A-West teacher brings Turkish perspective to classroom


Each year, students bring a slew of experiences with them into the classroom.

This year, Arvada West High School history teacher John Gallup will include an international experience that expands his students’ education into his classroom.

Gallup, who teaches American history and world history at Arvada West, was one of four Denver-area teachers to participate in the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s Teacher Study Tour program this summer. A total of 54 teachers nationwide participated.

“I looked at Turkey from an historical standpoint, and I hadn’t really looked at it specifically as a country,” Gallup said. “But in world history it is as important of a geographical location as there is in the world. Once I really started putting all these pieces together, I felt it was a place I had to go see.”

Gallup was selected by the World Affairs Council and TCF to participate in the program.

During the trip, Gallup and fellow teachers toured a variety of historical sites, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Bursa, the first capital of the former Ottoman Empire, the Celsus Library and Catalhoyuk, a 7,000-year-old Neolithic settlement.

“There were a lot of highlights,” Gallup said. “It exceeded any expectation I could have possibly imagined. It’s the amount of different groups of people, the different cultures that have lived, ruled, passed through or influenced the area — it’s such a key place. The history there was obviously important to me, from the Romans and Byzantines and the Persians and all the way back to Catalhoyuk from 7,000 B.C. Early man has history there, all the way up to today. There was nothing that didn’t amaze me.”

Two of Gallup’s favorite sites, though, were Cappadocia and Old Istanbul.

Cappadocia is a group of natural geographic formations created by volcanic explosions millions of years ago and shaped through erosion, he said, that humans then carved their homes into; many former homes have been converted to restaurants and hotels, Gallup said.

“That was amazing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that and probably never will again ... Old Istanbul would be another one. The mosques and the churches that have been preserved and the marketplaces — the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar were unbelievable.”

In addition to taking in the culture and history of Turkey, Gallup and the other American teachers spent time with Turkish teachers talking about education and the importance of Turkey, Gallup said.

“It was great to get another perspective and to understand how they teach and what they teach and the importance of education in Turkey and how the education system works,” Gallup said.

Gallup said Turkey is facing many of the same issues America faces with its education system, such as overpopulation in the classroom and too few teachers. However, he said the Turkish education system is very well-wired in terms of technology in the classroom.

“I didn’t know what their education system would be like and I was very impressed with it actually,” he said. “Even in school that was way out kind of in the middle of nowhere, they had technology — they had laptops, they had wireless, they had overhead projectors and science labs. It was very impressive.”

Universities are also free in Turkey.

Of everything Gallup learned, he said the biggest lesson was that Americans have no idea about Turkey.

“There’s a whole bunch of misconceptions about that area of the world and I came away extremely impressed with their country,” Gallup said.

During the first part of the trip, Turkish students were protesting the democratic government’s plans to tear down one of few parks in Old Istanbul to build buildings.

“They were exercising their democratic right to free speech, just as we have, and they won,” Gallup said. “The court sided with the protesters and the government cannot tear down the park. It’s democracy in action and it was wonderful to see.”

Also in his travels, Gallup said he met refugees living in Turkey from surrounding countries.

“It tells me that Turkey and their people and government, even though it’s predominantly populated by one religion, Islam, they welcome anybody who is trying to escape abuse or corruptive government,” he said. “They are wonderfully welcoming people.”

Gallup said he is going to incorporate all that he learned while in Turkey into his classes this year.

His world history classes will be making a timeline of world history that will be displayed in his classroom. The top timeline will feature the eras of world history they study, and a bottom timeline will feature Turkey’s connection to that world event.

“We’ll specifically have a Turkey timeline so students can see the importance of this location,” Gallup said.

For his American history classes, Gallup said he will incorporate modern events, such as the Syrian issue and the Turkish government’s support of refugees, to American history, such as refugees in World War II.

“I’ll incorporate it much more just automatically because there is so much more I know now than I did then,” Gallup said. “One of the `whys’ that I teach is to develop in students a critical thinking skill that has a world viewpoint, not just an Arvada viewpoint or an American viewpoint. The more culture and unique places I can bring back to the students expands on that world viewpoint.”

As part of the program, Gallup is doing presentations to civic groups about Turkey. For more information about having Gallup speak with a group about his experience in Turkey and the Turkish culture, email Gallup at jgallup@jeffco.k12.co.us.


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