a saga

So I’ve been super blocked in my writing as of late, and there’s a super good reason for that: my job, which we all expected to be a glorious divine solution, has turned out to be, sadly, slightly less exciting than I’d hoped. We all expected Ernie was going to go abroad and just teach kids nonsense and then we’d all be happy, because what’s Ernie better at than teaching nonsense, but unfortunately, my saturday drama classes have been one unending disaster.

A few years ago, heather told me about a volunteer reading class she was at, and how the whole time, she was just trying to get her kids to sit down and read, and they mostly tried to kill her/each other. This is more or less the experience of my weekend theatre classes. I go into class, ready to do stuff, and the kids run around and kill each other/me for three hours. I am thouroughly exhausted. I ask Benal for help. She says I need to get organized. I make a plan. I go into theatre class. The kids run around and kill each other for three hours. I am thoroughly exhausted. I ask for help. She says I need to get organized. I make a plan. I go to class. The kids murder. I tired. I ask help. Get organized. Make plan. I dead. I class. It suck. The end.

It hurts, because this was a dream I held close for a really long time, and mostly because it was so absurd: having my own little theatre/music group somewhere cool in the world. So I’ve been willing to assume that it’s just me not doing things right up until now, and working extra extra hard to get things done. But the kids are rapacious murder-elves, and so the extra extra hard work I have to do becomes more and more absurd, which brings us to problem #2: Benal herself. I realized we were in trouble when she’d asked me to write two plays, one of which was a musical with full choreography, in three days.

So how did we get to hating things I love to do from such a promising beginning? Let’s track it.

When I first arrived at BT muzik evi, I was placed in a small glass office separate from the school, where I slept. (This is also where street cat gave birth, incidentally. After a month, I finally could move into my house–I spent most of that month crashing with my friends or sleeping on air mattresses–and after another month, we got heating, hot water, and the internet.) The first drama classes were held in huge groups with parents all crowded in the room, watching me trying to come up with drama games. She called them “tryouts.” She told me they’d start at 11. I arrived at 9:50 to get ready. The lessons began ten minutes later.

“Try not to make your lessons so improvisatory,” she suggested, after the third hour of having no idea what was going on. The schedule was set, rather peculiarly, as an 1:15 of the younger kids, :45 of both, and then 1:15 of just the older kids (the older kids in this case being no more than 11). The middle :45 minutes was a…choir? It was never really clear. Were we going to take them to a festival in Italy? Are they singing popular songs? What are we doing? Alright. (The answer to “Can I get them to work on interesting music?” was a resounding “No.”) I kept waiting for her to tell me what the kids expected, what she expected, to get some direction. I knew where I wanted us to go–improvising and writing a play together–and since I got no direction or disapproval otherwise, I went there. After a few weeks of classes (circuses) where we played (shouted) drama games, learned (did not learn) the basics of improv (shouting again), she was beginning to be unsettled. She wanted more song and dance.

“Dance?” I asked.

“Yes, you know, more like Glee stuff.” she said. “By this saturday.”

Not really my thing, but whatever. It’s fun. I made some dance up by watching flash-mobs on youtube and appealing to my dance friends for help (thanks Ariel!) and could not, for the life of me, teach it to them. After yet another weekend of—how should I describe this–being thrown into a cage full of lions for three hours while death metal played at full volume, I composed a reply to the parents. For my job, I have to fill out reports which get emailed to the parents, who then, oh god, I don’t know, clip them out and put them on the fridge.

[Note: Education is a strange business in Turkey. It’s the only place I’ve been in which has ads, everywhere, for private elementary and secondary schools. The parents bankroll the schools, and the teachers know it, and the kids know that the teachers know it, which means that every potential discipline mechanism is utterly defanged. Some of the horror stories I’ve heard: walking into a class to watch to kids jousting with chairs, kids stabbing each other with scissors, kids being sent to the principal’s office and coming back with chocolate, and, a story which is a personal favorite (thanks to Graeme for this one), over the course of a week: a kid who wanted to get out of lessons so he pretended he needed to get tissues from the bathroom, Graeme denies him because there’s tissues in the classroom, he starts wiping his snot on everything, Graeme chews him out next time he does it, the kid starts throwing a tantrum as if he’s dying of bladder disease, Graeme tells him to stop it, a child captures the whole incident on his iPad video and makes it look like graeme is denying this kid bathroom access just to be cruel, video circulates among school to the parents, principal talks to Graeme, Graeme quits in disgust. Did I get all that right?]

“The children do not respect me because I am a foreign teacher,” I wrote. It probably wasn’t true, about the foreignness, but they sure as hell didn’t respect me. It’s a problem I run into when I teach a lot–I only teach people who want to be there, and my MO is usually to have a pretty good time–and when children catch on to this, they start ignoring the salient points of any lesson I want to teach and just start playing. I refuse to fight, because when I do it just exhausts me, and I’d rather not feel like a dead shark by the end of my lesson than try to get them to learn something.

That got Benal’s attention. She got a lot of flack from the parents for that. “What were you thinking when you wrote that report?” she asked me. I was thinking, I thought, that maybe you would send some real help my way. Of course I didn’t say this; I played dumb, and she offered me some concrete direction. Have this sort of plan. Do this. Come up with this. Benal is an expert teacher, and I did my best to follow her advice. Besides, she’s been nothing but generous to me. I tried everything.

Repeat lion cage/dead shark cycle. While this is all transpiring, everyone keeps referring to me as a Julliard graduate. They point at pictures of “my” school and say “so which building is this?” or some parents introduce themselves and say “ah yes, we were in new york and stopped by your school recently–” And for awhile I correct people (mostly my students), but give up and go along with it for the entertainment value. “Oh yes, hard work, that’s the Julliard way!” Eyetouch and I have a joke: “Oh yes, when I was at Juilliard, professor Haaffaeenfoaaorper and I, he taught me something I never forgot. We were just working on something simple, but he said, you know, “music is life.” I never forgot that” etc. I got the answer out of Tugba, the director of the satellite campus–Benal had told everyone–parents, teachers, staff–she’d met me there when she took her students there last summer. Ok.

Another strangeness: Eyetouch told me that Benal had been super pissed that we threw out one of her chairs. She’d given us some furniture for the house when she provided it, including these two shitty chairs which you could not sit in because they had no upholstery nor support–just a flimsy sheet of fabric where your butt should go.  I threw one of them out for lack of space. Benal got angry and sent her driver, Senol, to get the other one. “Are you sure this is the chair?” he asked us at the door. “This chair is really worthless,” he said. Benal never talked to me about it directly.

Another strangeness: Eyetouch told me that Benal had been super pissed that we’d gone over our internet limit, and had an outrageous bill of 600 lira. “She said they gave her a court order, man. It is a big lie.” Granted, I’d downloaded a bunch of movies (including seasons 1-7 of it’s always sunny in philadelphia) so I said, well shit, I wish I had known our internet was capped, but oh well. She called me and I brought it up, and she said she instead wanted to talk about this how-to-write-a-musical website she’d discovered for me. “What about the 600 lira bill? how did that happen?” I asked. “Well that’s for you and Eyetouch to work out,” she said, and avoided the question. I get the impression she wouldn’t have brought it up at all, had I not said anything. I brought two hundred lira in from each me and eyetouch (who had insisted we split it) to give to benal, and she said, “oh, we’ll just pay it at the end of the month,” and was again evasive. Then, while coming home two days ago, I found an envelope from TTnet on our porch. It was the bill. It was 80 lira, including 33 lira in overage charges.

All of this ends up to last week, where Benal said it was high time both drama classes had a full script, and insisted that I get them by Thursday. I went into a stress blackout, unable to do anything except open a word document and mutely stare at the internet. I called in sick on friday and saturday.

“That takes courage, man,” Eyetouch told me, when I told him what I’d done. I had imagined it as a more cowardly way out. “No,” he said, “one time, a teacher did that, and benal came to the house, and took her to the hospital, got an IV, and then OFF TO SCHOOL! You are lucky she was out of town this weekend.”

So tomorrow I go into Benal’s office and tell her I can’t teach the class. It’s enough trying to organize the kids into doing a theatre thing which they supposedly wanted to make and do themselves, alone, without having to try and please my overlord into creating the image of a perfect class, well behaved, matching standards which she is unable or unwilling to communicate. It’s lame, and it’ll probably mean a little less money per month, but I’ll keep all my voice students (who are doing great), and it means I won’t spend the entire week in dread of saturday, and that I’ll have more time to do things which are important to me, i.e. making art, traveling, exploring the city, cooking, learning this total nonsense language, spending time with the people who make istanbul great.

Wish me luck.

  1. Beckeck said:

    that sounds sucky. My advice- find total happiness… it shouldn’t take much time.

    • Beckeck said:

      You know.. Cause meaning is easy and all…

  2. catluvrs said:

    Wow, Ernie, that sounds so frustrating. You would think that given how recently you’ve come to know Benal, and how recently you’ve come to Turkey, she would know that you to give you more direction if she has real goals in mind. The Glee thing sounds like a fun one-time experience, but expecting you to actually do choreography? Where did that one come from? It sounds like a weird situation, but a learning experience nonetheless. You mentioned how much this hurts because it’s been a dream of yours for so long, but I think all it means is that next time you have an opportunity to run a theatre group in some crazy place, you’ll know much more about what you want to make out of it from the beginning, even if there’s no one to give you direction. I’m glad you still have music lessons and Eyetouch and adventures ahead of you in Turkey–don’t lose heart! -Zoe

  3. Aw, man — I’ve had to teach some bad classes in my time, but that’s a really incredible pile of suck. I’m really glad to hear Benal let you pass the class on to someone else. And Zoe is right: next time you’ll have a better sense of what you want to do and how to make it happen, plus you’re still in Turkey, which is pretty baller.

  4. This all sounds terrible but surely giggle- inducing. Getting your dreams is kinda funny like that, yeah? Bon chance en future 🙂

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