How is Teaching in Istanbul?
Brace yourself! Gird thy loins! Teaching and living in Istanbul is not for the faint-hearted. Snowy winters, crowded commutes and teaching schedules that oscillate from a gruelling treadmill of classes to a few hours a week await you when the summer wanes. However, you will find yourself, like many visitors before, falling in love with the only bi-continental city in the world. You’ll be glad you gave yourself more time to sample the multitude of delicious dishes, to visit more of the outstanding architecture and to learn the intriguing stories behind it, to get to know the locals and what makes them tick, and to take that cruise down the Bosphorus with the friends you’ve made. To sustain this sweet life, you might want to consider a teaching job. Perhaps you already have teaching qualifications and are considering spending a few months in this historically vivid and culturally vibrant setting. Either way, I commend your choice. You are about to experience the cultural ride of your life.
Schools and adult education centres in Istanbul tend to treat their native speakers like jewels. You are a valuable commodity and schools are in fierce competition, even from one branch of the same school to another. It’s really up to you how you fit into that paradigm; how well you function as a jewel in their crown. If you prefer to have small classes where you can get to know each student well and nurture and follow every step of their progress, then you should be looking at applying to small adult schools. In this case, it’s best to check these out when you arrive and meet with them face to face. Working for smaller schools with a less international, more authentically Turkish family feel will mean fewer hours a week, but it will also mean that you will be one of only a handful of native speakers, if not the only one. If you prefer a more regular schedule, constant work and the opportunity to earn well, you should opt for one of the big guns. With a little research, it will become clear which school falls into which category. At the bigger schools you will be a little fish in a sea of native speakers and will fall in with what management expect from you. But you will still, ultimately, be an asset. Alternatively, you can apply to teach children and young adults at a primary or comprehensive school, or at one of the universities. The advantage here is a regular schedule and better pay.
How much can I expect to earn?
In Istanbul everything is negotiable. In terms of cost and quality of living, accepting less than 30 TL an hour would be ill-advised for regular classes, and more for private classes scheduled by your school. Hourly rates vary from one school to another, from one branch to another, and from one teacher to another. So expect to be quoted a lot less and possibly more than that figure. If you choose a smaller school with fewer hours, your hourly rate is a little more negotiable. With larger schools, the hourly fee is mostly set. However, you will still encounter different rates for different teachers. If you suffer a dip in scheduling, you can boost your income by arranging your own private lessons. In Istanbul it’s quick and easy to get private students. For private classes you can charge a lot more per hour, depending on individual negotiation.
What qualifications do I need?
Being a native speaker is your major playing card. Schools that can boast of having a native speaker on the payroll can attract students more easily. Having a teaching certificate is a bonus.
What Can I Expect from the Culture?
The biggest advantage of being a teacher in Istanbul is not the pay or the contract, or even the fact that teachers are revered; it’s the students. Your students will be the key to you enjoying your Istanbul experience. Your students are the ones you will befriend and rely on. Turkish students will be eager to show you around, practise their English with you, and they are a broad source of knowledge when it comes to experiencing this fascinating, beautiful, endless city. Students know the best places to eat, the best clubs, the art exhibitions, the live music, the authentic Turkish stuff versus tourist stuff—whatever you’re into. Plus, they know how much you should be paying for everything. So, whenever a student gets nominated by the rest of the class to approach you and say, “Teacher, we want to go somewhere with you,” go with them. They’ll show you the ropes, and in no time, you’ll have local friends from all ages and walks of life and will have learnt some authentic lingo.
If you do decide to teach in Istanbul, the most valuable tool you can bring with you into the classroom is diplomacy. Istanbul is a crowded, ethnically diverse metropolis, full of warm-blooded, emotionally expressive people who have quite a different cultural background to you, and even to each other. Drama is included in the day-to-day lives of most of the estimated fifteen million inhabitants, along with the tea and the gossip. It’s not a place you choose to live for tranquility or reflection. And when you approach your lessons and your students, you will need to be considerate of certain aspects of the culture, and of the Turkish temperament.
As much as there is drama in being a teacher in Istanbul, there is also endless joy, friendships, celebration, dancing, music, good food and camaraderie. You won’t be able to keep that smile that everyone wears from off your face for long. More information and invaluable tips and advice, including more on cultural diplomacy, important visa advice, accommodation, and how to make the most of your teaching experience in Istanbul, are available in my reference eBook: A Teacher’s Guide to Istanbul. A Brief Initiation into Living and Teaching in Turkey’s Cultural Capital.
Be smart, seek guidance, and happy travelling.