First Day of School

I won’t bother to go into too many specifics about names or particulars, but just yesterday I had my second interview with an English school here in Istanbul. It was a relatively brief interview. After a few back and forth questions about the job and what I could expect from my position, I was offered to take over an intermediate level class one day a week until more classes opened up. The contract was more formality than legally binding, being that it was hand written on the back of a used piece of paper. My earnings per hour, although less than I could make at a McDonalds, would at least get me one step closer to establishing myself in Turkey.
The group of people Jason and I have been staying with are all teachers. They say that the majority of students who attend private English classes are also enrolled at a university. These students tend to have busy lives and a heavy work load already meaning that they prefer English lessons to be informal and fun instead of tediously academic. “Good luck getting them to write anything,” has been a recurring piece of advice.

Today I walked into class at noon with a slip shod lesson plan roughly based on a dull textbook I had received the day before. I had a vague idea as to how the classes are actually taught. The substitute teacher warned me that a few of the students were unhappy about receiving a new teacher. This was the middle of a three-month long class and needed some way of winning the students over. I stopped at a nearby grocery store to buy some candy bars. I had some games planned out, but I was also curious to see how the students would react to a lesson that followed along with a boring text-book.
“Hello everybody,” I said after the class doors had been closed and six students sat around me. “My name is Nathan and I’ve only been in Turkey now for six days. The first thing I want to know is where should I go to get the best food?”
Three different conversations broke out at once. They talked for, what felt like an excruciatingly long period of time. I thought that I had already lost them.
After some debate the most talkative of the group finally asked, “What do you like?”
I explained that I was a vegetarian, told them which restaurants I had already eaten at, and confessed that I preferred places that were cheap. They gave me suggestions and named restaurants as quickly as I forgot the unfamiliar pronunciations. They continued to argue in Turkish, throw out a suggestion, speak in Turkish, another suggestion, until their voices coalesced into a loud, incoherent mess.
Fearing that I was going to lose control on the class I suggested that we play a game to break the ice, “Has anyone ever played Two Truths and a Lie?”
Everyone shook their heads. I explained the game, gave an example, and asked the woman on my right to begin. She was a bit shy and said she didn’t know what to say.
“Would you prefer someone else to go first?” I asked.
She nodded.
“Okay, we’ll come back to you then,” I said.
The most talkative student began by telling the class two truths about himself and one lie. He was with his girlfriend and she spotted the lie right away. The students gave a show of hands to the statement they felt was a lie. If the liar was successful, I gave them a candy bar and if the voters were correct, they received a candy bar. As the game moved around the circle of students, I could see the timid ones starting to open up. They were laughing and having fun, and by the end of the game everyone had a candy bar.

“Open up your books to page seventy-two. Let’s go over some vocabulary and then we will have a discussion.”
The textbook was drier than my throat at the beginning of class. The suggested topic was about animal extinction and environmental protection written in such a way that even underperforming middle schoolers would feel bored and unchallenged. We talked about tigers, pandas, and turtles anyway. By the glow of their cell phones I could tell that several of the students were tuning out.
“Let’s play another game,” I suggested, telling everyone to get out of their chairs.
The game is call Picture Game and is part election, part high school yearbook fluff. The first player begins with, “Who would be the most likely to” and then fills in the rest of the sentence. On the count of three, all the players vote by pointing at the person they think would best fit the bill. Instead of voting, players can also defend from being voted on by crossing their arms to deflect a vote. After the first person decides what everyone is voting on, the next person decides, and then the next until everyone around the circle gets to pick what’s voted on. The talkative student went first.
“Who is the tallest in class?” he said.
Everyone pointed at me.
The woman to his right was next.
“Who is the most single?” She said, eyeing the other women in class.
On the count of three, all of the women in class crossed their arms, laughing, blushing, and checking to make sure that I noticed their relationship statuses.

After class, I was putting my materials away and a few of my students were talking to the academic administrator.
“Oh boy,” I thought, “They’re already complaining about me.”
I figured that today would probably be my first and last day.
“It was just as I thought,” the academic advisor said to me.
“What?” I asked a bit nervously.
“You know.”
I repeated my question.
“That there wouldn’t be any problems once they saw you,” she said giggling.

I met Jason back at the flat where we’re staying.
“So how’d it go?” he asked.
“I think they’re more concerned with what kind of genes I was born with than whether or not I’m actually a good teacher,” I said with all the dumb luck in a pretty, petty world.

– Nathan