In Turkey, November 24th is Teacher’s Day.
Inside and outside of one of my cards. (We are still practicing articles. There are none in Turkish. My kids think they are tricky—clearly.)
Teacher’s day is a serious business in Turkey. To understand why, a little history is necessary. It was only 90 years ago, in 1923, that five years of primary education became compulsory and publically funded. It was not until 1951 that middle schools were introduced and eight years of education became available to the public. It was only in 1997 that it became compulsory to complete 8th grade.
Comparing it to the U.S., it may seem strange that children have only been required to finish 8th grade for 15 years, however it is a matter of when and where education began. In 1923, when Atatürk created the public education system, only 10 % of the population was literate.
He had big goals and wanted his country to be modern, to do this he knew literacy was needed, at the least. However by 1926 there were only 200 teachers in Turkey and to accomplish his goal to provide publically funded education to children until the 5th grade he needed about 3000. There were simply not enough teachers in the country.
Teacher Education programs were quickly established, though the dearth of teachers is one of the reasons for the tradition of large class sizes (in recent times about 4o or 50 students in a class in public schools, 30 in private). For all of the challenges, from 1923 to 1999 the official illiteracy rate lowered from 90% to 14.3%, a tremendous drop in about 75 years (Karakaşoğlu, 2007, p. 790).
Due to the historical context of education in this country, teachers are greatly valued. The term “Hocam” (my teacher) is an honorific and a very respectful salutation . There is no difference in terminology for a university professor with a PhD from a primary school teacher—they are all considered equally important and are all “Hocam.” On Teacher’s Day in Turkey, students present their teachers with chocolates and flowers, sometimes other presents too. In the past, in addition to the lovely home-made cards and sweet letters, I have received a set of towels, scarves, mugs, and even sweaters! On Teacher’s Day our school gives bonuses based on how many years you have been at the institution. For some of the older teachers the bonus is equivalent or exceeds a month’s salary. For me, it was a meaningful gift ( almost $300). Some students even visit their former, retired teachers at home on Teacher’s Day. It is very interesting to me that as a “Developing” country Turkey is able to financially reward teachers to such an extent. I worked in the U.S. as a teacher and was never even wished a “Happy Teacher’s Day,” let alone a gift from your employer!
P.S.There is a Teacher’s Day in the U.S., it is on Tuesday during Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place in the first full week of May—Who Knew?