On my first day of teaching English in Istanbul, I was thrust into the classroom without so much as a book or a clue.

I had been hired as a teacher at a fairly conservative school, where the students were all of mixed abilities. Some were able to have fluent conversations, while others could barely speak. So, I was pretty nervous about how to handle myself and wanted to be careful not to be offensive.

After introducing myself, the department head walks in, without knocking, and tells me I need to teach the students until lunch time. So it was going to be a three and a half hour class, with no idea what to do.

After I stopped panicking, I thought of more icebreaker activities to try and keep momentum going. Of course it failed, and after awhile while of trying to think of something to say all I could muster were a series of “uuhhm’s.”

“Uhm,” little to my knowledge at the time, rhymes with a particularly inappropriate word in Turkish – which is all my students understood from my struggle to fill the lesson. I started to notice some giggling in the classroom, with a couple of other kids looking shocked, like deers in the headlights. Thinking the kids were giggling at my poor presentation skills, my embarrassment only got worse.

I panicked more, and my nervous reaction was to also do that thing where you snap your fingers and then clap your fist into your open hand. This got everyone’s attention.

I finally decided to do that embarrassing, “what’s so funny,” teacher thing. All the students began shaking their heads frantically. I had to carefully assure my best speaking student that he wouldn’t get in trouble for swearing in order to discover that I’d been muttering the word “c**t” and flipping off my students for 20 minutes.

An excellent first impression.

Featured images courtesy of Talya Baker and Sveta Nekrasova.

Awkward Tales from the ‘Bul is a series of the funny, strange and utterly confusing experiences we experience in Istanbul. 

To contribute to this series, email your submission or query to: editor@yabangee.com.

David Jaques
Dave has been in Istanbul since 2014 by way of Chicago and Oakland, CA. When he isn't working, he's exploring the Country for the best: kebabs, dive bars, or next locations to write about on his blog (amanwithoutacontinent.com). You can usually find him on his couch reading or watching Netlfix, or about town at a basketball game or concert.


  1. OHMYGOD! I can relate to this so much. I only recently started working weekends at a language school here in Istanbul. The levels of the students vary so much, with teenagers being so bad and kids being extremely clever, just like David mentioned. Teaching isn’t particularly easy in some classes, but I am enjoying it so much with the kids.

    And I tried to reduce my “uhm”s as much as possible.


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