Musings on my adventures around the world and my ties back in Texas as well as some of the the ideas I have to adapt and create to keep those places close to home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More jokes

My one class seems to think it hilarious to play jokes on me. The same class that tried to ring the bell using their cell phone hit it again today. I walked out of the room to go grab some paper and left my keys sitting on the desk (for the first time all year). When I returned the door was locked, and they were all sitting in the corner of the room impossible to see from the window in the door. Huh, what do you do now? Well, besides learn the lesson that they're teaching you? I walked back to the office next door, borrowed a key from another teacher that uses the same room, and went back to my room. I unlocked the door, walked back to my desk grabbed my keys, walked back out and locked the door. All without breaking into a smile. So then I had 16 kids locked into my classroom - not really a safe situation, but satisfying all the same. I only left them for about two minutes, well within my hearing range - so I'm not fretting. At least it proved a point and they settled down when I came back in (thinking about if I should lock all of us into the room together - but no, it's to hot to close the door, we need the breeze from the open window and door).

The plus side to my interaction with this class is that when I asked them not to sing since our room backs up to the office of the department head and pointed out that she could hear whenever they did so and then I had to answer to her they quieted right down. It's nice to know that they at least like me enough to not want to get me into trouble. Even if they are joksters who can't wait to try to trick me again.


I finally am done with all of my required observations (my department head coming in to observe my class) and best of all have all of the write -ups completed and approved. It's not that I'm against being observed, in fact when implemented well I think its one of the best methods for improving my own teacher skills. I look forward to being given a specific thing to think about and try to adjust to. Its where I first became aware of trying to make sure I space my questions out around the room, and how the need to get kids up to the board has been reinforced. Sadly though, it's not always useful feedback. My entire feedback to my write up this time: "This looks great. I have nothing to add except that you are a very effective teacher..." That's great. Thanks for the compliment, but what can I do to get better?

Instead I've taken to using the write ups as a way to highlight some of the problems with the system at our school. My focus this time - the fact that I only had 9 out of 18 kids at the end of the lesson (after starting with 5). An excerpt:

The bell rang to start class and I looked around at a mostly empty classroom. Okay, there’s an extra five minutes built into the schedule, I’ll give my students a bit more time to filter into class. I’m supposed to have 18 in this section, and frankly it hardly seems worth starting up with just 5 of them present. About 10 minutes into the lesson I finally got up to start working with the 7 students who had shown up. I started class by completing another example of what we had done in the previous lesson, important I thought because the variations we were to explore today followed a similar procedure and depended on understanding what we had already done. Turns out that was a very good choice, since when the problem was first put on the board they were all staring blankly. Was it just because they tend not to be very awake at 8, or do they really remember that little from Tuesday (only 2 days ago)? I guess it doesn’t matter, what does matter is working them through the process in a way that will trigger their memory so that we can then expand the method for finding area to new situations.

Why oh why are they allowed to miss so much class? 45 days total (out of only 180 school days) are permissible. Frankly, it's ridiculous. I understand some of it, and it's relation to the external nation wide testing system here - but come on. It's okay to miss 1/4 of the total days of school? Give me a break! At least we only have 4 more days until exams begin. Funny how they all show up for the days they assume will be set aside for review. As long as I'm not expected to reteach the material 20 times I guess that is okay with me.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Greece Scrapblog

Well, I finally finished my Greece scrapblog (an online program that lets me scrapbook digitally without needing all the paper goods). It's not as satisfying as scrapbooking by hand, but it definitely takes less materials. And I must say I'll be glad not to be going home with two years worth of pictures this time. Check it out:

If it's taking to long to load, you can always check out the original url:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Rumeli Hisari

Rumeli Hisari is an oasis of tranquility in the bustling city of Istanbul. You step inside the walls (3 feet deep) and you’re immediately transported out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Of course if you look down you can see all the traffic along the Bosphorus and if you look up you can watch the steady stream of cars crossing the second bridge (referred to as such because it was the second bridge built to transfer vehicles across the Bosphorus) – but inside it’s the wind, trees, rocks and sun which overwhelm. Built in four short months in 1452 this fort is at the narrowest point on the Bosphorus. It is directly across from another fort on the Asian side, and some stories say that there was a competition to see which fort would be completed first. I don’t actually know if it is true or which side won, but I can attest to the fact that the European fortress is a solid rock construction that doesn’t seem as if it will be going anywhere anytime soon (even if it was built in only four months). One of the great things about visiting sites in foreign countries is that seldom are they as safety conscious as the US. Today that meant I got to clamber up and down narrow stairways, walk along the top of the fortress walls (admiring the amazing view of the Bosphorus the entire time), skirt deep holes in the towers and really just explore anywhere I could discover a path. It’s a great mini-escape from the craziness Istanbul sometimes contains.

Awash in yellow and blue

I went into town today and was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of yellow and blue that I saw. Istanbul is awash in those two colors. Why? That would be because Fenerbache won the football league, and at the moment everything seems to be celebrating that fact. I saw more people in jerseys today then I ever have before, and as far as I know there wasn't even a game. The funny thing is that they had the league championship sewed up at least a week ago. I don't know if the celebrations have just continued since then, or if this is a recent addition to the city landscape. But I do know that you can't miss the fact that Fenerbache fans are happy this season!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Idiotic Injuries

I swear that I get injured in the most random ways. They make good (but silly stories) - so much so that I had my Turkish teacher laughing out loud about my recent mishap ( a mean feat since I was trying to tell the story with my limited Turkish vocabulary). The current injury: I've hurt my wrist. It happened last Sunday when I was at a birthday party for the five year old twins who live next door. The gathered kids had played two rounds of musical chairs and for some reason it was decided that an adult round was required. I'm a good sport so I said I'd play, never dreaming that I'd end up as one of the final two. But that's exactly what happened. When the music stopped and I went to sit down the other contestant (a fellow math teacher) pulled the chair out from under me and I hit the floor. The problem is that I put my arm out to brace myself and ended up landing on my wrist. Ayie! You try putting most of your weight on your wrist and then keeping a somewhat straight face as 10 kids under the age of 6 circle around you. I thought I managed admirably. The real problem is that I decided to go ahead and play in my volleyball game on Tuesday - which was not the best of ideas...perhaps worth it as we're now going on to the semifinals in our tournament but not a great decision for my wrist.


One of the special joys that comes with teaching is losing your voice at least a couple of times. For me I tend to get laryngitis at least twice a year, usually as the seasons are changing (don't know how that affects it). The good thing about not being able to speak above a whisper is that my students are forced to stay quiet if they want any chance of hearing me. Forcing kids to stay quiet isn't going to happen (especially here in Turkey) but they seem to have a certain level of respect that makes them stay quieter when a teacher can't physically get any louder. It's nice too because it means that I don't even have to think about yelling at them for whatever reason...I can't yell so it's not an option. There's a certain relief from normal classroom management that comes with having no voice. And at least for a couple of days my students are respectful of that.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reminders of home

As I walked to school on Monday I noticed that one of the apartments had purple irises in bloom. It stopped me in my tracks and I closed my eyes and thought of my mom. We've had irises in our yard for as long as I can remember and as soon as they started blooming you can bet that we would have a single bloom in a vase on our dining room table every day until the irises were done for the season. We transplanted the irises when we moved, and somehow ended up with only purple irises at the new house. Doesn't matter. Anytime I see an iris I think of mom and her love of these graceful flowers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tricky Students

I was introduced to a new trick by my students today. It's always amazing to me what they can come up with...

Friday afternoon classes are always difficult, all anyone wants - students and teacher - is to be done and get outside into the sunshine. I probably have the least control over my Friday afternoon class. I just go and teach, hoping they will focus enough to learn something before the bell rings. As soon as that bell rings the kids are out the door, happy to be free for the weekend. So imagine my surprise when I heard the bell but only two of my students made a move to the door. Huh, odd. Maybe I imagined it. It was a little early for the end of class. Sit down, let's move on. Five minutes later I heard a faint bell again. Now I know that wasn't the real bell - there's no denying when it really rings. Come to think of it, one of the other teachers warned me off a trick some of the students were trying...recording the sound of the bell on their cell phone and then playing it back in the hope of getting out of class early. The third time the bell "rang" I was positive of it. My students were trying to trick me! OK, not so surprising, this is what I would call a mischievous class. Enjoyable but always testing the boundaries. Lucky for me I didn't bite the first time they tried it, little do they know that it was only their own lack of movement which made it fail. Just one more reason cell phones and i-pods should be barred from the classroom. The smaller technology gets, the more it seems to disrupt class. I ended the lesson as the real bell rang (much louder then the recorded versions) with a warning to the whole class "The next time I hear it I will take the first phone I see for a week." It'll be interesting to see if they try it again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Culture Clashes

Our female teachers' volleyball team is an interesting microcosm of the situation in general at school. A combination of both foreign and Turkish players, yesterday I learned just how different the two mentalities can be. In my mind I'm playing volleyball (or any sport) for fun and exercise. I'm no where near as serious as I was when I was younger and I just enjoy being out there and having a chance to interact with other people. Of course I will always play my hardest during a game, but I have to admit I don't care to much if we win or lose as long as I feel like I've played well.

We had our first game on Sunday, and to my surprise we actually won (3-1). We don't have an amazing team but have six solid players and another 5 that didn't see much, if any, playing time. So, yesterday at practice we sat down to have a discussion about "what we expect from this team." Our coach (a p.e. teacher here at school) wanted to know if "we were playing for fun or playing to win." It turns out that in his mind, and in the minds of most of the Turks, there is only one or the other. No middle ground. For about an hour we debated about what this all meant, did every single player need to play in a game? Do they understand no one is asking for equal playing time, they just want to see the court? How can we win if we don't put the best six out there? Why didn't you say you were tired if you were? (What's the role of a coach if I have to take myself out of the game? I never admit how tired I am to myself or else I won't be able to keep going.) What started out phrased as a question quickly turned into a rationalization on the part of the Turks as to why what happened Sunday was okay, and frustration on the foreigner's part as we tried to come up with a recommendation that would provide some sort of middle ground. No dice. Practice finally started when our coach stated "Well you're just going to have to trust me to do what is best so that we can win," revealing that he was not going to change his mind, but at least the truth was finally out there.

I guess that means that I can expect a lot of playing time in the following weeks, which was not exactly what I wanted to hear. But when you come face to face with cultural differences I guess it's usually the foreign opinion which gives way. It seems like we come face to face with completely different viewpoints quite frequently at school with a faculty that is about 70% Turkish and 30% foreign, and often the foreign viewpoint is the one that gives way, whether it is because we just don't care enough to continue to fight the system or because we are so vastly outnumbered. And after considering all of it, we are the visitors learning about a different culture.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hans: Hidden Corners

Yesterday I made the very good decision to join an “Edda tour.” Edda is an elderly woman who runs walking tours around the Sultanhamet area of Istanbul. The great thing about these tours is that you’re not going to the normal sights. All of the big places that you have to hit when you’re here for the first time are easily done on your own. Accessible and obvious you don’t need a guide to find them. However there is a whole other world in the area which you can’t even begin to dream about without experiencing it. This was the real benefit of Edda.

Over the course of the day we were lead up stairs, through tiny doors which led to a large open courtyard enclosed by two or three stories of rooms…exactly what is meant by the word han. A han is basically a workshop/lodging area dating back to the Ottoman Empire. I had read about hans in several books about turkey but finally seeing several in person has made the concept much clearer to me. The general idea is that a han provides a way to keep all of the specialty workers in a close space so that a complete product can be produced by with each artisan doing his small specialty. Let me explain what we saw in one of the hans which dealt with jewelry. Up a small stairwell and through two doors we came out into a small room where a wave of heat hit us. Metal grates lined the floor (to collect any accidental loss of gold) and machines which looked more then a little confusing formed a line on either side. Here people would bring a small amount of gold to have it reformed – into a flat piece, lengthened into a long rope of gold…basic processing happened here. Next door we slipped up another set of stairs to find men working on setting stones for jewelry. As far as I can tell they were solely responsible for creating the brackets that hold a jewel in and affixing that stone. In yet another we were shown polishing methods…Each separate room we crowded into made me realize just how many different skills and different people work on completing just one piece of jewelry. It truly is a system of creating crafts by specialty work. Never again will I go through the bazaar without appreciating the level of craftsmanship in each hand made item.

The tour ended with an exceptional view out over the section of Sultanhamet which we had covered, from high up on the roof of the largest han in town. I could have sat there for hours just soaking in the bird’s eye view of the city. But it was time to go back down and wonder out into the world of Sultanhamet that is my more normal experience.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Eating out with teachers

One of the challenges of being a teacher, and going out with other teachers is to leave your teacher-ness at home when you all get together. Some days we’re more successful at that then others. Last night definitely had moments of teacher-ness in it. While out for Mexican food (Cinqo de mayo) a child was playing and throwing things in the restaurant (this is Turkey…children can do very little wrong). In and of itself this is not really a problem, however it turned into a small one when he threw his eraser and it flew by our table and landed under Molly’s chair. Enough! Shouldn’t parents be able to control their children better in public? When the child came over to start crawling under the table to retrieve his toy Molly put her foot on top of it and said no. Scared out of his mind, the child turned around and went back to his mother with a look of disbelief on his face. Molly retrieved what was thrown and we all looked at the culprit, an eraser. Of course. We can’t leave school behind. That would be too simple. The offending item lay on our table for an hour or so until the mother asked the waiter to retrieve it for her, we of course surprised her by understanding her request expressed in Turkish and Molly quickly looked up and said the child could come get it. Child comes reluctantly over and stands at the edge of the table while you can see both Molly and Kelly thinking rapidly. We all know that all we want is an apology/polite request for the return of the eraser. So while Molly looks to be getting closer to exploding, Kelly quickly chimes in “Pardon, silgi alabilir miyim?” giving the child an example of exactly what we expect. He got it wrong the first time, no “pardon” so a second attempt was necessary. And when that finally came out with a prompted “lutefen” on the end the eraser was handed over and we all breathed a sigh of relief before cracking up. You can take the teacher away from school but that doesn’t stop those teacher habits.

Math Competition

Picture an auditorium filled with tables. At each table is three chairs, a paddle with a number and three bottles of water. Students are entering with nervous energy, and the murmuring reaches a high pitch as it gets closer to the time to start. No, it’s not an auction, it’s a math competition. Finally a teacher takes the microphone and directs students to their seats so that we can get started. The math competition is an annual competition held by the math department at school. Consisting of both team and individual sections it takes a full Friday and the help of all of us to run. With the first team competition set to begin 8-LP-9 the first two periods (10-11 third and fourth) we need to get started. The only problem…no one wants to take responsibility for the mike and explaining the rules. Since we’re an English language department (despite 14 Turkish teachers to 4 foreigners) the whole day is to be run in English – and no one who knows what is going on wants to take responsibility for speaking to everyone. Finally I give in and take the microphone, realizing we just need to get this show on the road (I’ve found that the foreigners seem to be more likely to step up and get involved just to get things moving along) but not realizing that it would mean that I would have a microphone in my hand the next four periods of the day. After explaining the rules and working out some of the kinks with two practice rounds we finally start the first team competition: a series of 15 questions with three minutes to answer each question. Each team gets two tries to answer the question correctly. The quickest correct answer receives 3 points, the second 2 and every other correct answer 1 point. With so many students involved and a decent sized audience (yes teachers brought their classes to watch a math competition) there is definitely a potential for chaos here. Surprisingly everything runs smoothly and we meet no real problems. All in all, it was a successful run and a great opportunity to see students excited about doing math.