Why am I writing about Mr. Wolfgang Wamlek, my High School English teacher?Was he the most influential teacher in my life?Or was he one of my idols that I based my principals in life on?The answer is no.Let me tell you why I am writing about this wonderful man.
I have lived in the United States since 1973.It has been 32 years.I was born in Turkey and came to this country when I was 26 years old.I have Master's of Arts Degree from the PennsylvaniaStateUniversity.I never pursued a profession commensurate with my degree.Instead I chose the service sector.
Wolfgang Wamlek was born in Austria.He came to Turkey when he was 35.He taught English at the AustrianHigh School, Sankt Georg's College in Istanbul.He stayed in Turkey for 32 years.He was also a lector at BogaziciUniversity.His title read: Master of Arts Professor.
Yes , there are few similarities between I and Herr Wamlek but this is not the reason why I am writing about my High School English teacher. But before I get into that, let me tell you little bit about my High School:Sankt Georg's or Saint George.The school was founded in 1882 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. I entered Sankt Georg in the fall term of 1958.I was only eleven then.
The school at the time was a boarding school.We were the " leyli" or boarding students. They also had "nihari" , or students who lived in their own homes.The school consisted of the " Knaben Schule" or BoysSchool and the "Madchen Schule" or the GirlsSchool.The two were connected only by a single small door which always stayed locked. During my seven years in the school , I have never seen the Madchen Schule. The “Schwesters" at the Madchen Schule and the "Priests" at the Knaben Schule made sure that we did not interact.
I did not go to through the preparatory class which was designed to teach Turkish children basic German. I had lived in Germany for one year when I was in fourth grade. Hence, I spoke fluent " Deutch" and was used to boarding school since I had stayed at the "Evangelishe Kinder Heim " in Dusseldorf.
I was the youngest pupil in my class and came to regret not going thru the preparatory class.One year at that age means a lot for your maturity and development and I always had felt like , I was trying to catch-up.I was a student who always survived and my grades showed that.
We had a very strict school schedule.Wake up call was at in the morning. There were three Sleep Quarters with thirty to forty students in each.We would get up, refresh ourselves, put our clothes on and rush to the "Etud" or Study Hall. There we would finish our remaining homework from the day before and wait for Herr Pruczinsky's signal: "Also Kinder" or "Let's Go Kids".Herr Pruczinsky was the Direktor of Boarding School and we called him among our selves "Sakal" or "The Beard".With the first " Also Kinder" we would assemble on top of the stairs and with the second command the hundred or so Kinder would march four stories down to the Eating Quarters, with the General Herr Prucinsky in front. Rap, Rap, Rap....
Classes started at and lasted to with ten minute "Pause" or breaks in between.The School had a court yard about fifty by twenty yards. This is where we spent most of our time in the afternoon, playing basketball or soccer on the concrete court. We had another "Etud "after our dinner, to study and finish our homework.On rainy days we stayed in study halls and played either ping-pong or langirt (fussball). Some played a game on the desks, using coins as opposing teams’ soccer players and another coin as the ball.
We were virtually cut off from the outside world .T.V did not exist in Turkey then and we were not allowed transistor radios.However there was one radio we could listen to in the Ping-pong room.We were allowed go out of the school premises only on Wednesday afternoons for few hours.Then on weekends we had a half school day on Saturdays, which ended at .We could go and visit with our relatives and come back either Sunday night or Monday morning. Since my parents lived in Ankara, I always stayed with my grandmother or uncle and reported back to school Monday mornings.
The curriculum was hard from the start. All courses like Chemistry, Biology, Math etc., was taught in German.We not only studied Turkish literature but also German literature was required and some other courses like Commerce, Descriptive Geometry were compulsories.In sixth grade we had to start English as a second foreign language and in ninth grade Latin as third. Often times or every other year I had to study during the summer vacation to pass for one or two make-up exams.You were only allowed three makeups maximum, but you had to pass them at fall term to be allowed to the next class.Although I always passed the "Ikmal Imtihani" and never failed the class, the fear of not passing still gives me nightmares and chills today.Some of our evaluation criteria on our grades consisted of subjective grades like, "Betragen" or Behavior, "Fleiss" or Perseverance and "Disziplin ".My grade was always 10/10 in Behavior and Discipline but six in Perseverance.
Now among all these courses and teachers why do I think Mr. Wamlek had a big influence on my life?It is very simple.Had he not taught me English, I probably would not be living in the United States today.You see, then it was a lot harder to come to this country. There were no green card lotteries the "quotas" were a lot smaller and the requirements of competence in English higher.For me to come to the States I had to pass the "Teufel" (i.e. “devil” as we called TOEFL) exam which was a prerequisite to study in this country.I passed Teufel with relative ease because I believe Wamlek's 6 corresponded to an 8 or 9 in any other high school.
Mr. Wamlek was a very pleasant yet a very discipline oriented instructor.He was in his mid thirties, a handsome man with his thick brown hair combed to the side. He always carried a nice smile.He was a structured man who wore a grey long over jacket to protect clothes from chalk dust.Another of his trade marks was his red ink used to correct exams and homework assignments.
Every month or so there was a teacher-parent conference day and teachers talked to parents about their children’s progress. Since most of the teachers were Austrian and did not speak Turkish, they used their best students as translators.Although Herr Wamlek graded me with a six all the time, I was his interpreter during most of these conferences.
Our English study book, an Austrian publication was called " Peter Pim" , a young English boy and his adventures. Peter Pim always ate ham and eggs for breakfast.Oddly enough his second book was called "Peter Pim in the U.S.A.”We would read the book in the class and whenever the number" 3" was pronounced Mr Wamlek would stop us and say:
"TREE ist der Baum. ..Three, Three..."
You see most Turks can not pronounce the " th" , and the pronunciation of the number will resemble the word tree which translated to German is Der Baum.
For some reason this, "Tree ist der Baum” stuck with me all my life. Even my two daughters, when they were kids, and my wife learned this terminology and use it to this day.In other words, Herr Wamlek was always in or family in an indirect way.
This year on April 25, 2005 we had our 40th year class reunion at Sankt George, which was one of the most unforgettable days of my life.Before attending this trip, I started to look at the Sankt George website to update myself about the school and my friends.Among the news, one headline struck me immediately:
Herr Wamlek Gestorben
Herr Wamlek had died two years ago in June of 2003 at the age of 81 in Austria.I started reading his obituary.And then I read his last message to his students.All of a sudden tears started coming from my eyes, it seemed like something got stuck in my throat.What's the matter said my wife and my younger daughter Esra, 20
I said ; Tree ist der Baum is gone. Mr . Wamlek has died, two years ago.