Asking for the Moon: Thoughts on the Start of the Second Semester

***Safety check*** The bombings that rocked Indonesia’s capital city two days ago are a tragedy. My friends and neighbors are upset by this event but everyone I know who is in Jakarta is safe and well. The AMINEF mid-year conference in Jakarta is still scheduled to continue next week as planned. ***

Halfway to where I’m going, halfway from where I’ve been. New people I meet here always ask how long I’ve been in Bangka, and adjusting my answers as the weeks go on has been a subtle way of marking the passage of time. Now my answer is that I have been here for almost five months and that there are only four left to go. And if my personal observations of the brevity of this experience aren’t enough, tomorrow I will be heading to Jakarta to attend the AMINEF Mid-Year Conference. The Conference is a mandatory event that will include some teaching workshops, problem-solving sessions, schmoozy dinners, a cultural show (Caitlin and I will be doing a traditional dance from Bangka. It will be epic), and lots of catching up with other ETAs.

But before I join up with the rest of my superstar ETA peers, I want to share a few thoughts I’ve had as the second semester began while those thoughts are still fresh.

MY GOALS

The New Year is always a time for making resolutions, though I believe that you can start working toward goals anytime. Given that the New Year just passed AND I am at the halfway point, I have been thinking about the goals that I set at the beginning and am evaluating how to get the most out of my time here and to be as effective as possible in my role as a teacher. These are the goals that I have for the rest of my grant:

From week to week, connect lessons so that there is some semblance of flow in the classroom. Last semester the lessons were completely disjointed, with no review/reflection and seemingly no connecting thread. This semester, I hope that the combination of my comfort with my co-teacher, better communication with my school, and (hopefully) less crazy schedule will make this goal possible to achieve. In the first two weeks, my lessons were related and — believe it or not — my students actually did their homework so we could use that material in the following class. More about my students in the next section.

Teach more varied and engaging lessons. Toward the end of the semester last year, I fell into a bit of a rut and found myself using the same activities several weeks in a row. In the final class of the semester, I asked my students to complete a survey to tell me the things they liked about our class and things they want us to do differently next semester. I don’t think that my students have ever been asked for teaching advice by a teacher before, so this exercise took quite a bit longer than I was expecting.

From the survey, the things my students like include: games we played, they think class is fun, they like looking at my face (from the boys). The things they think I can improve: more music, more varied activities, I should learn more bahasa Indonesia. I have conceded a bit to the last point and use bahasa Indonesia sometimes when I work one-on-one in the classroom if a) I know the student doesn’t understand what I said in English and b) I know how to express the same idea in bahasa Indonesia. We’re finding a balance after last semester’s complete dearth of Miss Kelly speaking bahasa Indonesia with the students, which I think is having a positive effect in the classroom.

Learn my students’ names. I have some 260 or so students, so learning everyone’s’ name is a daunting task. But at the end of last semester during our “Describing People” unit, I had all of my students make nametags with their name (nicely written and decorated) on the front and a description of themselves on the back. I then took individual photos of everyone with their nametag. I have since printed all of the pictures and use the photos as flashcards. I also pay attention when Ibu Isnaini does rollcall and I am getting better at sneakily reading students’ nametags on their shirts. I’ve got several dozen names down and hope to add several dozen more each week. Now that Indonesian names are more familiar to me — names like Rizki, Ari, Ulfa, Aulia, Ayu, Dodi — it has become much easier to remember people’s names.

Exhibit grace and poise in the face of scheduling or other challenges with my school. Nutso scheduling was one of my biggest challenges and frustrations during the first semester. I have been assured that the second semester will be better, but we have already had a few classes cancelled in the first few weeks. Reasons thus far range from having to move the teachers’ lounge from one building to another (“Can’t we do this after school?” I asked. Blank stares and then laughs followed my preposterous suggestion) to the students being required to take a science test because the city mayor was visiting (… what? Don’t ask me because I don’t know…) to having a day off because December 24th is the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and everyone was already on school holiday, so we had another day off to make up for the day off that we missed… Ohhh, Indonesia….

When these things happen, I am determined to remain unruffled with my school. I know that the teachers who were the recipients of my frustration last semester aren’t the ones calling the shots, so they shouldn’t be the ones who have to deal with my frustration. I’m getting a lot better at letting things go — “whatevs” has become my motto this year — so I will just stay calm and teach on… when we actually have class, that is.

Me and Ibu Isnaini are gathering quite the collection of matching clothes. We plan outfits and are excited to be the classiest, most coordinated co-teaching pair in jakarta at the Mid-Year Conference. Ibu Yusnaida, the chemistry teacher whose desk is behind mine in the new teachers' office, is in the middle. She's a classy lady too.
Me and Ibu Isnaini are gathering quite the collection of matching clothes. We plan outfits and are excited to be the classiest, most coordinated co-teaching pair in jakarta at the Mid-Year Conference. Ibu Yusnaida, the chemistry teacher whose desk is behind mine in the new teachers’ office, is in the middle. She’s a classy lady too.

Teach the neighborhood children to the point where they can speak in simple sentences. Caitlin and I have been teaching the neighborhood kids English since our very first week here, though we have been consistent about teaching every Thursday evening from 7 to 8 p.m. since early October. It has been a wonderful experience getting to know these kids and teaching in a very different capacity from what we do at our schools. We focus mainly on topical vocabulary (e.g. body parts, fruits, numbers, colors, MANNERS) and I hope that by the time we leave they are able to use this vocabulary in simple sentences. I know they can do it!!

Become conversational in bahasa Indonesia. Learning Indonesian comes in rapid ascents and agonizing plateaus. Interestingly enough, my recent trip to Thailand galvanized me to become more aggressive than ever in my language acquisition this year. I was thrilled that after two years of virtually no practice, Thai came back to me. The first few days in Thailand were rough because when I opened my mouth to speak, bahasa Indonesia wanted to come out. But when I met up with my family it was imperative that I remembered Thai so that I could communicate. With this incentive, my brain managed to pull vocabulary from the deep, soft tissues where it had been hiding.

It’s an amazing feeling, to realize that you understand what people are saying and then thereafter be able to summon up the words that were previously forgotten. I know that the language is in my brain, buried deep, and this trip was a reminder that it is important to keep practicing the language. Because if I don’t, one day that recall won’t be as strong. This trip also reminded me that bahasa Indonesia is MUCH EASIER than Thai and that I have tons of people to practice with in PKP. I have a bounty of resources for language learning, and I won’t regret any effort that I put into becoming more fluent in bahasa Indonesia. More on those efforts later.

MY WONDERFUL STUDENTS

After being out of school for the entire month of December, it was great to finally be back at school. Believe it or not, I missed my students while I will gone. Like, actually missed them. As in I would sometimes scroll through their pictures on my phone and laugh to myself about funny moments in class. I don’t know if that pushes me into the “creepy teacher” category; I just have a lot of love for them.

Pretty much the best idea I've had all year. Some classes are still incomplete, like MIPA 4 here. All of my classes have between 32 and 36 students.
Pretty much the best idea I’ve had all year. Some classes are still incomplete, like MIPA 4 here. All of my classes have between 32 and 36 students.

While I was still at UT working on my TESOL certificate, I remember that one of my biggest worries about being a teacher was classroom management. I feared wild students, mean students, cheating students, frustration in the classroom. What I have found has been a pleasant surprise. Sure, sometimes my students are a little nakal [naughty] but on the whole they are pretty well-behaved even if activities take a long time to complete and sometimes they won’t stop talking during presentations no matter what I do to curb the whispers.

They are also less shy of me now. Students have started asking how to say certain things in English because they are genuinely curious. I hear them using English with their classmates, saying anything from the useful “Can I borrow your eraser?” to the laughable if questionable “He is disgusting!” They don’t pull themselves and their papers away from me anymore when I make rounds around the class, offering to check their work.

In fact, many students call me over now and ask me to correct what they have written. They also enjoy when I put a check next to correct answers, and some students have even gotten so bold as to ask me to put a star on their papers when they finish. It’s a simple strategy, but my students really dig having stars on their paper. It is a nice encouragement for everyone to complete the assignment. I can only image in the response I’ll get when I bust out the reward stickers I bought in bulk at Dollar Tree before I came here. In my most recent class, Class X MIPA 4, Hayatun, one of the higher-level students, told me that she didn’t want a star on her paper. She asked for a moon instead, which I first laughed about and then complied by drawing a crescent moon in her notebook. Oh, my lovely students. I would give you the whole world too if I could.

Other times, the students’ antics are a bit more… extreme. The following incident happened this past Thursday during Class X MIPA 2, the one class I see the most because I have five hours with them each week. (Other classes only get me for two hours per week.) Because of this, the students feel comfortable and are more likely to use English with me, except for the ones who resolutely refuse and thus speak only bahasa Indonesia — or sometimes bahasa Bangka — now that they know I understand what they’re saying.

Anyway, during this particular class the students were in groups working on summarizing each verse in the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin as part of their unit on “Narrative Text.” As tends to happen with group work, a few students took the lead in doing the activity and a few goofed off while they waited for the other students to finish the work for them. I was making the rounds, explaining things like “gonna” means “going to” and acting out the actions in the song when necessary.

When I got to the back of the room, the five boys in the “Chorus” group (they had the easiest job because the chorus is the shortest verse) waved me over. “Miss! Miss!” they pointed at a student in another group. My eyes followed their fingers and taped to the back of their classmate was a piece of paper. The message, written in all capital letters:

PLEASE KISS ME

I laughed. And laughed. I turned away and laughed some more, almost to the point of tears. Oh, my students. The poor student in question is usually pretty quiet in class and I imagine he didn’t know what was going on. The Chorus Boys howled with laughter, and one proudly exclaimed “He loves you, Miss!” The whole class joined in the laughter and the offending piece of paper was passed around for everyone to examine. I still don’t know who wrote it, but at the very least I commend him for his manners.

Once the laughter died down, Rizaldy, one of the Chorus Boys and one of the best English speakers in the class, said to me, “These are Indonesian students, Miss. Do you have like this in America?” I pondered and conceded that in America, we have students who are naughty but I have never heard of something exactly like this happening. “A new experience for you then, Miss” he told me. Indeed, Rizaldy. A new experience indeed.

The few students who remained after class was unexpectedly dismissed early by another teacher so that the students could go line up for something. Still not sure why that happened and I wish I could have finished our activity. But as I say to all such happenings: "Whatevs." Then I asked my students for a selfie.
The few students who remained after class was unexpectedly dismissed early by another teacher so that the students could go line up for something. Still not sure why that happened and I wish I could have finished our activity. But as I say to all such happenings: “Whatevs.” Then I asked my students for a selfie.

MY FUTURE

The other morning, I announced to Caitlin, “I just had my first thrill of anxiety about the future.” Considering these words further, I added, “I feel like I am in senior year of college again.” Being halfway through this experience means it is a time for reflection, but it is also a time of planning and looking forward. This time last year I was in Future Anxiety Overdrive, which had me applying to all kinds of things in the event that Fulbright didn’t pull through. Now application cycles are starting up again and I am considering what I will do after my visa expires on May 22, 2016. I wrote a blog post with some ideas about the future before I left for Indo, which you can read here.

Most of the ideas in that post still remain possibilities for me. I know that planning is one of my talents and part of my success, but I also know that plans change and it does me no good to get too worked up about the future. Even if I was working in a stable job without a set end date, you never know what tomorrow will bring. So let it suffice to say that I am pondering the future more than usual while simultaneously reminding myself that I should stay open and give the present moment everything I have. Amin!

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2 thoughts on “Asking for the Moon: Thoughts on the Start of the Second Semester

  1. I love the stories and love the pictures. Kelly for as soon as you could write you were making a list. I am sure you will meet your goals. Stay safe.
    Stacy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aunt Stacy! I just got back from a mid-year conference in Jakarta, which means I have come away with new goals, new energy, and (of course) new lists. Thanks for the love and I’m looking forward to these next four months!!

      Like

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