Last spring, in a bold move, I announced to school administrators that I did not want to return next year. They were stunned. I was friends with everyone on campus. My classroom and my teaching style were applauded and used as an example for my peers. Parents, administrators and students were happy. However, I was not. I hated almost every moment I spent there. Here is why:
1.) Schools are Businesses: In Turkey, private schools are not established as nonprofits. In fact, it is the very opposite. Schools are founded by businessmen who see schools as profitable business ventures. As a result, schools offer sparkling facilities and impressive technology to lure in their clients. They sell the parents a program that promises English fluency, resources and opportunity, without any real emphasis or value for the individual child or the quality of individual teachers. Additionally, the program is sold, not the curriculum. Thus, the curriculum usually overlooks important tenets of childhood psychology or childhood development. The school sells results. Unfortunately, this produces a curriculum that is developmentally inappropriate for children. In this system, parents become the client. Thus, parents are told what they want to hear and what they need to think in order to keep the tuition checks coming. Reports are edited to highlight only the most positive elements of the child. Teachers are censored from discussing behavioral problems and special needs.
2.) Horrible Management: In Turkey, the management structure is very hierarchical. You move into positions of power by supporting the status quo and saying what the management wants to hear. The majority of the management were teachers and lacked a background in management. As a result, the work environment is terribly discouraging. People are seen as disposable. If you do not agree with the curriculum, procedures or policies, you are not valued as an employee. Constructive criticism and suggestions are interpreted as attacks. The staff is disciplined like children. The management talks in a condescending tone. People are singled out and humiliated in meetings. There is no investment in people, or professional development of any kind.
3.) Good Teachers are Not Valued: In fact, good teachers are given more responsibility with less support, encouragement and attention. With one year of teaching experience at my school, I was partnered with a new teacher who lacked any experience as a classroom teacher or at the Kindergarten level. My school applauded itself in being a ‘teaching school’ and allowing new teachers to gain experience. However, this proved to mean that most new teachers are underpaid, and the more experienced teachers take on far more than their share of the workload. I learned that I would not be appreciated for my hard work, quality of teaching or professionalism at any private school in Istanbul.
4.) Long Days in the Middle of Nowhere: Most private schools in Istanbul are located far away from the city center. My commute was 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the traffic. My school was located in a small town outside of Istanbul. I woke-up every morning at 6:30 AM, left my apartment by 7 AM and did not return to my home until 6 PM. Between 8 AM and 3:30 PM, we are in the classroom with our students (with the exception of a short break and a 30 minute prep period) We spent 9 1/2 hours at school every day. Every two months for parent-teacher meetings, we worked two 12-hour work days in a row. I do not mind working hard, but as an expat I was here to experience Istanbul and Turkish culture. I was not here to sit in a classroom with large amounts of busy work.
5.) Special Needs Children are Lost in the System: There is not a program or any specialist employed by most schools to support special needs children. There is no testing or special programs for students with special needs or disabilities. However, the school will still enroll these children (there is very little screening before enrollment). They will place these children into a classroom with their peers and expected them to cope with the demands of the curriculum, or even worse: the teacher is told to ignore that child in order to support the others. There is no additional training or support given to the teachers. These children are lost in a system that makes no attempt to acknowledge or support them. If parents request special support, they are expected to hire and pay a teaching assistant for their child’s classroom, in addition to the normal school fees. This was deeply alarming to observe.