools which ‘hire out’ teachers, taking a cut of their profits monthly – so if the offered salary is below average for a teaching position in Istanbul, say 2500TL, you can assume this is the case (unless you are desperately under-qualified). However, some charge the school directly and it will not affect your pay.
The services they provide are ones which teachers, and the admin staff at schools, should be happy to have taken off their hands. Going to the police station to get papers stamped, and stamped again, can be a never-ending hell for some. Also useful is having someone else to argue the contract on your behalf, and someone to call if you think there has been a breach later on.
For private classes: Most companies are able to get you evening classes or private students too, if that’s what you are looking for, or if you want the extra cash on top of your full-time job salary. For one-to-one teachers working independently, this means taking less pay than they potentially could, as the school will take a cut (usually around half the pay per hour). However, it does mean more reliable students who won’t make excuses and stop coming to class after a couple of weeks, as they have a contract and will have probably pre-paid for a certain amount of lessons. This is very useful if you rely solely on private students to get by, as having just a handful of no-shows in a week can make a significant dent in your wallet.
Private Lessons
  • Pros: Manage your own time/money, be your own boss, no extra duties
  • Cons: Unreliable source of income, students frequently cancel lessons
  • You need: Experience, advertising know-how
  • You make: 50-150TL per hour
A teacher working independently can make it in the city so long as they have 1) savings to live off while setting up and getting initial students, 2) a know-how for promoting themselves using the web, 3) a willingness to travel and 4) good organisational skills.
As highlighted above, in the Job Agency section, the main risk is having no-shows for your lessons. All of Turkey is learning English right now, so the market is full of people desiring to be able to practice with a native speaker, but some are more dedicated than others. The first lesson might be too much for some, while others might find that they are not learning fast enough. This is all part-and-parcel of teaching privates, but it does make it difficult to plan finances for the month. A good strategy is to charge higher, rather than lower, for your time. Keep in mind that while you may think 70-100TL is a lot of money for one hour-and-a-half session, it is actually what many would pay to attend an average language school. The lower you charge, the less a student will feel committed to the class and it might even cast doubt over the quality of your teaching, by the logic that the higher the price, the greater the quality.

1 comment:

  1. Great detailed overview! Wish I'd seen this before I started searching... I eventually found this info. out during my research.