Science High School
Status: Public High School
Interviewee: Uygar Turgut, Head of School
“ Age-related challenges in the school mainly revolve around experienced teachers who are hesitant to embrace project-based learning due to the traditional exam-focused education system in Turkey. ”
“ The challenges include adapting to new teaching methods, changes in exam question types, and resistance to digital learning tools. ”
“ Motivation for change is driven by the desire to improve students' education and address generational differences in mindset. The principal's authority to assess teacher performance after four years is not explicitly mentioned but has an unspoken influence.. ”
“ Age discrimination and conflicts between younger and older teachers are concerns in some schools, highlighting the need for campaigns to address these issues. ”
“ Feedback and regular communication with teachers are essential to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of measures. ”
Do you face any issues and problems related to the age of your teachers? Please, describe the situation in your school in a few words.
We are a school with an abundance of teachers who have between 25-30 years of experience. Mostly, this provides a wealth of experience. Sometimes I face problems regarding the age of our teachers, though. We are a project type high school in Turkey, so the curriculum of the lessons in our school is focused on project based learning. At least, this is what the Ministry is asking from our type of school. However, there seems to be a paradox here since the whole education system is based on exams, such as university entrance exams or high school entrance exams. Therefore, teachers don’t want to get involved in project based learning because it is a specific field where teachers must train themselves to teach students how to write or create projects and get them to learn the skills that will help them ask questions in order to invent new ideas. Secondly, the type of the questions in exams change substantially, this is called the “new generation” question type. In our school, most teachers don’t have any problems adapting themselves to that type of question, but the picture is not the same in other schools that I witness everyday. Besides, books in general lead teachers to learn the type of questions and the more they solve or answer that type of question, the faster and more effectively they adapt themselves.
In terms of teachers, we are a mixed group in our school. There are teachers who have 25 to 33 years experience in this profession and there is another group which is made up of teachers who have 15 to 20 years experience. There is a good relationship between the groups and each group supports the other in many ways. For instance, the more experienced teachers sometimes have problems using technology in their classes and the younger teachers give them a hand to learn how to use the technology, applications or programs, so there is no discrimination against each other. However, both groups have hard times coping with the mindset of today's generation. Oftentimes, discussions take place about the behaviour and attitudes of the students towards the lessons and teachers. As we are a school that takes students through an entrance exam, our teachers tend to give more homework than other schools and ask slightly more difficult questions compared to other types of high schools. Thus, students and their parents complain about that situation and even sometimes they apply to the official authorities for an investigation. Older teachers are more fragile when they encounter such situations and they get more disappointed and stressed, sometimes causing them to end their professional life.
What are the reasons that led to these problems?
A good teacher is someone who is constantly developing, learning new ways to present a set of concepts, putting a new perspective on certain ideas, all with the aim of getting pupils to see things from a different point of view. Our teachers are, generally speaking, good at test based education. Nevertheless, our school is expected to create projects and educate the students through the projects that teachers and students work on together, the teachers in our school aren’t likely to be interested in developing themselves to implement project based teaching. Learning new things and changing your perspective take time and the process is full of pain from the beginning. I believe that experienced older teachers have a skill set that only comes with having taught hundreds of classes. However, as for new styles of teaching methods, our teachers are reluctant to apply them to their teaching style. However, there is an acceptable reason behind their attitude. The parents of the students send their children to our school to improve their skills in tests such as Maths and Biology, which will enable them to go to university rather than broadening their horizons. There is also another good reason behind not trying new methods, that is money of course. The longer they have been in the profession, the higher their salary. Why would older teachers choose to learn new techniques and methods and spend their time suffering from learning which never brings them extra money and does not make their life more meaningful?
What measures have been put in place in your organisation to prevent or address these issues?
First of all, I have meetings in person to convince the teachers to adapt themselves to the recent conditions and try to explain why they should develop themself in terms of projects, giving reasons such as the ministry following the schools online and warning the schools which haven’t applied any kind of projects, and trying to motivate them when facing such problems. Secondly, I kindly ask the teachers to form a group to work together on whatever they would like to work on, such as increasing students motivation, global warming, time management, creating a product that will be useful and makes a difference in our lives. I would like to make sure it will be a mixed group of teachers, the ones good at using technology and creating projects and the ones who have a little knowledge of technology and creating projects.
I am one of the lucky principals because we are eligible to assess the performance of the teachers and terminate the teacher’s working period after he/she works four years in my school. I never force the teachers to do the things I want them to do and talk to them nicely and kindly, however, my authority to cancel their employment status at our school seems to be like a sanction for them, which I never mention, though.
Are you aware of the advantages and disadvantages of these measures (in use or planned)?
All the measures taken are for ensuring the satisfaction and happiness of the teachers. As we all know, classrooms aren`t factories, teachers aren't creating commercial products, or providing a direct service to the paying public but they are creating the next generation of workers who will, years down the line, find their place in society. Without happy and satisfied teachers, this would never happen.
Experienced teachers are put under more scrutiny than younger colleagues in order to force them out. Age discrimination has become one of the biggest concerns among teachers. Young teachers are blaming them for being out-dated, not innovative and earning higher salaries. Although we don’t have that kind of problem in our school, in some schools it is deeply rooted. Sometimes, older teachers shoot the younger ones down as well, though. Putting a motion on campaigning to end age discrimination at schools will be one of the biggest advantages to establish peace between the teachers and secure success.
What are the positive effects of the measures introduced?
Explaining the reasons behind the measures and getting in touch with the teachers seems to work better now than before. We now have more teachers who are involved in projects and working with the students on different topics. The number of teachers is not yet enough, but it is a good start. Previous principals talked to the teachers in a way that made them feel kind of intimidated and threatened, making use of their authority.
How are or could these measures be monitored and evaluated?
I always ask for feedback at regular intervals from the teachers when I give them duties. We assess their work together and exchange our opinions. If needed, I let them know my suggestions and also note their suggestions and ideas on the topic we discuss. To be honest, there are still teachers who resist the changes or attempts to keep up with the developments in education. I don’t want to put them under pressure and discourage them, either. I think, in fact, I feel sympathy for them as well because it is not easy to break the bias and change the behaviour of the teachers who have taught their students how to be successful in a test throughout his/her career. We need a mutual understanding.
What other measures do you think could or should be introduced to tackle this issue?
We need a campaign for effective and supportive employment practices in schools that values and supports older teachers and calls for recognition from all governments and administrations of the valuable contribution which experienced teachers make. The state shouldn’t test the teachers when deciding if they are an expert teacher or a head teacher. Instead of asking them to take the test, the state should apply for the functions of management, which are planning, organising, staffing, and most importantly directing and controlling to keep the older teachers in the system safely and rationally. It is not the only the responsibility of principals or head teachers.
Which specific activities maintaining age-related measures - whether formal or informal - have you introduced in your organisation?
I have already mentioned some of them above the questions, I guess. My last point would be that the longer teachers have to work, the greater the chance there is of them ending up with unwanted, serious health concerns. Capabilities of people change and hardly anyone is the same. One day, we will be one of them and what you sow is what you reap, so feeling sympathy and empathy will help us as principals to overcome almost all of the problems. Last but not least, in our education system, principals do not have a right to choose his/her staff apart from in project-based schools like us! All in all, we must protect and look after the older teacher as the apple of our eyes ☺