Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The EFL Roadshow: A Post In Which I Wax Philosophical About Life And Other Stuff

So here it is again, a new month (almost) and I'm managing to meet a non-work, non-kid related obligation. I can only manage this because the kid is getting big enough to fetch his own stuff from the kitchen, but it's a wee milestone of sorts nonetheless.

The EFL Roadshow this month is being hosted by Ted, at Ted's TEFL Newbie. The topic is "Succeeding Abroad." Here's my answer:

I wish I knew. I don't know a damn thing about succeeding anywhere. Mostly all I know is I've made a lot of mistakes, mistakes I would have made even if I read someone's blog telling me not to make those mistakes.

But what the hell. Mistakes are half the fun, sometimes. Other times they just suck.

The fact that I'm still abroad, and have been so for 10 years come February, isn't really so much that I've succeeded abroad. It's just that I'm still abroad because I'm still abroad. Bit of a tautology there, sorry. See the subtitle of my blog if you have any questions about that, and apologies to Anne Tyler, which I should have done a long time ago.
Remember this? I do.

I guess the fact that I'm still abroad really means I haven't failed yet at being abroad, so I guess that's saying something. Failing at being abroad would mean, I guess, going back home with my tail between my legs.

Bad dog!
And I hate failing. Maybe that's why I'm still abroad, because going home would be some sort of failure. But it isn't just that. I've been here so long I can no longer envision a life at home. I don't even know what people are talking about half the time over there. And I've developed some really bad manners, like jaywalking in one of the most pedestrian-friendly places on earth and pushing people out of my way and cutting in line. Oh, and also sometimes at home I forget that everyone speaks English so I can't say whatever I want. LE says whatever he wants too, but he sort of can get away with it for now because he's little.
What could it be?

Plus now I have all this business I have to take care of over here that will probably take forever, but that's a long story that I won't get into right now. I assure you it's deeply unpleasant, and I hope one day to exploit the lowdown of my latest miseries for your entertainment and edification.

So. Succeeding at being abroad. Here are a few things to ensure you won't go running back home within a few weeks:

Feel free to leave your job if it sucks. The Stayers all get pissed off at people who do runners, but in a lot of cases there's not much shame in doing a runner, especially if you've got something better set up on the sly. It's not always easy determining if a job is any good by phone or Skype interview, particularly if it's your first time abroad.

Don't mentally change how much things cost into dollars, or whatever your valuable home currency is. It usually makes things seem cheaper than they are, if you're getting paid in local currency. Your money will last longer this way.

You'll get good at existential crises.
In most teaching jobs, it's better not to think too much about how pointless you actually are in the grand scheme of things, in terms of integrity and grades and educational standards and stuff like that. It's worth mulling about it once or twice a year in a delicious existential crisis, but otherwise, carry on and do the best you can, operating in an imaginary Shangri-La of ideals where the administration Cares and the students Want To Learn. If you let the existential crisis get you down, you'll get really depressed and fail at being abroad, and it won't be long before your co-workers don't want to listen to your bitching anymore. They're working too hard to keep the veil over their eyes. And that takes a lot of effort.

Sucks everywhere.
Don't keep banging on about how everything is done at home. We all know the way everything is done at home is great and organized and transparent and fair. We remember it and we liked it so much we all left home. Nonetheless, everyone in your host country has managed to get by just fine, often for centuries, without your input. No one is going to change entire systems because of you, no matter how sensible and right you are.

Trust me, it rocks.
Eat the street food. Sure, you might get the runs a few times, but that just toughens up your Western bowels weakened by too damn much hygiene and strictly enforced, incorruptible food safety laws. Okay, sometimes street food makes you really fucking sick, but that could happen anywhere. Street food rocks.

Snuggly like this, but in a bad way.
Remember when you were at home and something was frustrating or annoying, how you blamed it on this or that or the other thing, or maybe even on your own damn self? Well, that applies abroad too, and there are lots of things to blame. If you blame the foreign country and the people in it for everything that pisses you off (and I assure you, it's really, really easy to do that), it causes that problem to compound upon itself, and every new problem snuggles into the old ones, and it just makes everything suck a whole lot worse. I only know this because I've made this mistake ever so many times, seriously.

Seriously, cut it out.
You're making me this guy.
Note to you youthful Americans fresh off the plane: It's not a fucking question. Just quit fucking talking that way all the time. It's so annoying you wouldn't believe it. And I know I'm old, but I'm not that fucking old. Just some things send me straight to Andy Rooney country and that's one of them.

Here's a teaching tip for teaching abroad: Think about your standards and ethics and stick to them for a few weeks. The lower the bar. Then lower it some more. Then lower it way lower than you ever thought possible, find the humor in it, and suddenly you'll find that everything is working out fine. Also, your students will probably still think you're the strictest and meanest and most unreasonable teacher ever, so that's okay too.

Here's a bit of wisdom that maybe only hit me after having a kid, because when a beloved colleague said it to me when I was fresh off the plane, I was all, "Yeah, sure, whatever." This is it, and it gets me through the day often enough: Find a way to love your students. Most of them, at least. And I don't mean loving someone's haircut or belt. You have to love them a little bit for real, for it to work. Of course, there are always a few it's never gonna happen, but let it just be a few.

And whenever things get really, really fucking bad, spend a moment to think how much worse they can be and see if that makes you feel any better. Sometimes it does and sometimes it just makes you mad, but it's worth a shot.
This kid is escaping the Chinese across the Himalayas in Chucks, so quit yer bitchin'.

And that's enough goddamn pretending to be smart for the day. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sad Man

The Sad Man rode the minibus to school with us almost every morning of summer school. On the first day, he took a seat next to us. It was the only empty seat that morning.

The fact that I feel compelled to mention that it was the only empty seat is indicative of my having been in Turkey for so long. It's not often that older men sit next to women on the minibus, particularly not working-class men like the Sad Man. Often men like the Sad Man remain standing if the only empty seat is next to a woman. I can think of some reasons why this might be, but they're probably mostly wrong.

The Sad Man chucked LE on the cheek and smiled at him a few times, but otherwise didn't pay us much attention. LE stared and stared.

The next morning, the sad man was waiting with two other men about his age. One of them was missing most of one hand. LE pointed, and I reminded him it's not nice to point, but he wasn't pointing at the man with the hand. "But Mama, look!" he said. "It's the Sad Man."

"Still," I said. "Only kids who don't know any better point. It might make people sad."

"But he's already sad. See?" And see how I'm already struggling in arguments with a four-and-a-half year old? He had me there.

"You might make him sadder." I just have to get the last word, don't I?

"Why's he so sad?" LE doesn't give a shit about rhetoric.

The next day, LE remembered not to point at the Sad Man. Instead, he went for a more subtle approach, whispering, "Mama!" then gesturing with his head and eyebrows towards the Sad Man. Watching a little guy like LE trying to be subtle is one of the best things I've seen in a long time. And he's never once said anything about the man with one finger and a thumb, even though that fellow does whatever he can with both hands to get a giggle out of LE, including peek-a-boo.

The Sad Man indeed looks very sad. He has a kind face, but almost clownishly sad in a way a child would pick up on. It turns out he's a groundskeeper on campus. I snuck a photo of him the other day to show LE when he was feeling grouchy after school, because stuff like that makes him feel better. I think the Sad Man caught me at it, but just smiled sadly and went about his work. I was prepared to tell him exactly why I was taking the photo, but he didn't ask.

LE has a book about a lovely zookeeper called A Sick Day For Amos McGee. The resemblance between the Sad Man and Amos McGee isn't lost on me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vehbi Bey, And A Cool Chance Encounter

We don't always play nice.
I know I've totally sucked on the posting thing recently. I was all cool about it for a couple of months there, and then I started sucking at it. I suppose it has to do with some sort of interpersonal breakdown between my brain and me. I think the ability to post is wrapped up in a feeling that whatever I'm thinking is super-great and worth putting on paper. Or virtual paper. Whatever. It's just that my brain and I have been having some thoughts lately that totally aren't worth posting. Or maybe they're worth posting, but they're decidedly uncool in a too-much-about-me kind of way, plus there are real-world issues that one must contend with when one is a fake sort of artist, instead of a real artist who can bleed one's heart all over the place and not care about the real world implications.

By "one," I mean me, in case that wasn't clear.

It's a nice fucking pool, seriously.
Okay then. The post. Over the summer, I've been bringing LE up to my school to swim in the fabulous pool. Actually, the pool isn't particularly special, but for Turkey it's fabulous because it's exclusive (university employees and students), not very crowded, clean (a big thing here for public pools, where you're likely to pick up pink-eye or some unspeakable weeping face fungi), and above all, free. Such a pool most places in Istanbul would cost a minimum of 40 YTL to get into for the day, plus you'd still have to contend with all the assholes and crowds, even on "woman day," usually midweek when the women and kids get in cheap and damsız (not having a woman with you) isn't allowed. And better than the part about being free, our university-issued Setcards let us buy beer and French fries for fake Setcard money. So it's a win-win situation all around.

Kid brains are funny.
One day, I decided to show LE where I work. I mean, he's been to the office before, which he's only mildly thrilled by. Sometimes people give him candy and he gets to play with the water dispenser. Otherwise, he doesn't give a shit, and he's kind of put off by all these grown-ups who know who he is, but he has no idea who they are. He can't quite get his head around my being a teacher because, duh, I'm Mama. He's made a few connections about his going to school and my going to school, though. He knows who all my naughty students are because I tell him about them, and he expects a full rundown every day. But then he refers to his school friends as his students and tells me about the naughty things they did during the day so I think he doesn't quite get it. Or rather, he gets it in his way.

But I decided to take him to my classroom and show him what went on there. I sat him down at one of the desks and I stood up front and said, "Speak English!" and then instructed him that he was to say, "No!" which he did. Then I told him to dance, and he said, "No!" So I told him to sing a song and he said "No!" Then we switched roles and he got to be the teacher. He told me to do stuff, and I said, "No!" Then I bitched in Turkish and said "yaaa" a lot and he thought that was really funny. Sadly, my best audience these days is my boy.

It didn't improve the situation of him understanding my job, but it was a very good game.

Then I took him to visit Vehbi Bey. Vehbi Bey hangs out in one of the courtyards, rain or shine. He's lovely, sitting cross-legged on a stone bench in the middle of one of the courtyards.

Not totally comfortable with Vehbi Bey.

When we got to Vehbi Bey, I told LE to go ahead and sit in his lap. LE recoiled, all, "Hell, no, I'm not about to sit in that strange man's lap." Vehbi Bey is very lifelike, you see. So I tapped on Vehbi's knee and head, and then poked him in the eye so LE could see he wasn't real. Tentatively, at my coaxing, LE reached up and honked his nose. I got him on Vehbi Bey's lap for the picture, but you can see by the way LE is holding his arms he still wasn't entirely sure about Vehbi Bey.

Anyway, I took this picture ages ago. In fact, that's the only reason for the borderline-boring paragraph about my state of mind at the beginning of this post. I meant to post the picture ages ago, but then I decided I suck.

And then today, there was a small but extraordinary event that existed outside of my suckiness. We were giving our second TOEFL of the day (not at all extraordinary, but bear with me here), and I was supposed to be the supervisor. Just as we started the exam, we realized the supervisor script wasn't in the box. So I winged it with a tiny-print smaller than this and let's remember my eyes are pushing 40 photocopy of the script that was supposed to be there. Fortunately, none of the kids were returning students so it didn't impact on the deadly seriousness of the TOEFL that we attempt to impart. They were so busy trying to make a good first impression they didn't know any better.
We're most of us just doing our damndest.

It reminded me of when LE was first born and I was a complete spaz-mom, but then I realized he had no frame of reference of how moms are supposed to be, which made me feel a little better about being such a spaz and not even knowing how to pick up a newborn without breaking it.

The man is....
By the way, fucking TOEFL. The suckiest thing about today's TOEFL, aside from TOEFL itself, was that Pee Wee's Big Adventure was on TV this morning and I had to miss it because of fucking TOEFL. And then, this afternoon on the listening, TOEFL tested my ability not to snicker with a lecture on sperm whales. There I was reading shit on the Internet, and then I'm all "WTF, did that TOEFL guy just say sperm?!" and then the TOEFL guy said something about big heads and humpback whales at which point I completely failed the snicker test because I'm such a fucking grown-up.

But knowing I'd be unable to ad-lib the rest of the script I've read and heard at least 10 times but never paid the least bit of attention to, I decided I should go and fetch another supervisor packet. Really, it was just an excuse to get back outside the room that still reeked of the morning's returning student fear-sweat so strongly you could smell it from 3 feet outside the closed door of the room. I admit it started off as a sexy boy-smell, but then went sharply downhill during the morning's listening which, sadly, had nothing to do with sperm whales.

On my way back, I bumped into a couple of tourists. Now, I'm used to bumping into tourists in my life, but not often at school. I liked these tourists immediately because the woman asked me if I spoke English, rather than just assuming I spoke English. Linguistic imperialism pisses me off. I was so impressed I didn't even tell her I speak brilliant and perfect English. She wondered why there were so many Americans around this place. I started to give her a brief explanation of our good founder's America fetish, motioning to Vehbi Bey behind me, and the man said, "I made that statue. That's why we came here," at which point I'm pretty sure I gushed a bit because I was ever so thrilled to bump into the person who made the statue, and then made his way up to the school to see where it ended up. How cool is that?

They were really nice people. In fact, a lot of the reason I'm posting about this is because I hope they somehow read this and accept my sincere apologies for being in a bit of a rush to get back to the exam I was supposed to be in charge of. Not that the new students were unruly or anything. Or that the other four proctors in the room wouldn't have been able to handle 11 angelic new students. It's just that I had the shitty script we're supposed to read.

So I gave the nice folks directions back into town. And I told them about how LE was a little bit afraid of the lifelike Vehbi Bey, but then honked his nose. And I do hope they enjoy the rest of their journey. I was dead curious about other statues around the world that gentleman had made. And I'm such a dork I wanted to know if he did the sculpting or the casting or both, but I didn't think to ask until it was too late.

May all our lives be as such, with Mickey the Hot Criminal in them.
So that, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure kind of made my day. And I sincerely hope I can quit being such a sucky poster sometime soon because everything I do seems like more of an adventure than it actually is, if I can actually manage to write about it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Instructions Not Included, Or, How I Made Ikea My Bitch (Again)

Here's one thing I like about Ikea.

Wait, actually there are lots of things I like about Ikea, but this is the one I'm talking about right now.

One thing I like about Ikea is when you build Ikea stuff, it's like playing with giant Tinker Toys and you have to get it right or the thing won't work. Unlike Tinker Toys, however, there's no room for creativity and learning, plus the instructions and parts are more or less idiot-proof.

Mostly. Sometimes I think Ikea should come with levels of difficulty. Video games have levels of difficulty. So do Legos and Erector Sets, if memory serves me correctly. I mean, shit, even vibrators come with levels of difficulty. I don't even know what the fuck that means for vibrators, but I sure as hell know I'm not going to present myself at the register with a Level One vibrator when the Level Six one is right there, taunting me with all of its world-knowledge and experience.

Some things make no damn sense.

Quit thinking about vibrators. I'm spinning a tale of how I've just done battle with Ikea and won.

An example of Ikea Level One would be the Lack end table.
Please note how I don't tidy up before taking pictures of stuff in my house.
Screw legs on. Turn over. Done! You have a table!

I should admit, however, that the Lack end table has, in fact, made me its bitch. That's because Ikea cleverly keeps them at the entrance of the warehouse where you go to collect your stuff. There you are, with your dutifully written list of product numbers, aisle and shelf numbers, and there it is. The Lack! So sleek and simple, and for a mere 35 lira, it's chump change next to the 300 or so I have always racked up by the time I get to the warehouse. One of these days I'm just going to go ahead and get the red one, goddammit.

Our wardrobe, on the other hand, would be an example of, like, Ikea Level Five Hundred Million Billion. That fucker took me all day. One thing I completely suck at is being able to visualize what an object will look like turned in space five times to the right, or what it should look like after having had six things done to it. That shit is keeping my IQ down, I swear.

Also, I'm not very good at hammering nails into a narrow piece of pressboard with a thin piece of cardboard on top and I have to guess at where the edges of the narrow pieces of pressboard are underneath. So, good thing that part is at the back of the wardrobe, because I did some damage. But then I finished the wardrobe and filled it up with our crap and made it my bitch. It pleases me so greatly when I successfully assemble some Ikea thingy and put it to its sleek and efficient use. It's empowering in a sad and idiot-proof kind of way.

Anyway, for about two years I've been lusting after this lamp.
Oh baby.
 They no longer had it in orange, but I think white was the better choice, in retrospect. If you wait long enough on Ikea stuff, the price drops eventually. I'm pretty sure I got the last of these lamps, and at a quarter of the price it used to be.

Hah! Step one of making you my bitch, Ikea!

I'm pretty sure this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

I got some sheets at a quarter of the price too, by waiting like three years. They remind me of this Shaker Tree of Life painting.

So I got the lamp home and discovered the instructions had gone missing. I knew the instructions were there when I bought it because I opened it up to check and count the pieces, seeing as it was the last one and I thought it could have been returned for being faulty somehow. So probably I dropped the instructions somewhere.

Still, I'm a little bit scared of it.
No matter. That's what the Internet is for. I can't say I've made the Internet my bitch (and I never would, for fear it would start holding back on its sweet, sweet information and stupid animal videos), but I do know how to work it.

Like many things in life, it's the apparently simple things that get you. I thought the Fillsta table lamp would be like an Ikea Level Three -- it required a screwdriver, the right-sized light bulb, and a bunch of pleasingly vinyl puzzle-piece-looking bits.

Tell you what, that fucker took me an hour to put together. There were some seriously fiddly moments and I failed to pay enough attention to detail so I originally stuck in some pieces upside down. Secret Ikea level Fifteen that you can only reach with a hack, maybe?

No matter. It's totally worth it. I did battle with Ikea and made it my bitch. Let's have another look, shall we?

Totally worth the trouble.
Dear boots, Will you please be my bitch?

And speaking of things I'm lusting after, I've just learned about these boots.

Shiver! Cream! At first I was all, "No way can I have these boots!" But then I realized that my students loans will be TOTALLY FUCKING PAID OFF in the next month or so, depending on various worldwide economic factors, and that these boots cost only slightly more than the usual monthly payment I've been shelling out for the last 15 years. So maybe I owe myself some sort of boot or leather-related reward for being quite possibly the only American in the world still paying off student loans.

My student loans are probably one of these.

 What do you think?

Friday, September 9, 2011

TEFL Interview Tips: Or, When You Probably Shouldn't Take That Job

Not terrific, TEFL-rrific!
So because I'm this big teaching professional now, I've gotten in on a guest blogging EFL Roadshow thing, hosted this month by Sharon over at TEFL Tips. This month's topic is "TEFL Interview Tips." Honestly, though, I can't really offer anything new about what to do in interviews, and most interviews I've had kind of slipped by in smiling terror where I relied entirely on the poise and articulateness I learned at prep school. I've been asked to participate in giving interviews here and there, but mostly as a secret language assessment agent, so I'm not much help there either. Therefore, I'm taking a different angle. Here I offer some interviews I've had over the years, and how they gave me clues that the job was probably one I was better off not having.

This is a real bakery.
But first, a pointless story. When I was about 17, I applied for a job at a chain called "La Petit Boulangerie," an offshoot of Mrs. Field's Cookies, located in the tourist district of Union Street in San Francisco. I felt pretty cool all looking for a job and shit, like I was some sort of grown-up off to support myself making sandwiches and slinging fast-food baked goods for minimum wage. I can't tell you how many European tourists fooled by the name "La Petit Boulangerie," that I turned away by sending them off to the proper bakery/cafe across the street. Even I got my morning coffee across the street.

The was never a real bakery.
The manager of the store was this creepy little Filipino fellow named, of all things, Rico. It's not really important that he was Filipino except that the Mrs. Field's chains in San Francisco seemed to be run by some sort of Filipino underground. Rico more or less hired me on the spot before I'd even filled out an application, before I'd even made it clear that I was of legal working age. He had busy hands and an oily smile. The hands became increasingly busy during my tenure there, until I turned on Rico with a salami knife pointed at his dick and told him to get his fucking hands off me.

Korean BBQ can make anything yummy.
Then I got mono, as you do in senior year of high school-- nothing to do with Rico, mind you. It turned into some sort of thing like hepatitis, which you're free to Google and assure yourself it isn't the needle-y or bodily fluids-sharing-y sort of hep. I was out for about 6 weeks, and when I came back, Rico was gone, replaced by a lovely Korean man called Dennis. All the new employees were Korean too, who, like their Filipino predecessors, had a good laugh at me because I'd never (knowingly) eaten dog. And despite myself, the Korean and Filipino recipes for dog sounded pretty fucking yummy. Anyway.

There almost wasn't sexual harassment in those days.
Several months later, after I wasn't working there anymore, I ran into one of the women from the Union Street shop, working at a much less desirable location on the outer reaches of Geary Street. She was the one Rico was forever holding up in my face as the better worker because she knew how to skimp on the lunch meats and clean the stains out of the coffee pots. She was also the one who was more adept than I at wiggling out of his hands before they even got there. She told me she'd opened a sexual harassment claim against Rico, at which point the Filipino overlords moved her out to the shitty Geary place, and moved Rico elsewhere (but presumably somewhere more central) with an admonishment to leave the girls alone. She was toying with the idea of opening a lawsuit, but it was clear to us both that the cards were stacked against her. If I hadn't once worked at La Petit Boulangerie, I never would have known she gave me double portions of meat on my sandwich.

Not always a good thing.
Which leads me to TEFL Interview Tip Number One: If you go into the interview feeling pretty much like you're hired just for turning up, it's probably not a very good job. The one job abroad I got this way sucked. The interview was purely a formality, all smiles and sunshine and cups of coffee and when can you start? It turned out all they really wanted me for was to sit in the canteen looking pretty. When potential students came by, they brought them into the canteen where I was sitting trying to solve Turkish crossword puzzles, the director saying "Look, we have foreign teachers here!" at which point I would smile and wave or whatever.

Then they got me on placement testing which was a farce, because the only criteria for placement was, "When do you want your class to be?" This meant that my weekend class was a hodgepodge of students and levels, from a strong upper-int Romanian tween, to two brilliant and motivated intermediate covered girls who had to miss at least an hour of the lesson for prayers, to two useless forever zero-beginner businessmen just out of prison for white-collar crimes, who, after 2 months of lessons and endless hair-pulling canteen hours, remained unable to construct or understand the simplest sentences and couldn't recall words such as "house" and "cup."

The weeknight classes were so bad they actually posed a moral dilemma for me, because the students were middle-class people coming after a long day at work and paying good money for it. The school was selling itself as a purveyor of some sort of language-learning technology called "Quartet." Quartet was a system that used computers for the four skills, with little videos and gap-fill games, and a proper lesson once or twice a week to reinforce it all.

Stupid technology.
The problem with Quartet wasn't just that the pirated textbooks kept falling apart. It was also that the textbooks had really egregious errors, like a picture of shorts with the word "lamp" underneath. And the computer part, which the school insisted I use no matter what, was just embarrassing. In every lesson, some vital part of the system would fail for at least half the students. On one computer, the headphones would work, but not the microphone. On another, the other way around. Another would have a broken screen, while two more would be unable to connect to the server, or the student's password would keep getting forgotten no matter how many times he reset it. There were always a couple of machines that couldn't access their hard drives. Whenever I went to the guy known as the Tech Guy, he was all, "meh," like I was being a foreign idiot for expecting him to do something tech-like with this crap. The so-called technology lessons were mostly spent screwing around with the various technological bits, and to this day, I still don't really trust using any sort of technology in the classroom. Even board markers and photocopies I'm not totally comfortable with unless I have a few backup options.

I used to know nothing of Hoca.
TEFL Interview Tip Number Two: Your friends can help you get interviews even when jobs aren't posted, but be aware of who your friends know and what everyone's affiliations are so that you know exactly what you're getting into. Friends can hook you up with good jobs, and sometimes, networking with friends is the only way you can ever move around in the expat TEFL world. I ended up in one job through friends that was pretty good, albeit strange and religious, but it's not always like that in a foreign country. I left that job after 2 years, at the end of my pregnancy, but I don't think I would have lasted there more than another year, and it wasn't just the crummy pay or the fact that boys and girls refused to sit next to each other. The canteen Quartet job was also through a friend, a friend who I liked quite well and who hooked me up with a job when I really needed one, so maybe I shouldn't complain. And actually I'm not complaining. It wasn't my friend's fault at all the job turned out to be so crappy, though at some point he was like, "What did you expect? At least you get paid on time," and that was true most of the time. So actually that wasn't a very good TEFL interview tip at all, but maybe it's worth keeping in mind somehow because working in a foreign country can be really fucking weird sometimes.

And now, on to TEFL Interview Tip Number Three: Really strange interviews don't bode well, especially if the school is brand new. By new, I mean that the sockets are mostly still in the walls and it smells of paint. The first job interview I went to in Turkey, it was the spanking brand-newly opened Istanbul branch of the allegedly prestigious TED Ankara. I say "allegedly" because I've had a few TED Ankara graduates who always whinge that they're TED graduates and therefore they shouldn't fail English for the third time around. They whinge in Turkish because after two years of full-time English, they're unable to whinge remotely acceptably in English. Honestly, I don't know where this school gets its reputation, but it's nothing to do with teaching mettle or study skills.

In the TED interview, they gathered around me at a gleaming new table sprinkled with construction dust and grilled me for about an hour. Everything I said, they either acted like I was lying or that I didn't know what I was talking about. I left feeling like shit, thinking "Worst interview ever," wondering who I was kidding with my shiny new MA and fairly limited experience. Two colleagues who'd interviewed for the same job left the interview feeling the same way, despite all the experience under their belts.

A couple weeks later, we all got the same angry calls from a secretary at TED. She was wondering why the hell we hadn't been in yet to sign our contracts. We were all like, "Eh?" and roundly turned down the jobs without even consulting each other, until after the fact, at the bar. Twice the salary, posh housing, and an infinitely more desirable location, and even I had a gut sense about that one. Nothing good can come of such a thing. A couple years down the road I learned the school had failed to keep even one foreign teacher (and there are a lot of desperate losers passing through this city), that the students and their parents were terrors, and that the administration was fully supportive of student/parent terrorism. Goodness knows how they're doing now. Sometimes schools settle in after 10 years or so.

TEFL Interview Tips Number Four: Beware of interviewers who change the game on you halfway through the interview. I once applied for a job at another "prestigious" chain of K-12s. The friend who directed me there was trustworthy, and was working there himself, though at a different branch than the one I interviewed at. I was applying for an opening in their English prep for 11th and 12th graders, and we started off the interview talking about that. It was all going swimmingly.

Yeah. Insist on me teaching small children.
Then the woman asked me how I'd feel about teaching the kindergarteners. I told her I wasn't really interested, but she pressed on. "Oh, but it's such fun! You can do music and drama!" and I said I wasn't really into that kind of thing. "But we really need someone to teach kindergarten, you'll just love it," and I asked if I was interviewing for the older kids or for kindergarten. She wouldn't give me an exactly straight answer about that. So I looked her right in the eye like you're supposed to do in job interviews, and said, "Look. I have no experience teaching children. I have no training for teaching children. I'm not interested in teaching children, and I don't really even like children." Unfazed, she was all, "Come and meet our principal and when can you start?"

So, no.

Job interviews pretty much suck.
It's a wonder anyone lands a decent job or that schools stay in business. But they do. It's just that when you're getting desperate for work and going through the nerve-wracking process of a job interview, all prepared with your big words and professional clothing, suffering the smug stares of the people who already work there, it can be hard to remember you're interviewing them just as much as they're interviewing you, and you should be making sure that, first impressions aside, it's the kind of place you really want to work.