A Walk Into My School
My MAN consists of 296 students and 38 teachers, myself included. With the exception of last year’s graduating classes, I’ve gotten the opportunity to know each student as my very own. This year there are five 12th grade classes, four 11th grade classes, and three 10th grade classes. Apparently the enrollment has slowly decreased over the past 5 years with the growth of new schools in the area and students traveling outside of town to nearby cities in order to receive a different experience for high school. Decrease in enrollment does mean decrease in money flowing into the school, but I can’t complain about the small class sizes.
About half the students walk, bike, or bus to school while the other half come to school by motorbikes. There is no need to apply for a school parking permit here, the students just jam their motorbikes that usually overtake the one hooped basketball court that is currently hoop-less and the court usually occupied for futsal practice—a like indoor soccer sport with slightly different rules, popular amongst Indonesians.
The campus sits alongside the Jalan Raya or main road that heads to Surabaya. This is my least favorite feature. The road is frequently busy, though, somehow the campus is quite. Main noise disruptions come from the afternoon call of duhur and the chickens that hang around and try to masuk class from time to time.
Upon entering the campus there is a musholla off to the left, a volleyball court, and a series of mini buildings that make up classrooms. In the middle is an open courtyard that is usually occupied by a sport. There is a separate mini building for the administrative and principal offices and the teachers’ office. Unlike familiar American style classroom set ups, the teachers go to the students’ classroom and all the teachers share one big room with individual desks.
Due to the decrease in enrollment we now have an extra room that has now been designated as the teachers’ cafeteria, where we are expected to eat lunch together. It was an idea from the principal, meant to bring about a closer community within the teachers, but it feels more like a forced and unnatural activity. I try to stay as long as I can which is usually cut short to a teacher lighting up a cigarette. That’s another thing, teachers smoke at school and it’s seen as perfectly acceptable.
The principal has been good for our school. The students have started planting trees and flowers all over the place and we have our own water system, which I don’t completely understand but I guess it’s cheaper so that must be good.
We have two printers, which are either low on ink or error-ed due to frequent paper jams. There is wiif, which I’m grateful for but it’s pretty unreliable and sometimes I wish we didn’t have it all—feels like an empty promise.
The library and canteen are the places I go to occasionally escape. The canteen nenek (this old woman) is quite a character and makes some of the best nasi pecel in the area. The library is usually quiet and due to the lack of people who occupy it during classes, it tends to be a little cooler. Teachers always look at me strangely and ask why I’d go to the library to read when there’s no one in there, “Not scared?” of course not, I say “the ghosts are my friends.” They love that.
This year I teach 4 eleventh grade classes twice a week, each for 2 hours, and 3 tenth grade classes once a week, each for 2 hours. I still team teach with counterparts (CP) from the previous semesters, in addition to a third CP, who only teaches grade ten. Tenth grade is new to me but the students are really smart and I love it.
How the semesters unfolded…
At the beginning of semester pertama (my first semester) there was good stamina between the counterparts (CPs) and me as we worked extensively on developing materials and got familiar with each others’ teaching styles/methods. I felt exhausted from confusion about how my school functioned and that was to be expected. I still remember one of the first days, money just being passed here and there for school tuition and a stack piled of assorted shoe styles and colors in the administrative office–apparently they took students shoes away that didn’t adhere to the uniform, but then they weren’t wearing shoes at all! The chemistry in the classroom was great, however, at some point, excitement wore off a little bit and we struck a rock called laziness. There was a lot of successful ‘winging it’ going on and it took awhile to get back into the right planning gears.
Semester kedua (second) hit and that’s when things started to get sloppy. I realized that my CPs and I were on two different pages of the grading system and right along with school cancellations, additional teacher obligations, and the pressures from the National Examination, everyone’s wooden desk chairs seemed to get a bit more uncomfortable to sit on. My once reliable team members left me to fly solo for majority of the remaining semester. To be honest, I feel perfectly confident teaching sendirian (alone) and most times I prefer it. However, it doesn’t leave much opportunity for sustainably to even try and wiggle its way in there. When this happens I mainly feel bad for the students because they aren’t receiving the optimum education they deserve and not to mention pay for. This is such a prize opportunity for the students AND teachers—still driving that message, it can’t be stressed enough. It took some re-explaining that our jobs weren’t separate and we should be working together to provide the most suitable English education to our students. Along with some encouragement that it didn’t take a special “creativity” to create anything and that they were in fact creative and fun themselves.
Sometime during the semester break and at MSC (mid-service conference for PC), my one CP in particular worked extra hard to redeem himself and prove that he was again on board with team teaching and sharing different perspectives, skills and methods. What my CPs don’t realize is how much I value their teaching experience. Sure I speak English but they’ve been teaching it longer. In my experience I’ve witnessed some bad teaching habits, although, once they are given an alternative or have a plan, they are eager to dismiss the government supplemented LKS (text/workbook) and no longer want to be confided to teaching behind the desk at the front of the room.
As I looked forward to the new school year and my semester ketiga (third) as a teacher here, I was quite jazzed. More importantly I no longer felt stupid or left out. I knew the curriculum and I knew how to work both with and around it. The CPs and I had actually mapped out what the semester would look like in weeks and were well prepared to take this semester by storm! Then after the first week, one CP had to leave for a 10 days to be trained and tested for a certification. The following week, the other CP had some conference to attend for a chunk of time. Surely my disappearance to Bangkok took the cake.
While I was away I figured this could be the true test. Lesson plans were already to roll so what magic could be done in my absence?
Well we failed. Ok that’s a little a little harsh but old habits had resurfaced. The CP I just started working with in tenth grade peaced out for the pilgrimage to Mecca. An honorable and excusable journey, but she told the school by letter, which she so kindly posted on the wall the day before she left. Thanks for the warning sista. So the tenth grade class had had no English class up until late October when I returned. (these students are super asik!). Then, as I checked students’ notebooks from the eleventh grade classes I saw little material covered that we had created and planned to teach. It was hard to mask my disappointment and puzzlement. Have they been lesson planning just to appease me? Stop me from asking them? How could they honestly not be getting anything out of prepared and effective lessons taught in the past?
If there is one thing I’m beginning to master is the role of not taking things personally. This is for them and if something isn’t working then we should reevaluate and look at it again. I decided not to comment about my initial reaction to the untaught lessons and followed whatever lead they were taking. I took lots of steps back when I chose not to do my weekly little RPP (lesson plan) dance at them. This must have really caught them off guard because soon after both CPs came to me asking when and where we could plan for the rest of the semester.
As it becomes time to approach my fourth semester I have a lot to look forward to with excitingly new and of course old and annoying challenges. I’m just gonna let things happen and hopefully they happen with some flow and/or success in between.
It sure will be hard to say goodbye to my “green school”