With Matt Ledding’s notion of ‘pie-chart nationality’ in mind, I’m pleased to welcome Aisha Ertugrul as my latest guest-blogger.
Aisha describes herself as a Hungarian/Latvian/Turkish American from New York City. After working for ten years as a fashion designer in Manhattan, she was planning to re-locate to California with her family, but before doing that, they decided to take a vacation in Turkey. Eleven years later, they’re still there and Aisha is an English teacher.
“Teaching is my profession, passion and beloved hobby,” says Aisha. “Although I was quite successful as a designer, it was well-paid meaningless fluff stuff to me.”
I first noticed that Aisha had some pretty strong ideas about teaching and teacher training when she commented on Russell Stannard’s guest blog. You can read her comment here: http://bit.ly/mhej7X
If you want to find out more about Aisha’s pie-chart nationality, read her comment on Matt Ledding’s blog – http://bit.ly/kxvhl4
Aisha’s post contains some quite trenchant ideas about the state of education in Turkey, so I’ll be especially interested in responses from Turkish readers. However, the ideas expressed here probably resonate for educators in many other countries, so please let’s hear what you think about them, too.
Now I know why I never learned how to snowboard
We had taken a few lessons with an instructor on Mt. Uludağ many years ago, when my husband decided we could continue to practice on our own. My husband and daughter had no trouble and were soon improving their skills. I, on the other hand, gave up after three days and a risky fall. My son preferred to ski, which was fine, because he still needed practice with that.
It’s a pity I gave up, because snowboarding is really more my style; it was a missed opportunity of swaying movements, a freer feeling, a hipper crowd, and much cooler clothing.
My instructor was great and had a lot of charisma. What was I thinking?!? I was thinking that what was good for my husband and daughter must be good enough for me. After failing, I was thinking it was personal; I lacked the talent, the ability, the drive and saw too much of a risk.
As I plan my objectives for the first time as an in-service teacher trainer for my school, I realize that what I needed then was more lessons with my instructor, lightly holding on to my fingertips, supporting me, as he did, down the steep slope, until I too was ready to go it alone.
Conferences, seminars, workshops
In Turkey, there’s a wonderful array of useful, inspiring conferences. For us, they are like the TED Talks of ELT. Many teachers are open to new ideas and new strategies and they readily use and expand on these ideas. They are the gifted and high achievers. They are doing their utmost, not only by not teaching the way they were taught, but also by teaching themselves how to use technology.
Still, even with excellent training sessions, there are many who don’t look favorably on training, and when polled, a majority of teachers say they don’t want it offered. It is this group that intrigues me. Where have we failed them?
Here are some quotes from teachers who didn’t want training sessions:
“Training doesn’t matter; we don’t even have enough time to finish the course book.”
“Training sessions feel like flipping TV channels with a remote. Before you get a chance to process, the next one is upon you.”
“It was a good training session but I can’t understand the hack* or how to add links.“
*Gmail hack: a cheat to add users to a blog (a heck of a hack for a beginner)
“I never get much out of going to conferences. Oh, you do? Well you’re lucky.”
Three basic groups of teachers
There are those who…
1 want to, and can further develop on their own (my husband and daughter)
2 want to, but can’t without more support (like me)
3 have their hands full with the basics (my son)
1 The societal norms of the country
Education in Turkey is in a constant state of flux, a place where students of all levels are taught mostly through a teacher-directed, spoon-fed, memorization-based system that caters to the multiple-choice, ‘high stakes’ exams.
- Education is centrally controlled by the ministry.
- There is little accountability for quality of education.
- 43/100 is a passing grade.
- An average student is tested more than fifty times a year
- Reading is not a strong part of the culture. Many teachers don’t read after graduation.
- Many universities focus on theory.
- Salaries are low, and therefore so is motivation.
- Public schools have weak English programs. Interestingly, the Ministry of Education has publicized its plans to import forty thousand native speakers to go into the classroom. The project will run for five years at an estimated cost of 1.5 billion Turkish Lira (nearly a billion US dollars). What will happen remains to be seen, but at least we can see they are thinking about English, (if not reflecting on what went wrong in the first place.)
2 The conditions and realities in their institutions
Teacher training, either sparingly or heavily dosed, has a minimal effect on closed-door culture schools that are highly test-driven, and full of ‘flavors of the month,’ and mandates fed top down. Therefore, feeling a need to transform or improve teaching is quickly diminished under the weight of reality.
- Peer and developmental observations are uncommon.
- A course book capitalism exists where books are frequently discarded for the “Gotta have it cause it’s shiny and new” versions.
- Technology is sought after but can sit unplugged or be ineffectively used due to lack of training.
Creating a ripple effect wide enough to reach students
After a training stint, I spent two months of my summer vacation mining through a self hosted WORDPRESS blog and if it wasn’t for Steve Neufeld, out of the goodness of his heart, helping me all the way from Cyprus through cyberspace, I would have given up, thinking that all the problems I was having were of my doing, and not the kinks and bugs of the platform.
As teacher trainers and developers, we need to impress upon top school administrators that “hop in, hop out” training sessions won’t do. In-service training is essential. It has the potential to cater to all three categories of teachers, taking into account the restrictions they face in their perspective institutions.
The training support should be focused on a few carefully assessed crucial topics, and provide ongoing training throughout the year. We can help teachers see a legitimate purpose for the training, holding on to their fingertips; supporting them down the slippery slope of their own development, continuing our support still, as they seamlessly integrate it into their present syllabus and other teacher responsibilities, till they’re ready to go at it on their own.
Only through time well spent building relationships between us, planting the seeds of motivation, establishing an open school culture, and essentially teachers seeing the value added to their students, will training become a need, and be transferred into teachers’ day-to-day instruction. They will then be open to new opportunities in training. The ripple we create will have a wider effect, reaching our true destination, impacting the student.
They’ll be ‘stoked’.
*I’ve touched on a just a few areas. What are some of your insights on teacher development in Turkey?