I was to be one of the many pre school teachers starting at a private school in Istanbul this August. As a trained early childhood, primary and secondary trained teacher with certification and at least one year’s experience in each of these areas I never doubted my abilities and came to Turkey with glowing references and a lot of ambition.
I gave up two other contract offers in different countries to come to Turkey. I had been to Turkey once before and loved it; so naturally once I made up my mind I began learning Turkish, saving money and gathering together all the paperwork--expensive.
I came to Turkey, began training and bonded with many of my co-workers. Needless to say I was surprised that a majority of the people I got to know, particularly at the primary-secondary level were not even trained teachers.
None of us had begun classroom teaching and most of our training days were spent in HR oriented matters.
A week into training I was pulled into a meeting with the general manager and asked: “What’s wrong with your foot?”
I have tight ankle tendons and when I walk one foot does not always touch the ground. This is simply a result of premature birth. To most people who I have met this is not only a.) not recognizable (in case you are imaging some sort of club footed mutant!) it is b.) not an issue. My foot is not in pain, in a degenerative condition and needs no special accommodations---which I emphasized.
I’ve traveled extensively around the world, run at least four miles a week and been a fantastic teacher---which at times has meant running after kids of all ages, putting their personal safety first and some pretty demanding excursions I.e. a two hour long hike along the beach.
I was told at that meeting that my issue would be taken to ‘the board’ but until then I could not officially be assigned a class. I was shocked.
I made it clear that I had sacrificed a lot to take their contract and every effort should be made to find me a class somewhere----and since the entire system runs preK- year 12 with around 5 schools and 2000 students and I have the experience/certification this was not the most irrational request.
Fast forward two days later: apparently they could find no vacancies. I asked immediately who ‘the board’ was and was not granted an answer. I was offered one month salary and all my flight. I called this out for exactly what it is: unfounded discrimination and prejudice.
Their response: ‘You can’t do the job because of your foot’ and ‘…children’s safety concerns because of your foot.’ Now as I stated earlier: HR had not seen anyone teach, I am a trained classroom teacher who has always put children first and often had primary duty of care. I know what I can do and this job I could have done.
I tried to compromise with the manager and suggested that if she actually had doubts to let me teach on a probation period. I offered to wait another couple of weeks so that perhaps a position at an older age level could be found. They would not budge.
It was horrible how quickly all my experience and qualifications were discounted. The manager who was not the least bit sympathetic kept insisting that I ‘should have told them.’ I was told that had they known I would not have been hired!
…. Told them what? About something that goes unrecognized by everyone and had never, ever impacted my work before?
I do believe they rescinded my contract not because of my foot but rather because of what they were afraid observant parents would think. Even early on in training it was made clear to us that these parents could be quite elitist and sheltered. I am sure had I even met one parent this would not have been an issue. I am dedicated to my work, of good character and for the elitist: young, attractive and ‘European looking’ (I am actually biracial.)
I was allowed to stay in an apartment until I could decide what I wanted to do. Friends and colleagues suggested I take my case to court. I wish I could have but did not want to go through a legal process that was likely to be slow, difficult as I am not a fluent Turkish speaker and expensive. I also was weary at this point of any other ‘school’ in Istanbul. I took the money and went home.
I cannot explain just how deeply emotional and painful this situation has been. I have cried (I am a lady) almost everyday since this happened. I truly love being a teacher and definitely wanted to make a life for myself in Istanbul. I was so ambitious and grateful to have this job that I even bought gifts for my classroom teacher and students that I would never get to meet.