I think good Teaching Mentorship requires a number of experiences and attitudes. First, one must have gone through various challenges as a TA and learned from them. Second, one must be passionate to share their experiences to produce helpful content for incoming TA’s. Third, one must enjoy being part of a big organization and create an inclusive space for everyone coming from diverse backgrounds. I believe that I am an excellent candidate in all these respects.
First, I am an experienced TA who has already found ways to deal with particular challenges some of which are caused by being a non-native woman coming from an Islamic country. No doubt that some of the incoming TA’s will face the same challenges at some point, and I think I can make sure that they are prepared as much as possible.
In Turkey, TAships are very rare and include administrative work in addition to academic work. In the Philosophy Department at Bogazici University, there were only 3 TAship positions, two of which were already occupied when I started my MA. I was selected for the available one in the first year of my MA and TA’d for 3 classes until I graduated. So I was very confident as a TA before moving to the US. I thought I had been helpful for the students though I was only an MA student back then, I had had no authority problems though I was only a few years more experienced than my students and clearly no communication problems since my students liked me and my sections. I thought teaching would be the least of my concerns in my first semester in the US. I was wrong.
The students were much different than I was used to. As a TA, I was expected to motivate students and engage them in discussions without making them feel uncomfortable. This was never an issue in Turkey since students are usually not nervous about making mistakes. So the awkward silences were new to me. I thought I would call on people to make them talk, but soon I realized (through the mid-term evaluations) they hated it. Since then I have been working on ways to communicate to students that mistakes are OK.
Another obvious problem I had was the language barrier. Not only it was difficult to explain complex ideas, but I also did not know how to say basic things like "Please put away your books" or "we've run out of time". These may look like petty details, but it feels undermining for one’s confidence and authority. That is why I suggest the International TA Orientation team to make a list of all the basic classroom expressions and go over them during the orientation. This is not to say that the challenges are limited to vocabulary. I still suffer from being non-native and a foreigner as a teacher, but now I better know my limitations and I try to build my teaching persona accordingly. For example, in Turkey, my teaching persona was laid-back but respected and I played the elder sister since students already took me as a role model. Now I know that it is very hard for the majority of students to take me as a role model as they used to do in Turkey, because I am too different from them. It is very hard for me to be a laid-back but respected TA, because this requires a very nuanced way of communication which is impossible with the linguistic skills I have. That is why I built a different teaching persona here. I try to be serious but welcoming, professional but fair. My teaching evaluations show me that it is working.
Second, sharing my experiences in a productive way is one of the things I try to do in many contexts. I believe in improving as a community, and I try to build and contribute to communities to share experiences. For example, I am part of the Syracuse Tango community, and as an advanced dancer, I take responsibility to teach beginners at the weekly practica and monthly milonga. Also, I have reanimated the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) Syracuse Chapter two years ago. One of the most acclaimed events I organized as the MAP representative was a Chinese pronunciation workshop. I was TAing for Logic, that Chinese students often take as humanities elective, and I figured I did not know how to pronounce their name. So I organized this workshop for faculty and graduate students, which was very successful. Two Chinese graduate students led the workshop. Not only we learned how to call our students, but the change in power relations even for 2 hours was constructive for the departmental atmosphere. For the first time, Chinese students enjoyed the privilege of correcting others' speech. I think it was a refreshing experience and in fact, participants of the workshop asked me to ask the TA-orientation committee to include a similar workshop in the program. Now, together with my co-representative, I am working on establishing a network for all Upstate New York MAP chapters, starting with Cornell University MAP Chapters. My research itself is on the oppression of nonnative English speakers in the global context, and part of my motivation is to raise awareness and open up a discussion about this global phenomenon. I believe that it is important to know which difficulties we are going through are systemic and requires joint efforts to fight against, so that we can stop obsessing with the ones we cannot change and instead focus on the improvements we can make on the individual level.
The last point is about my organizational experiences. I have so many because as I advanced in my studies, I always sought ways to work in organizations, especially in culture and art. Here I will mention only a few. My very first experience was to work as an assistant to the project team at the Istanbul International Jazz Festival in 2007 and 2008 (https://caz.iksv.org/en). It was the first time that I felt the excitement of being a member of a big organization and of having a specific kind of responsibility which requires you to fix problems on the spot, even if your role is very small. This experience encouraged me to take responsibility to work as a producer of a Franco-Turkish Theater Company in 2010-2014. The fact that it was a semi-professional organization gave me the opportunity to learn how to motivate and organize people in informal settings.
After finishing my coursework in Syracuse, I took a leave of absence and went back to Turkey during 2017-2018 academic year. For 10 months, I worked as a project coordinator at Anadolu Kultur inc. (https://www.anadolukultur.org/EN/), which is one of the most prestigious and successful non-profit organizations in Turkey aiming to promote intercultural dialogue through art and culture projects. This experience gave me the opportunity to improve my creative and organizational skills. I had the chance to work with and learn from people who believed in social change at a small scale and also were experts in building dialogues using creative media. Our projects were mostly short and intense workshops that brought people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds.
For example, I worked at the New Film Fund Documentary Film Project. As part of the project, we planned and organized a 3-days workshop for documentary filmmakers in Turkey where they met each other, attended panels, worked on their current projects and had the chance to network. Since documentary film is one of the rare fields in Turkey where social justice issues can be discussed, the participants consisted of people concerned with various injustices in society. I also worked at the project development team of BAK, which is an education program for young photographers from the eastern and western cities of Turkey. The aim of the program is to foster dialogue between young artists as they learn how to look at the world together with different perspectives.
I believe that these experiences I explained above make me a competent candidate for the TA Orientation Program, which aims to create a safe and productive environment for people from different backgrounds, where they can learn together and from each other. I am excited to be a part of the TA Orientation program for the contributions I will make, people I will meet, insights I will have and the fun of the event itself.
*'Birlikte Güçlü' means strong together in Turkish.
The picture above is from the 2018 Women's March, Istanbul.