I try to remember my first day of school; walking into Ms.Inglis’s class at George Peabody Elementary – a loud sea of unfamiliar faces, not knowing what to expect or what to do. You can draw a lot of similarities between your first day of school as a student and your first as a teacher.
Our day started off with a bit of confusion, as the counterpart my partner and I had been assigned to, and head of the English department might I say, was MIA (something I would soon learn wasn’t uncommon). The substitute we were assigned to spoke very limited English (an English teacher nonetheless) and there was a bit of miscommunication as to what the students had and hadn’t already covered.
Smile and wave boys, smile and wave…
Walking into the classroom, one is greeted by 32 noisy students, nervous and excited for their lesson with their first buleh (foreigners). The room is hot enough to break a sweat and the walls remain bare, except for the whiteboard in the front. My partner and I are covering Narrative Texts during practicum, so we begin the first 20 minutes of class with a story the kids were assigned from their textbook, a thin catalog of lessons, riddled with spelling and grammar errors, not to mention cultural inaccuracies. Let’s just sum up this text in particular, the story of Pak Belalang (Mr. Grasshopper).
One day Pak Belalang told his friends he had a magic book. “Watch”, he said. “The book tells me there is a dead rat in the kitchen.” His son goes into the kitchen and picks up a dead rat, but really Pak Belalang lied and had planted the rat there earlier. The King hears about the magic book, and tells Pak Belalang to find his lost jewelry, or else he will go to prison. Very sad, Pak Belalang asks his wife to make him pancakes for his farewell dinner as he knows he cannot find the jewelry. With each pancake he says, “This one is to fat, this one is too thin, this one is too dark, this one is too yellow.” Little did he know that under his house 4 thieves were hiding and they thought that Pak Belalang was talking about them because they were fat, thin, dark, and yellow. Because they were scared, they gave the jewelry to Pak Belalang and ran away. THE END
Seriously, I wish I had a photocopy of the text itself so you could see how bad it really is. Wanting to get as far away from this text as possible and move onto what we have planned for the rest of the day, I jump into the questions. “Can someone please tell me what the four parts of a narrative text are?” I swear I couldn’t get a single student to hold in a word during their reading time, but as soon as I ask a question I can hear the crickets begin to chirp. Eventually a few bold students quietly whisper an answer, and the rest of the class begins to convulse in fits of laughter. Slowly you can hear other students squeak a word or two and the answers force their way to the board, unwillingly might I add. My favorite one was when we asked about the moral of the story. “So class, is lying good or bad?” Silence. “Is lying good?” They reply in unison, “YES!” Not that I blame them, I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve done the same thing when speaking with an Indonesian who has a little too much confidence in my language ability.
After our presentation, we break the class up into groups of four and pass out chopped up parts of a scrambled story, “The Lion and the Mouse”, having the students read each piece individually before working with their groups to put the story in the correct order. They loved it! I think they we just happy to escape the 80 minutes of listening to their Indonesian teachers talk at them, not to mention having a lesson created especially for them and not just another substitute forced to make something up on the fly while their regular teacher is off doing who knows what. The first group to finish reads the story to the class and we go over questions regarding the story as a narrative text. Still a bit shy and embarrassed, the answers roll in slow, but certainly progressing from the beginning of class.
Getting Into the Swing
Despite the messy beginning, the rest of practicum went great! The next day we taught, we learned our lesson, knowing that both
asking for volunteers as well as calling on students directly achieved nothing but giggles, this time we had the students pick each other. There’s something behind the power of sending one’s peer to their doom that gets a student motivated. After reviewing narrative structure and “The Lion and the Mouse”, the students got back in their groups from before and were given pictures to create their own stories, finishing them at home. In a later class, the kids shared their stories in groups and made comic strips or story boards to match.
Towards the end of practicum, after we told our first class that it was our last day with them, they all pretended to cry, asking why we couldn’t stay longer and just be their teachers. Afterwards, my partner and I chatted about how much they improved and opened up in just a week and a half. I know that this school is better off as it’s located in a semi-urban location, and I know that when I’m placed in a rural village I’ll be facing significantly less structure and resources; but just seeing how much a week could change these kids really makes me think about what I can accomplish with a few years. I found myself feeling fulfilled and accomplished after each class and excited to return during lesson planning. A big part of my success was having a great partner who was on the same page and amped to motivate these kids, exploring more interactive teaching methods. It’s going to be a lot more challenging at site with Indonesian counterparts who have families, live busy lives, carry other jobs, and/or live hours away from the school, but I’m really looking forward to diving in.
Also, I’ve decided to leave each post with a recent quote…
“Teaching is a competition; and I am a winner!” –Fellow Volunteer