Teaching Kindergarteners in Turkey:Enjoying Every Minute of It (by Özge Karaoğlu Ergen)
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an English teacher! It was because my mum was my kindergarten teacher. She was so creative, engaging and inspiring that I wanted to be a teacher just like her. I had my own chalkboard at home and I was always the teacher when we played “school” with my friends. I think I’ve always had this huge passion for teaching and, today I have been an English teacher for eight years in Istanbul, Turkey.
I graduated from English Language Teaching Department and Psychological Counseling Department as a double major in Istanbul University. We had a four year extensive program at university but I can’t say that it was enough to prepare me to become a teacher fully. Most of the things I studied at university were the approaches, methods, planning and theories. When I started teaching, I didn’t exactly know what to do but I was lucky that I had great colleagues at school ready to help me to improve myself as a teacher. Peer observations, internet, books about teaching, training courses and my students has played an important role on my journey of becoming a better teacher.
I have mostly worked with young learners and for the last four years I am the leader of the kindergarten department and an English kindergarten teacher at Terakki Foundation Schools in Istanbul. It’s a private and a 140 year old school. There are some difference between private and public schools in Turkey when you consider English teaching. There are more English lessons, the curriculum is more extensive and comprehensive, there are fewer students in the classrooms, you have more technological equipments in your classes and you start learning English when you are in kindergarten if you are at a private school. At public schools, children start learning English when they are at 4th grade which I believe it’s very late because you lose the most efficient and fruitful years when they actually acquire the language.
“Teaching should be full of ideas instead of stuffed with facts.”
I teach 4, 5 and 6 year old students. The younger the students are, the more rewarding and demanding the teaching experience will be and I believe, to make this experience beneficial for both learners and teachers, you should identify your goals, what you have in your hands and what you can offer your students as well as the needs and the demands of your learners and you have to be understanding, patient, caring and passionate about every single one of your students.
I am the first English teacher of my students and when they come to my classes, most of them don’t know a word of English. I have 8 hours of English with 6 year olds and 6 hours with 4 and 5 year old ones (One hour = 40 minutes). This may vary from school to school depending on their program and curriculum. Some schools have a half day of English or less or more hours and international schools have a whole day of English with a Turkish teacher at the same time in their classes.
You can watch the first week of my students this year on a short Animoto video:
“Teachers: The new generation will be your devotion.” Atatürk
I have 16 to 18 students in my classes and I have at least one hour English lesson with my each class every day. As we don’t have native teachers in kindergarten, we are responsible for teaching and improving each skill. Home room teachers have their own topics and we plan our curriculum according to their topics. This year our first topic is “About Me” in age 6 classes. With this topic, we aim at teaching greetings, colors, numbers, food and drinks and town. We have stories and songs to teach as well.
The typical day starts with the daily routines like greeting the kids with a song, weather chant, talking about weather, counting the kids (the best way to teach children to count) and counting girls and boys, talking about absentees and why they aren’t at school, chanting the days, months and seasons and talking about how they feel. These routines make them feel better and secure in English classes. We only speak English with our students so this sometimes makes children feel insecure as they don’t understand and as it is their very first days at school without their parents, but as I repeat the daily routines every day with the same order, they learn faster and they feel secure in learning a foreign language because even they can’t speak or participate in the activities, they know that they can participate in the daily routines. Transitions are important in English classes. I have rhymes and songs that make the children understand what we will do next. Also, they have small pictures of their lessons for each day so they all know which lesson or activity they are going to have next.
“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”
Children like singing songs and chanting rhymes and if the songs are TPR songs, they enjoy more. I like “Round and Round the Garden”, Wind the Bobbin Up”, “Incy Wincy Spider”, ”Teddy Bear”, “Bumble Bee”, “Open them, Shut them” songs and chants for the first days. I prepare pictures for the songs so they can understand the meaning of it and enjoy looking at the pictures. Children also love playing games, it’s their instincts and I can use games to teach any topic I want. Their favorite games are “Fly Swatter”, “Ostrich Game” and “Dice” game.
We also use course book but it is not in the centre of our curriculum, we use it just to provide something interesting, to teach them how to use books for the next year. Our course book is a story based book and is written for EFL students. The stories are repetitive ones so students can memorize, retell and acquire the language very well. We do role plays, dramatizations as well. We also read many other books in our classes.
We do also some craft activities and worksheets with the kids every week. We do class projects and present them in the class or in the corridors.
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Einstein
We have three important days in our school. The first one is “Open Doors” day. We invite the parents to our classes to observe one lesson at the end of the first term. This is an exciting time for the parents and the kids and stressful time for us, the teachers. It’s weird to be observed by parents. Luckily, I haven’t had a bad experience with that. The second one is the “Portfolio Day”. Children keep their worksheets or their crafts in their portfolios and at the end of the year; they present their portfolio and talk about what they have done in a year to their parents in English. We lead the children in what they are going to say. I really enjoy this because parents always get excited and very happy to see that their kids can produce language and understand what the teacher says. Daily routines that we do every day really helps.
I’m a lucky teacher because I have everything we need in our classes. We have projectors, computer, internet, CD player, DVD player ready in each our classes so we can use technology with our kids. You can have a look at our class wiki, our glogster, voicethread project that we did with Shell Terrell ’s and Marama Steward’s classes and a voki example.
“A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in her own image, but to develop students who can create their own image.”
For the last two years, we have created three animated stories. 6 year old students drew the pictures, colored them and recorded their voices in English. Two of them are my stories. First one is “Daisy and Drago”. This film also came in 2nd place in Children’s Film Festival and was shown in many cinemas in Turkey and in abroad during the film festival. The second one is “Daisy, Drago and the Magic Wand”. We are using these films in our classes to teach English to the kids. The last one is “Doctor Monkey” story. The story is one of the stories in their books and I and kids really enjoyed doing this film. It was easy and took us only a day to create this. We also collaborate with IT department and we create our own digital games to teach children English in our classes. I hope to involve in more projects with my children that will help them to improve themselves.
You can watch this video, a collection of my school year last year:
I love to be around my kids and being a part of their growing. They are always so full of energy and laughter and ready to giggle so being a teacher keeps me young at heart. A teacher is always a student, you can never done learning and no other career can provide what being a teacher means. It’s my passion and a gift of a lifetime.
Note: This article by Özge Karaoğlu Ergen originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.