Çağrı Menteş: Teaching ESL in a virtual world

Elizabeth Moore

Dec 4, 2020

Educators around the world are sharing attention-grabbing tricks and virtual meeting hacks to help students focus for hours in front of screens. One of them, Çağrı Menteş, caught our eye when he posted a spooky story to YouTube on Halloween, narrating from the glowing moon of mmhmm’s Haunted House room.

Menteş, an ESL teacher in Istanbul, clearly has a knack for teaching online; his number of students has quadrupled since March. What’s more, he’s finally gotten people to switch to Zoom, which hardly anyone had heard of when he first asked his mostly adult students to try it in 2017.

We hopped on a Zoom call with Menteş, a self-described introvert who’d set himself up in a virtual library, to talk about what it’s like to teach a language online while stuck at home.

When did you start teaching ESL, and what’s it been like making the shift to teaching online?

I've been teaching for about 12 years, since 2008. I started with kids who were 10 years old, but now I mostly teach adults. I've actually never been to an English speaking country in my life. Since 2017, I've been running my own business, and was already teaching some classes online. Before COVID, I was doing 50/50 online versus face-to-face classes. Since March, it’s been 100% online. It’s actually gone really well. We have four times more students now.

Menteş wears a suit and tie teaching students in a classroom.

So much has changed for teachers in 2020. How is Covid impacting Istanbul, your own life, and the way you work?

The government imposed strict measures for COVID, so they closed all the private institutions and schools. They just recently opened the schools, but still it's optional. I have an 8-year-old son, and we don't send him to school. He has online lessons, so we will continue like that until the vaccines are ready.

Online course sales and enrollments really jumped. The cafes and shopping centers were closed, and these places are also used for private lessons, so everyone went online. I don't know if they have more time, but my students had to learn this technology. I’ve been using Zoom since 2017, but nobody knew Zoom in Turkey until now. I was giving that option, and they said they didn’t want that. But now, everyone knows how to do it and they like it. It's easier; they don't have to go out.

The best thing about mmhmm is that I can share my screen and the camera at the same time.

As an ESL teacher, what are you able to do online that you couldn’t do in person?

Actually, I prefer teaching online. I think it has more advantages, because we mostly use course books on language classes and practice speaking together, so we don't have to be side-by-side. In group lessons in a classroom setting, we often don't have a projector, and the computer screen is really small. But in virtual classrooms, I just share my screen, so I find it easier.

The best thing about mmhmm is that I can share my screen and the camera at the same time without sharing my screen separately on Zoom. That's actually a huge thing for us, for the countries that have bad internet connection. And the second thing is the laser pointer. I can just set a laser on and zoom in and out of a video or PDF of my book. I also like putting the slides in the bottom and changing them right there.

We actually say “mmhmm” in Turkish. The only problem was the spelling—I had to look it up, but eventually I got used to it and now I know how to write it correctly. But it’s clever in that there is a sound similar to “mmhmm” in most languages. And it’s fun; it reflects the company’s culture.

Menteş stands at a podium in front of a projector teaching adults ESL.

What’s the best thing that’s come out of the pandemic for you? 

I've learned how to cut my own hair. I cut my hair every month now, but every time I open YouTube and watch how to again. For men, it’s a hard thing. For our whole lives we go to the same barber in Turkey. So it was my big horror: If I have to move, what would I do? But now I know that I can cut my own hair, without getting help from somebody professionally.

And there’s another thing. Personally, I don't like socializing very much. Every time I was invited to something I had to find something to tell my friends, like I can’t come today because I have this or that. But now I don't have to find an excuse for it.