Friday, September 19, 2008
Adjusting to School
Three weeks into school, and I am finally starting to feel the start of a rhythm. I almost know all my students' names. Turkish names had no existing schema in my brain so they were really hard to remember; the good thing is that they are all named after something, so in learning their names, I have been adding Turkish words to my repertoire: Eylül for September, Su for water, Onur for honor, Buğra for Muhammed's camel, etc..
"Please be quiet, Muhammed's Camel." "Waterfall, do you have your homework?"
I share my room with Stacy from Kansas; she is my mentor, friend, and co-teacher since we teach many of the same courses and have been collaborating on some lesson plans. I love the creative process of planning lessons, and collaborating amplifies that feeling! Our 11th graders have been studying a media and culture unit, and lately learning about the languages of visual composition and sound. We have been looking at how certain techniques are used to manipulate the connotation of a media message. Stacy and I got together to create a killer lesson using trailers for films and their spoofs to show this manipulation. If you have access to youtube (it's banned in Turkey), check out The Shining's original trailer, and then the spoof, which makes it out to be a touchy-feely romantic comedy by changing the music and narration. So funny. Next week, the kids are presenting their own sound manipulations; it's a fun way to start the schoolyear.
Although the school is not enormous (there are only about 40 seniors and 40 juniors), I am finding the atmosphere very busy and distracting. The Vo Ag Center, in comparison, was so quiet and peaceful. I was able to work uninterrupted for hours at a time. Here, I share a room with two other teachers, and my students are always stopping by to talk about something. I've taken to creating "office hours" and stealing away to the library to get work done. Also, even though it is an English-speaking school, 90% of the students are Turkish, and so the hallways are filled with loud Turkish chattering. I find that because I cannot understand it, my brain doesn't know what to do with these sounds, and so it is just noise to me, and can be overwhelming sometimes, too.
Another difference that I am still trying to digest is the students' obsession with their GPA and receiving high marks. The other day I handed back a quiz, the first quiz of a 2-year course, and they were asking me what IB score this would be. An IB score, from 1-7, is reserved for major papers which are externally assessed late next year; these students are so far from that phase of the course. They barely understand what IB is, yet they know about the scores, and have decided they NEED to get a 6 or 7. Similarly, when I handed out progress reports yesterday, everyone got out their calculators and typed away numbers, trying to figure out their GPAs.
I understand it is very competitive to get into Turkish universities, but the culture of this school is marked by an excessive obsession with numbers. I've always felt uncomfortable about assigning numbers to studentwork and using this extrinsic motivation as a teaching advantange, but these students' desperation makes me feel gross sometimes. "Miss Simpson, is there any way I can re-take this quiz?" "Miss Simpson, what were these points taken off for?"
Due to the pressure of good grades, our school also has a problem with cheating and plagiarizing. A friend of mine explained to me that it isn't a matter of ethics; that to say cheating is immoral is projecting our North American values on their culture. I am getting the feeling that the values of equity and fairness are not high on the charts here, and so are not placed under the umbrella of ethics like they are in the states. Being honorable and ethical here takes on a different form. I've seen it in their kindness towards others, towards a foreigner that doesn't have enough money to pay for the cab fare, for example (whoops). The IB program aims to create independent-thinking, risk-taking, just, compassionate, balanced, creative-thinking, globally minded individuals. In Turkey, where there are limited spots at universities, who cares if you can take risks and value justice; if you don't have the marks, you can't move forward in life to exercise any of these traits.
I feel like I am only chipping away at an iceberg here, that I have much to learn and understand about my students and their culture still. Luckily, I teach a subject that lends itself to exploring all these philosophical, personal, touchy-feely, hippy ideas.