Christmas Holidays, Part 1!

I can’t believe it has been a month since my last blog. My goodness, where has the time gone? I’m writing this on Christmas eve. Christmas is not a big event in Turkey (though New Years is), but we have a week off school which is wonderful. We will be having Christmas dinner with new friends Sean and Ruth (Sean is also a new physics teacher, and Ruth is his partner), and will be doing some more exploring of Istanbul.

I said I would take you through a week of teaching, to give you a sense of what school life is like here. And it might be interesting to compare this school and this country with schools elsewhere. First I should say that Robert College has a Week 1 and Week 2 schedule. I teach 21 80 minute classes over the two weeks (10 in Week 1 and 11 in Week 2). The in-class time works out to about 2/3 of a full-time teaching load in Ontario, but as you’ll see there are other things to fill up the time! (like marking). Okay, here’s this week:

Monday: I get up between 6:00 and 6:30, check the hockey scores and my email, and have a quick breakfast. At around 7:30 I hike up the hill (which is quite steep, and a good work-out; there are buses, but I prefer to walk).

In the morning, I taught a Physics 1 class (this is the intro course that all students have to take; 3 of my 4 sections are grade 9 students, and one is a grade 10 class). We’re doing Newton’s 2nd Law now, and this week in my classes we’re doing various 2nd law problems. I’m getting better at getting my students more involved, so I have them come and solve problems on the board. This school is very competitive, and generally there are always students who are keen to come up and do some teaching; most of the students here do not lack for confidence!

Just before lunch, I met with the mother of one of my students. She had no concerns about her daughter (who is doing very well), but she makes a point of meeting all of her teachers every year. It’d be nice if more parents did that, as I always learn things about my students. I typically have one parent meeting a week. There aren’t regular parent conferences as there in North American schools.

At lunch one of the Physics 1 students did a make-up lab. It’s nice to have chances to talk one-on-one with students, and I understood from another teacher that this student wanted to talk with me about the course.

Then it was off to the cafeteria for lunch. One of the nice things is that you get free lunches, and the food is generally quite good (though being vegetarian can sometimes be a little monotonous, but overall it’s great). This is a nice chance to chat with other teachers.

After lunch I did some marking, and then had my second class of the day, also Physics 1. After this class, a bit more marking, and then I headed down the hill for home. After dinner, we try and go for a walk on the Bosphorus, and then I do some more work (prep/marking)

Tuesday: This is not a normal day, as the Tuesday schedule has become a Friday schedule (they try to balance out days off over the year). Unfortunately the school’s online attendance system can’t handle this change, so we have to send a student with the attendance for the first class.

Normally my first class (8:00am) would be my other course, Modern Physics. These are Grade 11 and 12 students, and a whole different kettle of fish. This is an elective course, and only 20 students are allowed to take it; so the students are generally bright, motivated, and will be going on to do physics or engineering in university (and pretty much every student here will go to university, either in Turkey or abroad). Some of the students have got early acceptances; one to Princeton, one to Columbia, and one to Yale.

But today I instead have the three Physics 1 classes I would normally have on Friday. So this makes for a busy day. There are pros and cons about having four sections of the same course. On the plus side, I get to do the same lesson four times, and improve it along the way (I feel badly sometimes for the first section); and I only have to do one prep. On the other hand, I have to do the same lesson four times, and it can get a little boring towards the end; and I have to really keep track of where I get to with each section (and of course, every section is different). Today I do a lab quiz with these classes, as I need to have at least one each semester; the students complain because they have been getting tests and quizzes in a lot of their courses. And we do some more of Newton’s 2nd law …

I look forward to Tuesday lunch because there’s ice cream! After lunch I meet with one of my students who has not been doing very well this semester (he is quite involved with sports, and needs to spend more time on school). After lunch, one more class and I head home … normally I would be doing yoga after school, but the instructor (a partner of one of the teachers) has gone home to the US for the holidays.

Just to break this up a bit, here is a picture of me at the whiteboard in one of the classrooms (both pictures in this post are courtesy of Richard Swift).


Wednesday: One more day till the break! Students are looking forward to the break as well. I have two Physics 1 classes today (and another quiz!), and also Homegroup. Here we meet with the same section of students every week for 25 minutes. I have a very interesting group of 8 Grade 10 students. There are suggested activities for us to do, but usually we hang out and chat, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them.

Before Homegroup, I go to the teacher’s lounge, as the school’s “Sunshine Committee” has organized Christmas cakes and goodies during the morning break (which is usually 25 minutes long; often I will meet then with the other science teachers in the lounge in the Science Department). I really need to go to the lounge more often, to meet up with non-science teachers.

After my second class, I have Astronomy Club which I do with another physics teacher, Mr. Arey. Today we’ve organized a session on spectroscopy, and we have discharge tubes (Hydrogen, Helium, Mercury) and spectroscopes for the students to look through, followed by an online activity. We start each club with some astronomy news (this week we talked about the Falcon 9 launch/landing, some Pluto pictures, and the winter solstice). The students seemed pretty engaged this week. It’s fun to do some astronomy.

After school, I organize a make-up lab session for three of my Modern Physics students. I’m impressed by how quickly they get their data (these are bright students).

That evening there is some carol singing at the school, so Dale and I hike up the hill after dinner. It makes me feel Christmasy, which is nice. Afterwards we come home, and I go for a walk. I don’t have much to do for tomorrow, for a change.

Thursday: Last day before the break! It’s a shorter day today, with no fourth period. I only have one class today, and that’s Modern Physics. It’s a relaxing class; I show some movies/simulations of galaxy merging and structure formation in the universe to finish off the cosmology unit, and we then watch a great PBS Nova movie about the last hundred years of cosmology (Hunting for the Edge of Space). At the start of class, I give the students their tests back; they didn’t do quite as well as in previous tests, but they seem okay with it. I arrange a make-up for the students who missed that test.

Class is over and I am done for the day! I meet with the other physics teachers for our weekly meeting; today we talk about the end of semester test (2 hours in the gym), and about what we’ll do for missing quizzes and labs. I have lunch, and then do some marking in the library (a beautiful space), and head home feeling good …

So there you have it. No school until Jan 4. Dale and I are missing our families, but we will be skyping with them and our sons over the holidays. I can’t believe that 4 months of school have gone by.

A few reflections on school so far: first, I knew it would be busy full-time teaching, but I had no idea how busy! It seems like I’ve been spending every week night marking or prepping; next year will be easier though. There’s constantly things that come up, and no day is the same– I like the variety. I really like the students here, and getting to know them (and finally knowing all their names!); they are generally very nice, kind, bright, and keen. I have virtually no discipline issues; there are a few kids I need to work with more, but overall it’s great. I also really like my fellow physics teachers; they are helpful, supportive, and very collaborative. And I think the campus community is great; we are making some wonderful friends here, and there are always things going on. Overall, this has been a really good first semester, though overwhelming and stressful at times.

Okay, this has turned out to be a long post. I will do another in the next couple of days to talk about some of the other stuff we have been doing (including our feisty kitten, and a wonderful visit with our good friend Richard from Cambridge last weekend).

It is Christmas eve, and we will soon be heading up the hill for a party hosted by one of the teachers here. Dale and I wish everyone the very best for the holidays, and we will be thinking of our family and friends.

I will leave you with a picture of Dale and I in front of the Hagia Sophia.


Terry and Dale



8 thoughts on “Christmas Holidays, Part 1!

  1. Hi there,Do have a lovely Christmas in that magic-sounding land-what an adventure you’re having! We’ll have 10 for dinner tomorrow but the oven and dishwasher have died so we’re having an Australian Christmas with the BBQ-steak and pork. I just mad some shortbread but had a traumatic hour watching the oven-every so often the broiler decides to come on. I was talking to your mom about your address to send our card and wishing you were here, Dale, to wash the dishes-remember the cottage! I think I remember you LIKE washing dishes!? Thank you for all the wonderful posts over the fall! And Merry Christmas!Love,Di and Ian, Tori, Nels and Charles (and Calley)

    Date: Thu, 24 Dec 2015 19:04:41 +0000 To:


    1. Wow, BBQ on Christmas day– that also sounds like an adventure! Yes, we’re good at washing dishes, not so good about cooking (which is why it’s great that our friend Ruth will be cooking today). Mail to Turkey tends to be unreliable I’m afraid, but you can certainly try … I hope all goes well for you guys today, and very busy holiday wishes


  2. Thanks for sharing the details of your teaching week. It seems that you have chosen a great school and I know they must be glad to have chosen YOU!
    What does the school do for professional development?
    How are you evaluated?

    Your classroom looks very modern and white! Are there windows? If so, what is your view?



    1. Professional development: there are opportunities to go to conferences; there are TTT (Teachers Teaching Teachers) sessions here a few times a year; several of the teachers are doing graduate degrees; and I’m sure there’s things I’m not aware of. I’m thinking of trying to do a lesson study collaboration with some of the physics teachers (and maybe other groups as well) next year to explore teaching in more detail. But I think a lot of PD happens more informally, with the sharing of ideas and resources between teachers. For instance, some of the physics teachers are using Google Classroom, and I’m thinking of doing this myself next year.

      Evaluation: new teachers such as myself are evaluated by the department head and an administrator; this consists of several classroom visits and meeting afterwards. I’ve found this quite positive, and my dept head has had several very useful suggestions to help me improve my teaching. Every second year there is a formal evaluation process for all teachers (contracts for foreign teachers are 2 years in length). It’s a pretty comprehensive process.

      The science building we’re in is one of the newer buildings, and the facilities are fairly good. Each classroom has video projection with whiteboards, and there are windows! You can see the Bosphorus from some of the rooms. Our physics office looks out onto a back road and trees. There are amazing views from several places on campus of the Bosphorus; I especially like sitting in the library on the veranda. This reminds me that I need to take some pictures around campus to share with everyone.


      1. Maybe you can attend a conference (or 2) in a new country!

        Thinking of evaluations: Private school accreditation is a big deal for schools that need to be approved by the US State Dept. Is there anything like this for Roberts College?


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