Despite having been in Erzurum in north-east Turkey for over a year, I still love the call to prayer from the local mosque at 5.30am – and when it’s accompanied by a glorious sunrise over the Palandöken Mountain, it’s worth waking up early for.
By 7.30am, when the school day starts for teachers at Bilkent Erzurum Laboratory School (BELS), the sun is almost blinding as it reflects off the snow; sunglasses are therefore essential. All teachers live on campus, so the walk to school is only a few minutes. Erzurum is a traditional and conservative city, and a superb ski resort.
We’re a relatively small school, so most of the teachers know each other. We say “Günaydın” (good morning) to each other, the security guard and the wonderful Fatma, who offers fresh simit (circular seed-encrusted bread) for breakfast in the canteen.
BELS is an elementary and middle school attached to a high school, which is affiliated with Bilkent University in Turkey’s capital city, Ankara. Our mission is to bring international standards of education to the east of Turkey. Our students – all of whom are offered scholarships – are respectful, keen and enthusiastic: behaviour problems are rare, so teaching here is a joy.
We are fortunate to have wide, bright corridors flooded with sunlight; big classrooms with mezzanine libraries; views over a snow-covered adventure playground and a sledging hill; and happy, relaxed teachers who are always smiling. I love my job and each morning, I’m reminded why.
Before the students arrive at 8.30am, I prepare the classroom, watering the plants, gathering resources and chatting to my Turkish co-teacher about pupil achievement.
I teach English and art, but never more than two 80-minute lessons each day. I have about 14 students in each class, so we’re like a big family. I use the rest of the day for planning, assessment, marking and meetings. There’s plenty of time and no pressure from senior management, so stressed teachers are rare. Twice a week, I have an office hour for parents and on Monday afternoons, each teacher offers a club for students.
We have two 15-minute breaks, and during lunch, I usually sit with my class. It’s a great opportunity to encourage the younger children to try out their English language skills, and to engage the older children in conversations about subjects other than school. Our expectation is that students will work hard to communicate with us in English, so even though I have learned a little Turkish, I never use it in class. It’s a challenging but rewarding strategy.
At 3.30pm, the children leave on school buses, and I am usually on my way home by 4.30pm. Unless it’s exam time, I never have to take work home with me. Instead, my evenings are completely free to watch the sun slowly going down over those snow-topped mountains.
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