It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday night and I really should be going to bed… To sleep, actually, as I am already in bed as I type this. But first, some quick thoughts on things I have learned about teaching English in Indonesia.
Author’s note before you start reading: some of this post paints a less-than-ideal portrait of my time here. Please know that while there are definitely ups and downs to this year, it is mostly ups.
1. Don’t keep problems to yourself.
This is number one because today I saw the benefits of sharing problems with people at my school. The problem: miscommunication with my co-teacher (and Indonesian erratic scheduling, which is another beast entirely). The solution: my counterparts quite literally swooped into the teacher’s office and had an intervention. That’s never happened to me before. It was the perfect thing to do and I feel much better.
The back story: this week there has not been much class happening because the students are taking national midterm exams and there was a holiday on Wednesday. Last week there was not much class happening because there was a play on Monday and there were other things happening later in the week that kept class from happening but I can’t remember for the life of me what it was.
Either way, what this means for me is lots of extra time to sit around and sweat in the location of my choosing. I have been using the time to brainstorm lesson ideas for the rest of the semester, send lots of emails, plant metaphorical seeds for my small grant project, do Indonesiaful stuff, shoot the breeze with teachers and some students at school, and good things of that nature.
While all this downtime was novel at first, I am getting more than a little frustrated. I am here to make connections with people, which I can (and certainly do) make an effort to do outside of class, but I am also here to teach. And, believe it or not, I have found that I actually rather enjoy teaching. I spend time on lesson plans and making activities for students, and it is frustrating when that time spent was for naught because class is canceled. It is equally frustrating when my co-teacher tells me that we have class and that the topic we will be teaching is A, but then ten minutes before class she says, “No, we are teaching topic B!”, by which time I have already spent the better part of an hour preparing for A.
THIS is my frustration: the last-minute change of heart when I KNOW THERE IS A SYLLABUS. I KNOW THERE IS A CURRICULUM. So why the last minute change? Huh? HUH?! Tell me WHYYYY!!! Maybe you could have said something when earlier this morning we talked about what we were going to teach in the afternoon…..? SometimesIjustwanttoshakeyouuntilyourbrainrattlesinyourcranium! AHHHHHH!!!
Ok, rant over. Like I said, things are good now and I am happy with the outcome; I was just channeling my energy from earlier today. So, I was feeling frustration and thinking the above thoughts shortly before we were supposed to have class when I went to sit with other teachers to cool off. In walks Ari, Caitlin and my handyman and fixer of broken things. Since he has an acceptable level of English, he gets the joy of bearing the brunt of my frustration. I speak slowly. I speak firmly. I quietly. I speak with my hands and puffs of air that act as my exclamation points. He suggests that what is happening is not a cultural difference but a mere personality difference. But most of all, he listens, and that’s all I needed at that moment.
After class (which went well, by the way) Ibu Asro and Pak Elvan, my dream team counterparts, descend upon the teachers’ office where Ibu Isnaini and I are sitting. Ibu Asro asks to speak with Ibu Isnaini elsewhere and Pak Elvan sits down next to me.
“I hear you have a problem?” he begins. And so I explain. He understands, and we talk about ways that Ibu Isnaini and I can work on communication. It’s great. Ibu Isnaini and Ibu Asro come in from outside. They are laughing, and Ibu Isnaini and I agree that what just happened is just miscommunication. Tomorrow we will have a meeting to discuss the schedule for next week. Success.
Okay, this “quick thoughts” post isn’t going as quickly as I thought it would. I’ll try to step up the pace, mostly because I want to go to sleep.
2. Make an effort to be friendly with other classes.
As per my grant terms, I am only allowed to teach grade ten and only for twenty hours per week. High schools in Indonesia consist of grades 10-12, which means that there is still two-thirds of the student body that I am not scheduled to interact with. There is definitely some jealousy involved; I have been asked many times by other students why I can’t come and teach their classes. I promise them that I will come and visit, but that I can’t teach them full time.
Today I had my first chance to make the rounds in other classes. Back story for this one: I am trying to (re)start a photo club at my school. Apparently there used to be a photo club, but it fizzled out once the students who kept it running graduated. Photo club is related to my small grant project, plus it just seems like a lot of fun. I am brimming with ideas of things we can do with it.
But first: classroom visits. I went with my wonder woman/counterpart/guiding light in Indo, Ibu Asro. This lady means business. I told her about my idea for photo club and showed her the poster I made, and five minutes later I had copies of my poster, permission to hang it around school, and her word that at 10:15 she would personally escort me to each classroom to explain the idea and get names of students who are interested. Not only that, but she would also co-chair the first meeting tomorrow and we could use the meeting room in the brand new building by the cafeteria. Bippity boppity boo!
So we made the rounds, and the students were delighted to have me in class. In one class, when I spoke a little Bahasa Indonesia, one of the students in the back made a sound like he just saw Santa Claus riding a unicorn. It was great and I hope that he and many other students who I have not met yet come to our interest meeting tomorrow.
Okay, I’m really not doing well on this whole brevity thing. So just one more thought for tonight.
3. When in doubt, go bananas.
Earlier in the week, Ibu Isnaini and I were supposed to be reviewing the future tense, which was our topic last week. (Or was it the week before?) I had a warm-up sentence correction exercise that went over well in other classes. But for some reason — probably because it was the last class of the day and hotter than blazes, plus the students had already taken two tests — the student response level was zero. Glazed eyes, a murmur that couldn’t be silenced, and expressions that were part exhaustion and part loathing. My attempt at teaching was, in a word, a flop.
I stood in front of the room, hands covered with marker and no fewer than three separate trickles of sweat in various stages of soaking my underclothes. If I could have walked out I would have, as would have everyone else in the room. But that wasn’t an option, so I did the next best thing.
“Okay everyone, stand up.” Some students began to blink the glazed look away. “Stand up!” I wasn’t asking this time. While students began to shuffle to their feet, I wrote “Up, Shake, Peel, Slice, Go” on the board.
“Get in a circle. We will learn the banana song.” Some looks of confusion, to which I made big circles with my hands. When the first student made hesitant steps in the right direction I practically shouted encouragement. Soon we were arranged in a rag-tag semi-circle. They were definitely more attentive now. Flashing back to my days at Scout camp, I launched into the song with necessary accompanying movements:
Up, banana. Up, up, banana. Up, banana. Up, up banana. Shake, banana. Shake, shake banana. Shake, banana. Shake, shake banana. Peel…And so on. I walked them through each verse, and they caught on quickly. I taught them that in English “go bananas” means “go crazy.” They liked this description, and they also liked watching me demonstrate. By the end of the song, they were definitely into it. We even made up a few verses of our own.
After the banana song, the classroom was still hot and the students were still tired, but the general attitude had changed for the better. The next day Ibu Isnaini even did a rousing rendition of the song in the teacher’s lounge, breaking down into hysterics by the end of it. She happened to be wearing a banana yellow hijab (on purpose for this performance?) which completed the scene. Now I know that next time I am faced with a lethargic class, all we have to do is go bananas.