Tuesday, 12 March 2013

So you want to be a private teacher huh!

Over the years, I have been asked quite a few times “ Mike can you give me some advice on teaching private lessons”, so as I have been on a kind of self serving sabbatical . I thought I would return with some tips for any folks out there wanting to follow in my foot steps! So, here is my top tips on maintaining a happy relationship with your students – and more importantly their parents!


 Let’s take it that you have been “employed” by some kind Turkish family, to educate their little Ahmet or Ayşegul for one or two hours a week. The very first lesson you go to, you will be met at the door by the Mum – Here is your first opportunity to win her on your side forever, no matter if little Ahmet only learns “ Mrs Brown goes to the shop” in all your time teaching them. As long as you come up with a “ Wow – have you lost kilo”? or “ have you just come back from the kuaffer”?, then you will be paid on time every lesson,and your wonderful teaching skills advertised to all her friends!  This should never be done within earshot of the husband if he is home though . The “ wow – have you lost kilo” will be translated in his mind as “ You know you want it baby”, and subsequently you will be marched off the premises faster than you can say “ A is for Apple”!


 Oh the little pride an joy of the household, Now, students as you probably know come in all ages and all abilities! In my time teaching I have come across probably every type of student going – these days I only concentrate on college students. The greatest one ever for me was a boutique owner from Lara. Now, for the sake of the story, let’s call him Cem, (because I can’t spell Ibrahim correctly). Now “Cem”, was aged about 35, just recently divorced and looking for a new direction in life. I only ever had one lesson with Cem – it was enough! Now , with adults the first question I always ask is

 “Why do you want to learn English”?

 Cem’s response – “ to speak to RUSSIAN tourist”

 I’ll let that sink in

 Let’s just say that me and Cem never embraced a student/teacher relationship! Now on the whole, private lessons with children are not a problem, the usual wild student at school turns into a meek and attentive student in a one to one environment A little friendly warning out of ear shot of Anne ve Baba “ look kid you mess with me and i’ll grass you up to your parents” usually works wonders!. Never under any circumstances ask a student in the first lesson “ So, do you have any questions you want to ask me and about my life”?. Without fail you will be asked “Have you had sunnet”?

 On the subject of sunnets and things never to do. Never under any circumstances accept an invitation to your student’s sunnet celebration. Being invited to inspect a surgeons handiwork on your student’s bits by his father will leave you more scarred then the surgeons handiwork . Yes – this has happened to me be warned!


 Big tip – the first lesson must be 1 hour and 20 minutes – although you will be getting paid only for an hour. The combination of “ Have you lost kilo”? and going 20 minutes over will give you great kudos with the Mother. The second lesson should be 1 hour 15 minutes – again you will be advertised to all her friends at “ how you work that little bit extra”. The third lesson 1 hour 10 minutes. ..and so on. By the fifth lesson you are down to one hour straight! However by this time you are well in with the parents and they are treating you like one of the family. The 6th lesson is 55 minutes..the 7th 50 minutes, and so on, until you get to the point you are in the lesson just quick enough to teach the student “ You’ve been stitched up better then your sunnet op”.


 As those of us that have taken the opportunity to learn Turkish know it opens you up to some horrendous errors – my worst was once while looking for new jeans in Mavi. Instead of asking the rather attractive young sales assistant “ where’s the changing room” freudiently asked her “where’s your bedroom”?. So with that in mind, expect your little “ treasures “to now and again make some right royal howlers.

 Take for example Alp a student of mine of just twelve years old. A lovely boy, very clever and very respectful . Now one day we were studying adverbs that didn’t end with an –ly ( for example - fast – She drives fast)

 While sipping my coffee,I asked young Alp to tell me a sentence using an adverb without –ly and about his daily life. One can only imagine my opened mouth shock when little Alp proudly supplied me with :-

 “My teacher I wake up hard every morning”!

 As I passed him a napkin to wipe my now expelled coffee from his face, he asked “ was it wrong teacher”?. “No it’s fine ..err let’s move on shall we”. By the way, I think he was wanting to say “ My teacher I is difficult to wake up every morning”!!..bless him!!

 My favourite though has to go to eleven year old Ceren, like Alp , a very respectful and lovely girl, who one day needed help on her simple past tense. Deciding that we would do oral examples, we had a conversation that went:-

 Me: Ceren, what did you do on Sunday?
 Ceren: My teacher, I listened to the radio.
 Me: Good Ceren , AM or PM
 Ceren: (after a moments pause) No my teacher FM!


 Picture the scene,Ayşegul has a very important English exam. To counter this the parents demand extra lessons to ensure Ayşegul gets good marks, very understandable of course and very welcome, remember I am getting paid for it!. The exam is over and you send an sms to her Mother asking her daughter’s mark . You get a simple sms in return saying “ 98%!!”. “Woopee” you think as you self pat your back on a job well done.

Jesus! when I was a student if I got anything over 75% I was hoisted shoulder high and exhibited around the village as an example to all and sundry what you can achieve with hard work and less attention to your Mum’s Kays Catalogue “Bra section”. Then it would be off to McDonalds for a celebratory Big Mac and fries and then home to be treated to a half a shandy from your Dad on a job well done!

 With this in mind, I trot to D&R to buy the latest Tarkan CD (Ayşegul’s favourite singer) as a way to congratulate her fantastic mark. Opening the door, Ayşegul’s mother seems slightly dismissive of your “wow Elif hanam, I just love that new perfume”. You are led into the lounge, and there is Ayşegul sat forlornly at the table,without the usual “ welcome my teacher”. “CONGRATULATIONS Ayşegul 98% that is a great result”!!. ..Silence all around,. It is then you realise that in Turkey 98% is the academic equivalent of going outside wth your boxers over your head while shouting “ I’m a teapot, I’m a teapot”!

 Under no circumstance celebrate anything less than 100% perfection – in Turkey, for some parents failure is not an option. In all seriousness it is one of the saddest aspects of my job, seeing normal, fun loving and sweet children being mentally tortured every few weeks over another pointless exam. Having a twelve year old student say to you “ My teacher I want to die” is one of the saddest things I have ever heard. His crime , nothing more than not really liking English and only gaining 88% in a test! By the way – I still gave Ayşegul the CD – bloody hell she had me as a teacher, she deserved it!


 Now, as we all know Turkish people are very hospitable and none more so when a private teacher calls. Which is great if you wake up a little late and think “ damm no time for breakfast” as you can bet your bottom lira, that you will be provided with a breakfast banquet at your first lesson! All great of course! Well all great that is until you have five lessons in a row! First lesson, coffee, pastries, some delicious home made cake if your lucky. Second lesson, getting towards lunch “ wow he must be hungry” the mother thinks, without realising the amount of chocolate cake I have just been given at the previous home. Biber dolma with yoghurt, fresh bread and rice washed down with a pint of water. ..again all delicious. You eat, and between eating try and conduct a semi cohesive lesson while spitting rice all over your students carefully crafted homework.

Then it’s off to house number three, whose hospitable occupants are totally unaware that you have just been fed better then an anorexic on drip feed. Out comes the water borek with a side dish of salad and coffee. Again you try to be polite and accept it with all the gratitude of a man whose stomach hasn’t seen food for a week, while thinking “ Is force vomiting really that bad”?. House number four beckons you in with a “Hocam, I’m so sorry I haven’t been to the market and really haven’t got anything to give you” . While being pulled away from kissing her feet in happiness you then hear her say “ quick Vural, go to the shop and buy some biscuits”!. The last house, by this time you are actually considering renting out your stomach to a low income family!.

However, at house number five, I have it sussed, you see at house number five I have a friend. My friend’s name is “Pepe”, a sweet little black adopted street dog, who greats me everytime with all the enthusiasm it can muster. The fifth lessons starts, I am finding it hard to concentrate, as the days massive food overdose is now laying at the pit of my stomach. Then a knock at the door, and the Mum is there with a “ Hocam, I am sure you must be hungry” as she places down a small plate of the sweetest tasting Baklava”. My eyes become transfixed on the baklava forcing my stomach to realise that drinking ten pints of Efes was less torture then this culinary nightmare. That is when Pepe comes to the rescue everytime. “ Esra student, could you get me a napkin”?. She goes of to the kitchen, and Pepe takes that as his cue, he is under the table, being fed the baklava as quick as possible before Esra returns with napkin in hand. Job done! Pepe retires back to the corner, Esra returns with napkins and then she glares at my now empty plate and comments “ Hocam, you must have been very hungry you ate the baklava very quickly “ . I reply “ yes I was my student” . As I lean back in my chair I catch Pepe’s dark eyes and swear he slips me a knowing wink. Then I hear “ Mum, Michael hocam’s hungry – do we have any biber dolma leftover from lunch” . Pepe, runs out the room, looking back with a look that says “ sorry mate your on your own”!! So there we have a few small tips to send you on your way to a life of private teaching in Turkey.

 GOOD LUCK – you’ll need it..kolay gelsin!!


  1. .. and if your first name is Don, don't even consider teaching teenagers in Turkey.

  2. I had to take a minute or two to understand that, but yes you are right unless you want a class of tittering teenagers:)