The Glamorous, Glamorous Life of an ESL Teacher When Most of Her Co-Workers Are On Holiday

This is the third week in a row I have spent over fifty hours in the classroom. This week and next it’ll be an even 56 each This week is better than last though, because every afternoon I have exactly an hour to leave the building and, well, mostly wander around in a daze.

I’ve given up on a social life, which is just as well as not only many of my coworkers, but nearly everyone I care to hang out with is on holiday now. So to get through this time with some sanity I have a routine. I get home at ten, make myself some yogurt and fruit, have two glasses of wine, read until 11:30, lights out. It is the only way to get through.

And I’ve done quite a lot of reading, if you ever check my books page- two books since Sunday, even with my punishing work schedule!

So there will be very little to report, for the next two weeks.

Some notes from the trenches, though- A general observation I’ve made is Turkish ladies, especially young Turkish ladies, spend a ridiculous amount of time in restrooms, not only in the stall, (WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN THERE?!?!?!) but then primping in front of the mirror. I have seen groups of young women spend inordinate amounts of time in the most disgusting bathrooms- on ferries, in fast food chains- and it makes me scratch my head. The past three days in a row I’ve seen young women, different young women, but always in twos, rush upstairs and straight into the third floor bathroom, to stare intently at the mirror and sort of, like, move a few hairs, and then stare intently in the mirror, and then move a few hairs, and then stare intently in the mirror, and then grab a paper towel and dab at some small section of their faces, and finally run off to class. What do they think HAPPENED to their heads on the way to school?!

One of the frustrating things about working so much is what I’m doing at work. I loooove teaching testing, don’t get me wrong. But right now I have a glut of students who have signed up to take the IELTS, and they just don’t have the level to get the scores they want. I have three intermediate students in one class, (one claims she went all the way through to advanced. I cannot imagine she ever did her homework, if that is so.) who all want 6.5’s. For those of you who aren’t ESL teachers, that’s like a seventh grader needing a 650 on the Verbal section of the SAT’s. Our 80 hours of classroom time are devoted to understanding how to take the test. I don’t have time to pull their levels up from an intermediate to a high-upper or low-advanced.

I tell them, all the time, that if they want to get the grade they want, they have to live, breathe, eat, sleep English between now and their test date. One I’ve advised to take upper intermediate again because the poor child can’t understand a word I say in class. I’ve given them books and resources. I’ve printed out vocabulary sheets and shown them webistes with qıizzes where they can practice. I’ve advised them to read National Geographics, which are for some reason scattered all around my school. I tell them at least every other day that going home and taking practice tests will do nothing to improve their score- they need to work hard at improving their actual level. When they leave the class they’ll know exactly how to take the test.

Sometimes I feel like when I speak, to them I sound like the grownups in Peanuts cartoons.

They all go home and take all the practice tests they can get their hands on.

And then I have to have conversations like this:

* “Teacher, what is, (turns aside, asks her neighbor something in Turkish, neighbor says ‘Sister in Law’ definitively) no, not that. The wife of an uncle?”


“Oh. Aunt. How do you spell?”

* “Anvanced!”

“Okay, guys, not advanced. Look at that sentence. It makes no sense to say ‘Tickets are less expensive if bought advanced.’ What do we say instead of advanced?”


“The word is advance, but how to we use it? We don’t say ‘Buy tickets advance.’ What do we say?”


“No! Advance takes a preposition! What is it?”





“Guys, it’s in advance. In advance.”

And then there’s the Upper girl who wants to take the GRE in three weeks. Lord. She had the choice between IELTS and GRE, and chose GRE at the last minute in case she decides later to go to grad school in America. I could have trained her up pretty nicely for a good IELTS score in that time, she’s that good. She’s swamped by the vocab. Hell, I have an excellent vocabulary, but I’ve had to look up 20 words in the course of lesson planning for her. So we sit there for three hours a day, every day, while I try to explain that taciturn and rapacious are not synonyms, and she slumps lower in her chair.

So 56 hours passes.

This entry was posted in Teaching ESL, Uncategorized, Yabancı life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Glamorous, Glamorous Life of an ESL Teacher When Most of Her Co-Workers Are On Holiday

  1. Alan says:

    . . I have a book here called ‘Turkish In Three Months’ – 16 years later and I’m still at it!! Languages are (for me) a bit like marriage 0 the triumph of hope over experience!

    • agentlabroad says:

      Oh lord- I struggle with learning languages too. I’m also really, really bad at math. But I manage my expectations about my abilities, ya know? After four years of french, when I couldn’t quite master the future tense, I did not walk into a private course and demand to be made ready for a French proficiency test. When I barely scraped by through Trig, I did not take a course to get me ready for advanced calculus.

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