The Teaching Environment
“Teaching at the American Board Schools is as rewarding as it is challenging; I feel I am a better, more effective teacher and more globally aware person because of my experiences in Turkey and through the traveling I did while living overseas. The relationships I now have with former students, fellow teachers, and lifelong friends from Turkey are treasures.”
Lisa Seed, English teacher, TAC 1999–2001, ACI 2003–2007
“Professionally, my time in Turkey was incredibly challenging and rewarding. On one hand, I was able to see that kids are kids, no matter where in the world you are. On the other hand, I had to hone different skills and approaches in order to be successful with those students — skills that I found very useful when I returned to education in the United States.
Personally, I now think of Turkey as a second home. The history is impressive and even four years was not enough time to see everything I wanted to see. But, more importantly, I have never been anywhere where people are more hospitable. From the students and their families to the Turkish teachers and even just normal people in the community — the Turks made me happy to be in their country. And those continued relationships keep me connected to Turkey.”
Lee Corey, Teacher, TAC 1999–2002
Teaching at the American Board schools in Turkey can be a wonderful experience, made so by their history, unique culture, and the special character of the Turkish student
Established in the late 1800’s, the American Collegiate Institute, Tarsus American College, and Üsküdar American Academy are three of the oldest schools in the region. Today they are governed by a Turkish non-profit trust, the Health and Education Foundation (SEV) and provide a high quality English language, college preparatory program of studies to Turkish students.
In many respects the American Board schools are neither American nor international. The international component of the schools is a result of their long affiliation with American missionaries, the practice of employing a foreign Director and native English-speaking teachers, and their core English-language instruction. Otherwise the school is very much a Turkish institution and this manifests itself in many ways.
The Turkish educational system is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education regulates all matters from curriculum to textbook selection and requires the approval of routine activities such as guest speakers and field trips. While the foreign teacher is generally removed and “protected” from the bureaucracy, one is, nevertheless, always accountable for enforcing and upholding both the letter and the spirit of the Turkish educational system.
Turkish society is generally hierarchical and authoritarian in nature. Students are conditioned from an early age to respect authority and conform to laws and institutional procedures. For example, students wear uniforms to school and are expected to stand when answering questions. Students are used to, and are more comfortable with, traditional teacher-directed learning. Paradoxically, Turkish students are often more “at ease” with formality than with friendliness and casualness.
The teaching environment at the American Board schools can be both personally and professionally demanding. Besides having sound teaching skills, which may be challenged daily, teachers need to be sensitive, tolerant, and flexible. However, education is highly valued in Turkish society. Teachers are respected and students come to school prepared to learn. Given Turkey’s very homogeneous population most students are “on task” and expect much from their teachers. Once the new teacher has grasped the basic characteristics of Turkish education, there lies just beneath the surface of “cultural differences” a rich vein of opportunity and potential.
Roughly one third of each school’s faculty is international. Those who are married to Turkish nationals live throughout the city, while those recruited from overseas live in furnished apartments on campus or in middle-class Turkish residential areas adjacent to the school campus. Daily living and shopping, enjoying local tourism and entertainment, forming friendships with neighbors and Turkish colleagues as well as with other international teachers all make for a rich cross-cultural experience.