Istanbul is an amazing city. The history alone with worth the visit. Not to mention the baklava! And I do love teaching. The students seem to like my style. The flat I live in is ok—the one roommate who didn’t like me finished moving out yesterday, so that situation is looking up. At my branch, we has some great teachers and I particularly like my branch manager, Robert.
But the first serious issue just came up. Yesterday was payday. I didn’t get paid. No teacher at English Time in Istanbul got paid on the 15th as per our contract.
And it’s the second month in a row.
To be fair, last month, teachers were paid, just two days late. That’s likely to be the case this month, too.
But there are other red flags. I was promised I’d get a residence permit (the first step to a work permit) within days of arriving to Istanbul. We are coming up on 2 months; no permit. And two new teachers who came within days of me have not been found an apartment yet. They were told I got the last available apartment and they’ve been living in a tiny hotel room all this time. There are no plans to find living space for these two men, even though the contract clearly states that the company will find a place for you to live.
But the red flag that concerns me most is pretending there are no classes for some “inspectors.” This morning’s classes were canceled with less than 24 hours’ notice. Again. I’m pretty sure this is the fourth time. And the teachers aren’t allowed to be anywhere in the area. And the teachers don’t get paid even though no notice was given. When you don’t speak the predominate language, you often don’t know what’s going on. The office staff speaks little English, so there is no clear explanation, just the word “inspectors. “ What I’ve gathered is that the “inspectors” have something to do with taxes and the school is trying to hid how much business they are doing in order to pay less.
So, in short, I’m working for a company that lies, cheats and doesn’t pay on time. Oh joy.
This is the second company in a row with these issues. English Time is better than the school in Vietnam, but these are still serious issues. Is this how the English Teaching business works?
I had hoped I was working with a business where I could stay for awhile–maybe finish my 11 month contract and then move to another school location, perhaps in Antalya, for a second contract. Well, the second contract is out of the question. I don’t sign a second contract with a business that doesn’t honor the first one. Now, I am wondering if I can finish this contract.
I am swamped with new classes, new curriculum, learning a new language/culture and getting settled in at my new apartment. But I do keep a short journal, occasionally. The photos are from the Archeology Museum. I’m sure it’s an amazing place, but it’s under construction/reorganization/remodeling so many of the best items simply aren’t available to the public. I’ll return.4/9/2015 Thursday
I’m teaching full-time, but weekday evening classes only last 6 weeks and I’ve joined most classes in progress. As a result, my Level 1 class finished up Tuesday night. I just love this group. Was thrilled that some of them contacted the office and asked for me as a teacher! So I will start their Level 2 class Monday. The students are mostly college age, here–no children like in Vietnam. They focus so much on grammar rules that I have to study to keep up with them! As a native English speaker, obviously I know how to say things, but you have to be able to explain why. Two of the new teachers are Hispanic and only speak English as a second language. Their accents are thick and their grammar poor. It’s difficult for their students and they’ve been removed from some classes. I don’t think they will make it. A LOT of new teachers wash out, particularly young ones. I don’t think they realize how much work it is to teach, particularly at first as you get used to a new school and curriculum.
Right now, while I’m learning the curriculum, I spend a lot of time preparing. Most evenings, I have a 3 hour class, and I spend at least that long preparing for the class. But it will get easier as I teach classes I’ve taught before. The school has already asked me to stay another year–even talked to me about management. I don’t want to manage, but I might consider another location in Turkey for a second year. I don’t have to make any decisions, yet.
My roommates are all 20-something and they make me feel old! I deal with the noise and the mess pretty well–frankly the three of them aren’t as messy as my single Vietnamese roommate, Bob, so that’s an improvement. But it’s a tiny kitchen and a single bath. With all their friends over it can be next to impossible to get into either room. And when their “overnight guests” hog the bathroom……it’s not really going that well.
I went to Katt and Ali about noon today to ask about moving to another flat. Virginia simply doesn’t like me. Her boyfriend stays overnight—which is against the rules. Honestly, I don’t care what she does or with whom in her bedroom, but he hogs the bathroom! 45 minute showers in the morning! And when I asked who was in the bathroom (since all the residents were accounted for) NO ONE would answer my question. They ignored me as though I didn’t exist–As though I didn’t have the right to ask! Because I needed to pee and because I was curious, I simply waited to see who would exit the room. When her boyfriend came of of the bathroom (finally!) I just rolled my eyes. Later, I asked for a floor meeting to set ground rules about guests. After all, there are already four of us sharing a kitchen and a bathroom (with no real living room) so adding guests quickly gets to be an issue. The request was NOT well received. Virginia responded that it wasn’t needed. The other two didn’t respond at all.
And immediately, I began hearing interesting stories through the grapevine about Virginia’s opinion of me. And the dirty looks in the hallway confirm her feelings. Funny, since she was the one who told me all the “rules” and how much trouble I’d get in if I violated them. She explained them in a tone of a veiled threat! But I guess the rules don’t apply to her. I have tried to keep a low profile here at the flat. Which is easy because no one speaks to me. I would feel differently about this if I had actually complained. And it isn’t like I went to the landlords and told them about the overnight guests. I’m uncomfortable here. It’s no way to live. That’s why I asked to move. They told me they would see what they could do, but not to get my hopes up.
….and the roommate problems seem to have resolved themselves. I seriously didn’t intend to get Virginia kicked out. Yesterday, Victoria was told to leave the apartment. She’s been warned at least twice in the past about overnight guests. It’s clearly stated in the lease. And I was told that it’s a different “boyfriend” every time. Eeeeek! She has two weeks to get out. Unfortunately, Victoria blames me for this, and she has been very vocal about it. The next two weeks will not be fun. <sigh>
Such drama! I swear it’s the raging hormones. You can smell them in the air!
It’s a different world here. Last night, a young male student asked me to introduce him to a young female student from another class. I don’t know the girl, so I said no. He asked again, suggesting that I could tell her that he was a “good man” and could “help” her with her English. (Which is pretty hilarious considering his poor English.) I told him again that I couldn’t do this. I didn’t know him well enough to “endorse” him (so this also became a vocabulary lesson) and I had never met the young girl. I was not in a position to do this favor and I didn’t think this was something a teacher should do. He persisted, explaining (in broken English) that she would trust me if I said he was a good man. I said that was exactly why I couldn’t do it. I suggested that if he wanted to meet the girl, he should introduce himself. “No, Teacher. This Turkey. Cannot.”
IMHO, most young Turkish men are players: vain, overly concerned about their appearance with confidence fueled by testosterone and peer pressure. It reminds me of Italy. I’m glad to be above most of it, but it’s fun to be an audience. Sometimes.
I tried to show a video last night in our “cinema room” at school. I’ve been told that the equipment is pretty iffy and I don’t know that I’ll try again. The plan was to let the students watch a Mr. Bean video and practice describing actions. It failed miserably. First, the equipment proved unreliable. Then, the students simply couldn’t put together a full sentence to describe the action. I don’t think they have the vocabulary for this activity. The class is Level 3, so I feel they should have enough words to be able to do this—it’s an indication of how poor vocabulary training is in this curriculum. Baby steps. Will have to work on other simple descriptions first. Listening and Speaking, the final section, starts tonight for this class.
I didn’t like the way this man was looking at me on the Metro Bus. I couldn’t decide if he was angry or interested. Eventually, I decided it was a leer. OMG! He got off at my stop, but he turned left out of the bus. I was quite pleased that I was going right. But he reversed direction. Outside the station, he was clearly following me. I let him pass, but he stopped and talked to me, in Turkish. I smiled and said, “English” and tried to lose him again. He first walked on, but then stopped, spoke again and hooked his arm into mine so we could walk together. I politely untwined myself and said no. I even shook my finger at him. At the corner, he started to go straight, but stopped to watch me turn the corner. I said “bye, bye” firmly. He motioned for me to follow him. “Hayır Ya. Ben öğretmenim.” (“No. I’m a teacher.” If only I could say, “I’m not a prostitute.”) Then I picked up the pace to lose him. I decided that if he followed me to my apartment door, I would cross the street and go into the convenience store. I didn’t want him to know where I live or try to force his way into my door. He did not follow me, thankfully. I’m told it’s the blonde hair—only whores are blonde. To be fair, my hair is at least half gray by now. I’ve been growing it out for a year. But it still mystifies me. I don’t dress provocatively or wear much make up. I don’t start conversations, since I don’t speak Turkish. I’m surprised this has happened a few times, about once a week.
Later, I talked to some of the male teachers and they said I need to react more—be clearly offended, in any language. At the first leer, I should scowl. It the man doesn’t stop I should get verbal. They also think part of the issue is that I smile broadly—an open mouthed smile is flirting, here. Darn! To me, that’s just being friendly. Some of the long term, female teachers said they also have this problem frequently, regardless of their age. They avoid all eye contact, never smile or speak to anyone on the metro and sometimes just practice an “angry” look. Jeeze. I hope I don’t have to do this, but I don’t know what else to do.
I wanted to experience and understand another culture. That’s what this is, I guess.
In about 3 days I’ve gone from “New Teacher with a few classes” to “OMG, I can’t take another class” status. It’s pretty flattering, though, because student have actually gone to the office and asked for me. I think they like my (lack of an) accent. Once again that American-Midwestern that I speak helps out. And I have learned to speak more slowly. Not sure how I’m going to get through the next couple weeks, though.
It’s been a disappointing day, despite lovely weather. SOMEONE (I assume Victoria) has left the kitchen a total mess. AND I turned down an opportunity to go with Shelley, Maria and Kate to Galata Tower. I had a private lesson. Except the student didn’t show! So I came home, did my laundry (since no one was here) and have been working on lesson plans for the rest of the afternoon. Exciting Saturday night for me!
Today I have 7 hours of class! The Level 5 class is shared with Albert—who doesn’t really want a co-teacher (which I actually completely understand). The students have asked for a native speaker, and he is Iranian. His English is great, but of course there are some pronunciation differences. I may have taken on more than I should, but I’m trying to work into a better schedule and that means than sometimes you have to overlap classes and work too many days in a row. Additionally, Gabriel is taking over Shelley’s portion of the Level 3 class that we shared. The students have complained about her. I don’t know the specifics. The class is certainly and handful. I’m exhausted after an evening with them, particularly if Ali is there. I was a fill-in, just 3 weeks ago, and wasn’t sure I’d last. Almost surprised that they are not complaining about me! But being a fill in means I didn’t have time to prepare for the class and I now know I could have done better. At the end of class, they are supposed to give a presentation for 10 minutes—this group has a hard time putting together a full sentence to describe an action! We should have been preparing the students for the final presentation and neither of us knew about it. We are new! I got to talk to Gabe about it and we have a plan for dealing with it, but it’s not the best. I wish someone had given me better advice on this Level 3, but I was just dealing with the class one section at a time—not good enough. Lesson learned.
I hate it, but Shelley isn’t doing that well here at English Time. She seems unhappy and now she’s been removed from a couple classes at the student’s request. We share a weekend class (which I will never do again). I have the students on Sunday, but they told me that they had trouble understanding her. I’ve tried to combat issues by reviewing all of her pages first thing on Sunday. They seem to need the review, but then, this isn’t surprising. It’s a very intensive course and a review of the previous material would help anyone. Grammar is the most difficult test and it comes first. I’ve been dismayed at the grades on the Grammar exams. I made up a special “mid-term” Grammar quiz. It has the format of the exam, but only uses two of the four verb tenses. I think it’s easier on them to see the types of questions and get a strong review of two tenses, just before they learn two new ones. I hope it will help them on the exam—which is coming up quickly! Shelley and Maria are going to Athens for a few days this week (yes, I was slightly hurt that I wasn’t asked, but the school could not have let all three of us go at one time, anyway). I’ll have the class Saturday and Sunday this coming week. I’ve got two new verb tenses to teach them and then review for the test, which should be the following weekend. Phew! I have no idea how they keep up!
I am exhausted, but it has been a great few days. Sunday is my four hour, Level 1 class. Great attitudes and they seem to really love me. They asked about me teaching the class both Saturday and Sunday—that they planned to go to the office to request this. I asked them not to, to give Shelley another chance. After all, I would have their class both Saturday and Sunday this coming weekend because Shelley is going with Maria to Greece. And I let them know that Shelley is new to teaching, so she is still learning. I hope this placated them. Sunday afternoon, I prepared my Monday morning class (Level 5), my Monday evening class (Level 2) AND my Friday activity (Past Perfect Verb tense) before I went to bed. Phew!
Monday and Tuesday will be split shifts for me for the next 6 weeks. I teach 10a-2p Level 5 and 7p to 10p Level 2. Since I usually need to do lesson plans between the two, it makes for a long day! I’m sure that I spend much longer preparing for classes than most teachers, but I’m just not a person who wants to “wing it.” There is enough in life that you can’t prepare for. Besides, these students deserve the best. My best.
Monday, I met my new Level 5 students. AMAZING VOCABULARY! I did a simple exercise, asking for adjectives. I find it’s a great way to know what level your students are at. I expected the usual adjectives: Beautiful, tall, pretty and handsome. I got these and so much more—fantastic, frugal, malevolent (!!!), awesome, jealous, furious…. This is a real testament to Albert, who has had most of this group since Level 2. Albert usually teaches classes without a co-teacher, so I feel a bit badly about being asked to teach with him. He usually works alone and he’s being forced to work with me—though he has been very gracious about it. I was asked to teach two of the five class days because the students asked for a native English speaker. Of course, that’s the best way to learn pronunciation, idioms and slang. Albert (an Iranian who can speak Turkish, Arabic AND English) knows a lot of this, of course, but I think they are more confident with a native English speaker. Albert has arranged a class that doesn’t focus on the English Time book. This is great! We do a grammar topic from it every day, but he has a wonderful vocabulary reference (504 Words you must know) and a listening/speaking book with MP3 files (Passages). I add about an hour’s worth of activities—that’s a four hour class!
Monday night was also the start of my Level 2 class—these are mostly students that I taught Level 1. I understand more about the layout of the English Time classes now, so I can adjust the schedule to stay on track AND teach what’s most important. Plus Albert has inspired me to expand vocabulary! The ET books are strong on Grammar and OK on reading and writing, but Vocabulary, Listening and Speaking are poorly represented. SO, I laid out for the class what we would learn in Grammar (3 new verb tenses, conjunctions, clauses, and if) and put at date to the tests (roughly). There are about 5 new students who took Level 1 with someone else. The rest know me pretty well. I think the new students are not quite sure about me, yet. I hope to win them over. My co-teacher is Kate, who is young, but a wonderful teacher. She spent the last year in South Korea. This will be a good class!
Tuesday morning (this morning) I had the Level 5 students again. (Obviously, I did this lesson plan yesterday afternoon, between classes.) If they were shy yesterday, they were not today. I found that at least two of them had actually gone to the office and THANKED them for letting me be their teacher!!! Can you imagine that? This would never happen in The States. I could have cried when I heard this. They ask insightful questions, and they love speaking. But it is an exhausting, jam-packed, 4 hours of class. I always have lots scheduled—including some fun activities. Today was vocabulary review (504 Words), Listening and discussion (Passages), Hot/Cold (an activity where I explain how Americans use these words to mean close and far away. We guide someone to candy we have hidden using cold/colder/warm/warmer/hot/red hot). We also did a warm up where we name 10 things from a category and we practiced rhyming (a good way to work on pronunciation while having fun). I like variety in the class—keeps them interested. I also dropped a few things so we could go over their homework they were having trouble with—passive voice.
I was exhausted and fell asleep between classes, after I planned my evening lesson, of course!). Naps are wonderful when you work a split shift.
Tonight’s Level 2 class really rolled—they had learned Simple Future (using “will”) before they even realized it, and got to practice it a lot (they already know Future “be” going to, so this is even easier). We also reviewed Simple Past Tense. We played Taboo to review the Geography vocabulary from the book (mountain, stream, sea, island…) and I found some vocabulary on transportation to introduce. Seems they knew about 30-40% of those words already—which I think is a good mix. It’s not overwhelming that way.
And now I’m home, showered and falling into bed. I’m grateful to just have one evening class tomorrow—I will sleep in!
In other news, Virginia is actively moving out. She isn’t even staying here at the apartment anymore. She says she will be out by tomorrow afternoon, not taking her 2 weeks. She does manage to wreck the kitchen when she’s here and doesn’t do her dishes or take out her garbage. But it will all be over by this time tomorrow. And Augustine will be going home for 3 weeks (South Africa). His Gran (grandmother) isn’t doing well so he’s going home to spend time with her. Shelley is moving somewhere tomorrow. I knew she wasn’t happy with her flat, but I know no details. She and Maria will leave for 3 days in Greece Thursday.
The school here in Vietnam finally put out a schedule and my last day is Wednesday. After that starts the Tet Holidays which I’m interesting in experiencing. I’ll be leaving Bien Hoa shortly after for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where I’m trying out a capsule hotel. It’s inexpensive–about the same price as a hostel–but with more privacy. There’s little space and shared bathrooms, but how much space do I really need, anyway? It’s located right where I need to be, too. I’ve got a few day-tours earmarked and even a cooking class that I’m interested in. Plan to spend much of the time reading, working on my writing, and it’s time to do some work on the blog, too. So I’ll be busy.
Turkey: I fly out of Ho Chi Minh Airport and arrive the next morning in Istanbul. Someone from the English school I’ll be working at will pick me up at the airport. I have a Turkish Visa already and a brand new (52 pages!) passport, so anticipate no issues. The school has an apartment/dorm, but I don’t yet know where it is. They have 10 different schools around Istanbul. Nine are on the European side, so that’s likely where I’ll live. (And where I want to be, too. Public transportation is better on that side and it’s near several historic sites.) The accommodations will be near the school where I teach.
In the meantime, I’m reading up on Turkish culture and trying to learn a few words. Merhaba, everyone! (hello)
Please don’t worry about me. My life probably looks pretty messy from the outside, but it’s really all working out. I’m OK. It’s an adventure, remember?
Expect lots of pictures of Tet–Lunar New Year. (there are several at the bottom of the page) Chuc mung nam moi–happy new year!
Other boring details:
I may be a crazy traveler, but I’m not stupid (despite the rumors). I do take precautions. I’m registered with the US State Department’s STEP program, so I get travel alerts. They also have the information about where I am and when I’m traveling. I’ve listed my brother as my “in case of emergency” person. Sorry, bro.
THERE ARE NO TRAVEL ALERTS FOR TURKEY. It is listed as a place about as dangerous to visit as NYC. Actually, there’s less violent crime and fewer people have died in terrorist attacks in Istanbul than NYC in the last couple decades. I promise I will not get anywhere near the eastern border of Turkey–those areas are simply not safe for a pasty, white girl, like me.
I’m leaving the school in Vietnam. Don’t be surprised by this. It’s been coming for a while. I haven’t posted much negative information in this (most) public forum, but I’m not willing to teach without a work visa and the school isn’t going to get me one. Don’t get me wrong, lots of people teach illegally for years, but that isn’t for me. The school is unhappy that I complain about it–and about constantly working 7 days a week–so they are ready for me to go, too.
KTV English in Bien Hoa, Vietnam has about 500 students and seems to be making money, but morale is low and turnover high, especially staff personnel. I don’t even bother to learn the names of new staff members, since most don’t make it a month. Bi-lingual Vietnamese teachers don’t fair much better. Most Native English speaking (NES) teachers last less than 6 months. The last NES teacher, Mike, didn’t even teach the entire month of December. The two before Bob and I left at 4 months.
The big issue for me is the work visa, but KTV has not lived up to the contract we signed, either. The school hasn’t paid the first installment of my flight here (due last pay period). They over-schedule me (my contact says “up to 6 days a week” and I often work 7). They have paid me late each month (though they have paid), holding out taxes (which probably goes directly into their pocket since I’m an illegal worker). The schedule changes constantly so you can’t plan ahead. There’s no health insurance, sick leave or vacation. Not what I was promised. If you question anything, they threaten to fire you, because you “complain too much.”
And the threat isn’t just that won’t I have a job, but I won’t have a place to live, either, since I rent the school’s apartment (with Bob). I’ve been threatened several times and find this a stressful way to live.
There’s no legal recourse, either. Since I’m not a legal worker with a valid work visa, the contract means nothing. Which I’m often reminded of.
(Update: I wrote this a couple weeks ago, but am just now posting it. Last night I was paid (on time) for January classes. The business manager said she had “just read the contract” and realized that the things I was complaining about were true. She said I was a good teacher, she was sorry for over scheduling me and realized that she owed me half my travel reimbursement. She paid part of it and promised to pay the rest on Thursday along with payment for the classes I taught in February. I will never understand this school, but I greatly appreciate the attempt to be fair in the end. They’ve hired another teacher to take my place, so Bob will have a roommate to split costs with. I hope they treat them both better.)
I’ve learned other things about teaching too. Though it’s common, I don’t like the “round robin” scheduling method used here. I teach all classes and all ages, and may only see a group once a month. I never get to know my students–their abilities or needs–which means I’m less help to them.
When you’re a Vagabond, you have to expect bumps in the road. This is a minor pothole. I still think the people and the food are great in Vietnam. I like being a teacher and I am working to get good at it. I think I’m getting better, too! I don’t consider this job a horrible thing–it’s been teacher training boot camp: not a fun experience, but I learned a lot. I got to live in SE Asia for 5 months.
And, hey, I wanted an adventure! I got one!
Don’t worry. I have a plan. I have some money saved. I have more teaching experience than before. It will all work out.
So it’s not the worst situation. I’ve agreed to work until the beginning of the Tet holiday. The schedule came out yesterday, so I now know my last day is Wednesday. I will spend the end of the month in Saigon, doing day trips and getting some side projects done. Five months in SE Asia is enough. The heat is getting to me and I’m sick all the time. Maybe it’s polluted air and water or maybe I’m allergic to something. Certainly the stress of constantly being threatened with my job is a contributing factor.
I just want to get well and move on.
(Side note: Some of it was undoubtedly stress. Now that things are settled, I’m feeling much better. MUCH better. )