Monday, January 13, 2014

Teaching English as a Second Language

lately i've been feeling obliged to talk about my job and explain a bit about what i do.  i've been teaching english in turkey since september 2009.  i haven't been doing this consistently because i've had periods of travel and a phase of teaching english/traveling in south america in between but as of today i am something like five months into a recent contract with the language school of which i am currently employed.

although i haven't thought about it for a while, life has been very different since i first came here some four and a half years ago.  i had just ended a great chapter in my life of traveling as well as failed relationships.  my grandmother had passed away and i've only recently acknowledged how much all of those things affected me.  i visited geer park elementary school in dearborn, michigan where i had done my student teaching a few short years before.  on a stroke of chance the school was desperately searching for a new and preferably male teacher for grade 3 which was the same grade i taught for one semester during my training.  it tempted me to take this job.

i prepared a lesson for my trial day and even went home that night to continue making plans and drawing ideas for how to make this class great.  i had my doubts about it though.  i knew this was a job which i could just walk into and i knew that it would be a commitment which was something i did not fancy at the time.  instead i never came in to meet with the principal to learn if i got the job.  i deleted her voice mails without listening to them.  i lied about it too and told people i was turned down.

i wanted to travel again.  in the year preceding this event i was living in samoa and working for the u.s. peace corps as a volunteer.  i lived in a shack and wore a lavalava (samoan man-skirt) to work.  i didn't wear shoes.  i lived in a village and watched the sunrise over the ocean in the distance every morning.  coming home was rough.  maybe i had been spoiled  or perhaps i overdosed on the notion of freedom.

i think a lot of people are intimidated by freedom, even a little afraid of it perhaps.  we work in jobs which we may not hate but we are nervous about becoming 'stuck' in them.  after some time of working at the same job however i think we also become afraid of being without our job which we are so comfortable in.  everyone says they want freedom but we are afraid to act on it.

i didn't want to be like this, in fact i didn't want to be like anything.  so much of me wanted to try something incredibly different and i think that is what drove me to teach english in a different country.  so i came to istanbul, turkey.  i loved it.  i still love it.  now when i look back on my first few months here i laugh a bit because of how something is so amazingly different to everybody else has become so normal for me and i wanted to share what it is like.

my friend once said teaching abroad is the last 'rock n roll' job and i am always amused with this way of looking at it.  my schedule is like this: i work from 10am-2pm  and from 7pm-10pm usually.  i currently have three private students and four classes.  my company pays me by the hour and the private students which i find on my own pay me much more because there is no middle company to dictate prices.  i work for 6-10 month contracts at a time and save money by living modestly and budgeting.  after six or ten months i leave and travel all over the place to surrounding countries for months at a time.  i can come back to my job whenever i want and as long as i finish my contract i am free to leave.  so often i have overlooked just how cool that is.

the line of work requires a sharp understanding of the english language because students will always notice if you are uninformed on a topic.  after time you get really good at it and come up with your own ways to teach things like grammar and conversation.  a good way to improve is to become involved in the culture and language of the country in which you live.  learning turkish has given me a great advantage in teaching for many reasons but especially because i know the differences in both languages and often the mistakes we make reflect how we are thinking in our native tongue.  you can learn from this as a teacher.

you also get to learn a new language and it is, for reason or another, necessary.  i've found that teaching english in turkey and south america (argentina specifically) are very different in this topic.  i noticed that every teacher from abroad who was native to english had a fantastic use of spanish as a second language.  they sometimes spoke to each other in spanish as they were so comfortable with it.  my spanish got really good by living with these people yet as i've noticed in turkey most teachers never really reach a conversational level with their turkish.  i think this is greatly because of the differences of language family but it's also the pronunciation.

the language barrier scares some people who are thinking to come teach english abroad however i've always been entertained by it and it gets thinner over time.  i spend a lot of my time at work talking with the office staff in their language and it makes working their really fun.

i find that the friends you make in other countries are much diverse than people back home.  home will always be home and those friends will always be my dearest but i am blessed also with an interesting group of friends i've met out here.  the foreign people who are living here seem to always find each other and although we are all very different there are many similarities between us.  i think that most foreign people who i know here have left jobs and opportunities back home perhaps for similar reasons i had for leaving mine.  we are drawn to each other because we respect our courage to leave a life behind and start anew somewhere else.  some people are just passing through and others have buried deep roots here.

i've also met some truly wild people in other countries, people who really couldn't handle themselves back into society back in the country they come from.  i'll spare their decency by not going into details although i must say that they are truly entertaining and fantastic people to be around.

i'm good at my job too, that is to say that i've gotten good at it.  teaching is a skill like all other skills and if you work at something you become good at it.  some of the new teachers spend a lot of time planning and going into class with expectations but i've learned it's better to feel out a class so to speak and plan as i go along.  having said that, teaching english abroad can leave a lot of room for partying and social life because you get good enough at your job to do it when you're not exactly at your best (i.e. hungover or having girl problems).  i don't exactly encourage this but i've known that some of the wilder people who passed through over time have been impressively good teachers even when they are in a terrible way.

when i first got here i partied a lot but the thrill of that wears off after a short time.  once the honeymoon is over you become more interested in the culture around you instead of the excitement of meeting foreign people who are also reaping the benefits of being far away from home.  now i almost prefer to hang out in the company of a mostly turkish crowd.  i don't like people switching to english on my accord and when you're out drinking nobody here wants to struggle through english to appease the foreigner.  learning turkish has opened a whole new world out here to me and this is a great joy of doing what i am doing for so long.

i hope these ramblings, if ever read, will be inspiring to someone out there.  i adore my job and i don't think many people can say that.  this blog is usually a collection for my own personal use of traveling photos and stories as well as glimpses into my life between adventures so i wish that a few people could learn something about a different path through the world.  before long i'll be packed up again and wandering another corner of the map for a few months but i'll be back here one day, this is my new home.

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