Windham Middle School Teacher Travels to Turkey

February 14, 2014

by Jillian DiPersio, Windham High School Intern

When you think of the country Turkey, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  How do you perceive the culture, the government and the people?

Patsy Beaver, a seventh grade history teacher in Windham, experienced Turkey firsthand this past summer.  She went on a tour throughout most of the country as a part of a program run by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.  “People in many countries, especially in the United States I’m afraid, feel that Turkey, being a Muslim country, is similar to Saudi Arabia,” explains Beaver.  “It’s not at all.  It’s a totally different Muslim culture.”

“A wonderful way to educate people is through teachers,” says Beaver.  For the past seven years the foundation has been bringing teachers from the United States to Turkey to help inform Americans about the Turkish culture.  “For one thing they have a secular government, so there is a separation of church and state … and freedom of religion and the respect for other religions and cultures has always been a big part of their culture,” she explains.

In order to be selected for the program each teacher had to apply through the World Affairs Council.  The teachers who applied had to develop a program in which they would promote Turkish culture in their communities and curriculums.  Beaver was accepted after planning to expand upon the role of the Hittites in ancient culture when teaching about civilizations before ancient Greece.  “For instance,” she says, “the Treaty of Kadesh between the Hittites and Egyptians is the oldest written treaty to survive … [preserved in the form of] clay tablets found at an excavation of a Hittite royal palace.”  She also planned to be involved in the sixth grade geography classes, putting together a presentation for the younger students about Turkey.

The primary component of her plan was to create a program for the fourth and fifth grade students on Turkey.  She hopes to work with the town librarian to put this plan into action this coming summer or fall.  Through this program young students can learn about the Turkish culture, including native foods, shadow puppet shows and a traditional form of water color painting that Beaver learned firsthand from a renowned artist.

Beaver’s group was made up of about 27 teachers with another group having toured the country two weeks prior.  Not all of the teachers specialized in history like Beaver; there were also English teachers, art teachers and librarians among others.

Their tour of Turkey began in Istanbul.  The group then took a 2,000 miles trek around the country by bus, finishing the journey in Ankara, the country’s capital, before flying back to Istanbul to return to the United States.

Beaver’s favorite stops along the route included Troy, Ephesus, and Çatalhöyük.  Having taught for years about ancient culture, seeing these cities and villages was an amazing experience for Beaver.  Ephesus is a major excavation site, much like Pompeii.  Çatalhöyük, another excavation site, is one of the oldest Neolithic villages in the world at about 9,500 years old.  In 2012, it was designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site.  “It was first excavated over 50 years ago, but the current excavation, led by Dr. Ian Hodder, has been going on for almost 25 years,” she says.  The teachers on the trip had the opportunity to look through these findings.

“It was absolutely the most phenomenal trip of my life,” Beaver comments.  For me, personally, interviewing my seventh grade history teacher about her trip was an extraordinary experience in and of itself and proved to me that some of our teachers never stop teaching us.  There is still much to tell about her trip, from the Turkish protests over the summer to a Ramadan celebration.  Be sure to look for more of Ms. Beaver’s story in the next edition.