Gary Fletcher: “We are very lucky, I hope it goes on forever”

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Mr. Gary Fletcher was not born and raised in Turkey but somehow destiny brought him first to Turkey and then to Darüşşafaka. He has been teaching English in Darüşşafaka for the last three years and contributing to raising the students who will be the future of Turkey. We met with him and spoke about his experience here. He is amazed by the mission and students of Darüşşafaka and we are amazed by his devotion to Darüşşafaka. 

Mr. Gary Fletcher is one of the native speaker English teachers at Darüşşafaka and he has been a member of the Daçka Family for the last three years. He is 54 years old and originally from the South West of England, near the city of Bath. He served in the British Army for 20 years and lived outside his country, generally in Germany. He is coming from a military family. His parents, brothers and sister were all in the military just like him. All of his family lives in England and he visits them at least twice a year and certainly every Christmas.

He has been living in Turkey for 11 years. According to him, what brought him here was actually coincidence or chance. “In the British Army if you do your full time, for the last three years you can retrain for civilian life. When I finished the military, I chose teaching. I decided I couldn’t imagine living back in England because I haven’t been there for so long. I applied online for teaching jobs. I had three offers: Istanbul, Istanbul and Istanbul… So I thought, let me try Istanbul. And I came. It was a rocky start but when I got into it, I fell in love with the place and I stayed.” 

“I knew I would do anything to come here” 

This is his third year at Darüşşafaka. He worked in two other schools before being a Daçka teacher. He explains how he joined the team by chance through Model United Nations: “I actually brought my students from my previous school to an MUN conference here and I was introduced to some of these amazing kids. And then when I found out that there was a place here, I knew I would do anything to come. I was very lucky.” He describes teaching in Darüşşafaka as ‘an amazing opportunity’ and continues, “20 years ago if I was told I would be teaching at a school like Darüşşafaka, I would think ‘how could I have a chance like that?’ But just by different coincidences, it came true. I have luck on my side. When I wake up in the morning and I think about these students and what we are trying to do, that makes me get out of the bed.”  

This year he is teaching grades 11 and 12. He is also working with the students who will take the TOEFL exam. In general, his relationship with his students gives him joy of life and life energy. “I guess in a word, my experience in Darüşşafaka is unique” says Mr. Fletcher and he says that along with the students learning, he is also learning from them. And he says he definitely feels ‘love’ here. “You have relationships with your students wherever you teach, but here they really go above and beyond that, they really care about you. And you can’t help but care about them. Generally you have students that just want to come and chat to you or hug you. That’s all it takes, sometimes. Just to give them a hug and say they are doing great. And you can see they lift up. Even on my duty day when I am in the corridor, they will just want to come and chat. It is wonderful. You don’t get that in other places. In most places they see the teacher coming and they want to avoid you. These guys come and find you. They need more than just a teacher who is going to instruct them, walk out of the class and leave them to their work. They want someone who is going to give them that extra hug, assurance, time, just to let them know you care about their well being, what they are thinking, what’s happening in their life. They just want to know you care. I am still in touch with some of my students from previous years here. I guess I will be in touch with them forevermore.” 

Mr. Fletcher argues that the mission of Darüşşafaka is so important because they literally are molding the students to be the future of Turkey. He always tries to give his students a wider view of the world and open their minds. At a boarding school like Darüşşafaka, education is not confined to the classroom but instead it is always ongoing in life. He says he enjoys having conversations with his students about the topics that interest them. “The students are so interested in everything. It is nice to give them a chance to explore the world through my experiences. They are like sponges, they will soak up every little bit of information you can tell them, especially about outside of Turkey. They always ask me what my family and friends think about Turkey and Turkish people. They are speaking English to me to ask these things. They don’t realize because they are curious about something, they come to me and we have a conversation. It is better than actually a lesson where we are giving them worksheets. Much more useful.” 

“Our students always amaze me, I dont know why...”

He says he is always amazed by seeing how well his students do in inclass performance projects. “They have to work on it and then perform it for you. It is a chance for them to actually stand, speak and show you their skills on a given topic. They put in so much effort and you can see that they are proud of their work. They are nervous to do it but once they get out there and start, it is great to see them. Well this is our job, to try to get these guys to speak and all of it is just wonderful.”

Mr. Fletcher is one of the teachers responsible for the Darüşşafaka MUN Club. He says the students in the club are amazing and he is really proud of them. “I would like to take all the teachers and students, say ‘come and look at what your friends are doing’. They debate with people, some of which are native speakers, and they are debating on topics from a country that is not even their own country. There is a different point of view, it might not even be their point of view, but they have to stick with it. It is so incredible to see them do it. You go to one of these trips, you come back and you love them even more. And we never have any problems. I would take these students anywhere, anytime. Our students always amaze me, I don’t know why... I should be stopped being amazed by now, but no.” 

He says he has hundreds of memories but one of them is particularly special for him. Last year he and another teacher, Tracey Jordan, were asked right at the last minute to accompany 10th grade students in a trip to Cappadocia for a weekend. “I didn’t know what to expect. I rushed home, packed a bag, not knowing anything. I have never been to Cappadocia until then. It was a wonderful weekend. We were on the bus, we were given some students that we were in charge of. But there was none of the formality of the classroom, the students could chill out and chat to us and they did. They loved chatting to us, spending time with us, showing us their country, Cappadocia. The tour guides were all Turkish, and at first we thought it was going to be a long weekend because we won’t understand anything. However the students were our tour guides. It was like one long and very informal English lesson. And it will stay with me forever. Such a fantastic experience.” 

He believes that Darüşşafaka is unique because of its mission and the people who devote themselves to this mission. “I don’t think there is anywhere in the world quite like Darüşşafaka because the way it is run and the whole mentality of everybody that works for Darüşşafaka. Everyone I know that works here is doing it because they want to work with these students and do what we can for them.”

What he likes most about Darüşşafaka is the students. “Who does not like them?” he asks, “Because they are fantastic. I really enjoy my time with them. Being with them always makes you feel so proud. You really are doing something useful. And of course I love working with my colleagues. We have a great group here, we are all of the same mindset. We are very lucky, I hope it goes on forever.” 

Mr. Fletcher happily says Turkey is like his second home now and he is planning to stay with the Darüşşafaka kids. “I actually love Turkish culture and Turkish people. And now it is hard to tell the difference, where is home. I am going to hang on to the end.”

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