One Day In the Life of a Language School Teacher in Jakarta

Pravita Indriati
Pravita Indriati
By Pravita Indriati

It was eight o’clock on a Monday morning and everyone in the city was busy heading to their offices. As I walked out of my house, I saw three guys in formal suits walking towards the train station and talking to each other. A man in a yellow shirt and black pants was talking to his companion passionately, waving a roll of newspaper in his right hand as he spoke. On the opposite side of the street I saw two school girls wearing white hijab uniform walking together, the taller one whispering something to the other, who then responded with giggles. Next to the train station there was a lady in her nightdress and a pink veil carrying a bag of vegetables from the traditional marketplace located nearby. Some motorcycles were passing by.

These are the scenes that happen pretty much every morning. I am lucky to not be as busy as most of the working people whose day always starts from early morning; or as the school girls who should be at school at 6:30 a.m.; or as any of those other people that I saw. My own mornings are usually more laid-back, except for some rare days when I have to work early and commute to other schools. Like that Monday morning, when my office sent me to a kindergarten to give a demo class as part of promotional and marketing program. I was excited as this opportunity would give me a nostalgic kind of feeling because I was to teach young learners, like used to. The school I was heading to is not far from my place, so I only needed to go by public motorcycle to save time. Wearing the school’s pink polo shirt and pink skirt, I was ready to feel the joy of teaching young learners once again.

It was now 10:40 a.m. and I had just finished the demo class. It was exhausting but I really enjoyed teaching the kids; we sang, played, jumped around and were silly together. I wanted to stay and play with them a bit longer but it was time for me to head to the school where I teach on a regular basis. I ordered the transportation service from my mobile phone and they arrived in no time. Going places in Jakarta has become hassle-free ever since those kind of companies took over the country. The journey to my school did not take a long time either, it was only 40 minutes without any traffic jam.

That day I had three classes: primary school students aka the HighFlyers at 3:00 p.m.; teenagers aged 15-18 years old aka Frontrunners at 4:30 p.m.; and the TOEFL class for adults from 6:40 till 8:40 p.m. Since it was still eleven o’clock when I arrived at work, I had time to have lunch and prepare for classes. The preparation doesn’t actually take long as the syllabi and all the materials are already provided online, which makes it easy for all teachers to access them. Besides, the first class of the day was scheduled to have a progress test and computer lesson in the iLab (computer room), so I only needed to print their test papers for that. However, I knew the test wouldn’t last for the whole lesson, that’s why I planned something special for the remainder of our class time. As there had just been a government election in Indonesia,  we run a short simulation of a real election in class. It was really fun and students loved pretending to be the candidates and vote whilst using the language creatively. When the class finished, although there was not much time left, I had to take attendance online and make notes on what was covered in class on the school’s website before I went back to the teachers’ room.

After a short ten-minute break came the Frontrunners class. It was a group of five girls and the lesson seemed more relaxing as they were not as active as the HighFlyers. I loved giving these students some discussion topics so they could enjoy practising speaking English instead of doing a lot of written work. In fact, this is one of the important moments that my colleagues and myself need to understand: working in a private language school, we shouldn’t force students to do as much homework as they get at their regular schools that they attend in the morning.

My last class of the day, the TOEFL class, was the one that needed more preparation and focus as this is a group of adults determined to achieve their clear goals of getting a certain score in the test, unlike other adult classes I teach that focus on General English, Business English, or English Conversation and which are more relaxing. My colleagues told me to be strict and formal in this TOEFL class, but I chose to do it my own way. I gave them additional activities that were a bit more fun, so the students wouldn’t be bored. As this class consisted of a group of brilliant students, who loved discussing and sharing their opinions with outstanding vocabulary and general knowledge, I had to prepare more challenging activities to engage them. That day, we did the Would You Rather quiz with out-of-this-world questions (such as “Would you rather be stupid in a world of smart people or smart in a world of stupid people?”). I was surprised that they enjoyed doing it, and I made a note that I should think of more challenging (and fun) activities for our next class. Till the end of the lesson we practised for the speaking and writing test on the topic of storytelling and students had a creative task of  comparing someone to a cockroach.

It was 8:40 p.m. when the class was over and I didn’t realize the time had flown so fast. That is why I love teaching. I might be exhausted by the end of the day but it all pays off with satisfaction I get from teaching. As I headed back to the teachers’ room, I watched the students carry their bags and walk out of the centre. Lights in some classrooms had already been switched off, which meant I needed to rush. I ordered another public motorcycle online and prepared to go home. The mall where my school is located was still crowded, with people window-shopping and walking around. Outside, the public motorcycle was already waiting for me among many other motorcycles waiting for other passengers.

What a day, but it was just one of the many similar days in my routine. I’ve been doing this for five years and, I must say, I truly enjoy and feel blessed teaching here.

Teens 2.0

Pravita Indriatiby Pravita Indriati

I love teaching children. In the eight years that I had proudly been teaching young learners, being among children in class, singing, dancing, telling stories, and having fun with them had become my comfort zone. I was interested in early childhood education and spent a lot of time expanding my knowledge in this area. I could say that teaching English to young learners is my thing. However, two years ago I had to leave that comfort zone when I started teaching teenagers. Even though it was not the first time for me to work with this age group (I had previously taught teens for a short while), to be honest, I was a bit surprised to see how different they have become. This change has been a challenging experience for me, but I survived and learnt a lot on the matter from my Personal Learning Network and iTDi along the way. Now I would like to share some of my findings with you.

What makes working with teens challenging and different?

Teens are tricky.

Ten years ago the teenagers I taught were friendly and kind, always listened to what I had to say to them. I’ve found them to be so different now, rebellious and reluctant to communicate or study. One day I heard a bunch of students talking and laughing at me behind my back, which made me feel so frustrated. That was when I changed my perspective. Indeed, they are not kids anymore, they have reached the age when they think they are grown-up… but they aren’t quite yet. They want to be seen as adults – so I thought I should listen to them and be their friend. Trying to get to know them better helped me to understand the reasons behind their sometimes arrogant behaviour – they just want to be treated the same like us, adults.

Teens are tech-savvy.

Indrie's post pic 1I remember during the first year of my teaching career there was a boy who came up to me and talked animatedly about his favorite band, showed me their CD that he’d brought from home. Nowadays it’s not only music they’re up-to-date with but also technology, and social media in particular is the top trend for their age. They keep talking about their Instagram accounts, bragging about their love of Minecraft, discussing their favorite YouTubers whose updates they always follow. If we could be teachers who know about these passions, can talk about them (or even teach!), our students would then think, “My teacher is cool!”

Teens are unpredictable.

Expect the unexpected. We should realize that our teenage students will not always be happy and enthusiastic in our classes. Since their mood changes so quickly, we should be ready to respond to that. Personally, I try to think of ways to make the same activities we’ve done before even more interesting and engaging. As I noticed their interest in technology, I started bringing it into class as much as possible. We have played song-related games in class (hits from Top 40, of course), watched YouTube videos connected with the themes of our lessons, played educational online games, created projects using Lino, Instagram, and WordPress. To my surprise, these activities have given a tremendous boost to their interest in the lessons.

Teens are active.

Indrie's post pic 2There’s just no way to get them sit, listen, and write. Much like little kids, they have lots of energy and they’ll quickly get bored once they have to waste it at their desks. There have been classes when some of my students suddenly stood up from their chairs and moved around in the middle of my lesson! I realized that combining regular tasks with some kinesthetic activities is a good idea in a classroom full of teenagers. They love running dictation, racing games, scavenger hunt, or whatever activities get them moving while learning.

Finally, and this is my favorite part of teaching teenage students, they are so full of life. Teaching teens may sometimes mean teaching calm, quiet and obedient learners, but more often, they will be active, talkative, fun, and even weird. My students love to throw some jokes and tell funny stories, and then I listen and laugh with them. I think teenagers, more than any other group of learners, appreciate it when their teacher can join them in the fun, tell jokes, keep up with the trends, and generally be “in the know”. That’s the kind of teacher I am trying to be. In return, I ask them the favor of not giving me reasons to behave like an old and boring teacher that they don’t want to have and I don’t wish to be.

 

The Ups and Downs of Teaching In a Non-Formal English School

Pravita Indriatiby Pravita Indriati

It’s a very sunny afternoon in Jakarta, I am happy and excited to see my 3-4 year old students entering their classroom. From the beginning of the term I have helped them get used to the routine of putting their bags in the appropriate place and taking off their shoes. Now, as they enter the classroom, I don’t even have to remind them. I am teaching in a non-formal English school, so we don’t have a special cupboard to store students’ things. All the materials in the classrooms are designed for maximum flexibility, to be usable for all age levels. Starting an early young-learner classes wouldn’t be complete without storybooks. I usually bring storybooks from home as the school doesn’t have a library. Today, my students are learning about body parts and blending consonant-vowel-consonant words using flashcards and Total Physical Response activities. Aside from the storybooks, most everything I use or need in class is supplied by the school. The school has flashcards, Interactive White Board programs, videos, songs and more. Not that everything is perfect. My room has IWB software but not an interactive whiteboard, so the students have to practice writing with a computer and a mouse, and that can be a little tricky.

In our school, every student gets two books, a workbook and a homework book, and they are well suited for the syllabus we use. As we near the end of the lesson, students do a presentation using the language we worked with, and then it’s go-home-time. For this early young-learner class, we have our own final greeting and a goodbye song, and we spend some time reflecting on our learning. After class, I record the students’ attendance, make notes on the lesson we studied, and assign homework. I do this all in the teachers’ computer in the classroom and the information goes straight to special software on the parents’ computers at the students’ homes.

This is what you would see if you observed a early-learner class at our school, but the materials and technology we use is basically the same for all classes. The school where I work is internationally franchised, and all the curriculum, syllabus and teaching materials come from our head school in Switzerland. They are attractively designed and updated to take account of current trends and customer demands. The school only hires teachers with at least 3 years experience. The belief is that if teacher have enough experience, they will be ready to teach the syllabus from the moment they enter a classroom. The school does not provide any particular teacher trainings or any formalised professional development. Even with all of the technological support and well designed materials, I still feel we need and deserve the chance to further our development as teachers. I wish that regular classroom teachers had an opportunity to participate in the company organised national conferences, to be able to meet and learn from teachers from different centres. Because even with the best materials and technology, there are problems that cannot be solved with a shiny book or a first rate computer program.

Most of the students who attend our school come from families with a privileged economic background. And while it is not always the case, sometimes these students, especially when they are in their teens, underestimate how much effort they will need to put in to learn English. It is, of course, a joy to teach teenage students who come ready to learn, and are eager and willing to put in extra time and effort outside of the classroom. But there are also students who arrive late, remain silent for an entire class, do not willingly move, and seemingly always prefer to speak in their mother language, Bahasa Indonesia. We, the teachers, have tried to encourage these students by creating a fun learning environment. We play games, select topics based on their interests, and even substitution mentally challenging and thought provoking tasks in place of the drier and at time overwhelmingly difficult writing tasks that are part of the official syllabus. How much more successful could our teaching be if we had the time to talk to other teachers with similar issues? How much better would our classes be If all teachers had a chance to compare notes and find out what is working in each other’s classrooms?

And problems do not just happen in the classroom. Recently I have come to realise that teenage students with the lowest levels of motivation have parents who are the least involved in the school. These parents never attend the Parent-Teacher Meetings and have even gone so far as to state that it is the not a father or mother’s responsibility, but the teacher’s job, to discipline their sons or daughters. Unfortunately, many of our students often have an uneasy time at their formal schools. They are overloaded with homework and assignments. So as opposed to discipline, we try and keep these students engaged and interested in learning, and it would be so beneficial if parents provided more support and encouragement at home as well. Yes, our school has a lot of useful technology. But even the best computer software for language learning does not contain strategies for how to approach these particular parents or how to help keep their adolescent children engaged in class.

I do not want to seem ungrateful. I am happy to work in a school with well developed technological resources. I feel blessed that I have the chance to modify my teaching strategies and learn how to become a better teacher utilising these technologies. I just wish my school—that all schools—also provided the formal opportunities necessary for us to become better teachers by learning from and supporting our fellow teachers as well.

Homemade Materials Issue – Pravita

Homemade Crafts & Teaching Aids For Kids
– Pravita Indriati

Pravita Indriati

Making teaching aids and kids’ crafts out of recycled materials has been some kind of tradition for a preschool teacher like me. Besides easy to find and cheap, this helps to teach children to recycle and reuse things for our environment. Students’ parents are usually our main source of the raw materials we use. From used milk boxes, cans, to tissue rolls, and more, since students’ households usually have more of these things around than the school does, we don’t hesitate to request these materials from them, and neither should you.  They’re generally glad to pass these things on to their children’s school and enjoy seeing what we create from them.

Crafts Ideas for kids   Here are a bunch of craft ideas, made from recycled materials, that tie in with themes often covered in schools that work with young learners, and these are just some of the ideas I’ve used with my students in my own classes. They can also be used as teaching materials, like the homemade musical instruments that you can use while singing with your students, or the homemade animal and building crafts for storytelling. The higher the level, the more complex the steps involved.

Crafts on A Music Theme

Bottle Shakers: You can make shakers out of used mineral bottles filled with materials like peanuts (be careful to kids with allergies), macaroni or beans, then have kids decorate the bottles with colorful papers or fabrics. They can even paint the outer side of the bottle.

Can or Tissue Roll Shakers: another idea for making shakers is using a small can filled with rice, or dried beans. Then, cover the topside or both sides with paper and attach it using cellotape.

Guitars: To make guitars from used milk boxes, you may need to cut a circle shape on one side of the box as the hollow part, or tissue boxes will make it easier. Then ask children to stretch rubber bands on the boxes. This activity can help enhance fine motor skills as well.

Drums: Using used milk cans, you can also make drums. Cover the open side with fabric and attach it with rubber bands. Then you can use chopsticks or your hand to hit and play.

Crafts For Animals Themes

Caterpillars:You can go to stores or supermarkets to ask for used egg cartons. They will come handy to make animals crafts like caterpillars, alligators, ants or anything else, depends on your creativity.

Spiders: Using tissue rolls you can make spiders. Just add pipe cleaners as the legs, and have them painting the tissue rolls, paste the googly eyes and attach a string as the cobweb.

Octopuses or Whales: I once made octopuses and whales by using paperbags. Just stuff them with crumpled papers and tie a rubber band or a string and cut the bottom part as the legs or tentacles or fins.

Crafts For House or City themes

Houses or castles: Kids love pretending and they love hideouts! You can make houses of children size by using TV or refrigerator cardboard boxes. Help them to cut some parts as the windows and doors. Then encourage them to decorate using paints, colorful papers, fabrics or other materials.

Transportation: By combining some used materials, you can make cars, trains or even trucks. Collect different sizes and types of boxes, from milk boxes, cereal boxes, milk cartons, to biscuit and medicine boxes. You can use tissue rolls or bottle lids as the wheels.

Buildings: From those used boxes I mentioned above, you can also make them into buildings. Wrap them with colored papers and cut small square shapes as the windows. Try combining boxes of different size and types to make it more interesting.

Teaching Aids These teaching aids are easy to make and even more fun for kids to use than using a ready-made one. You can also combine them to use with any skills you want to teach and develop, for example: fine motor skills, language, and more.

Math materials: Ice cube trays, egg cartons, yogurt, mineral water or ice cream cups can be used as counting device, or for sorting colors and shapes and lots more. Decorate them as attractive and as catchy as you can, depending on your need. If you want to make these for your students to sort colors then you just need to color them according to the colors taught or covered. If you use them as counting materials, then just write numbers on them — as many as the numbers taught or covered. Then put some counters on which you want your students to explore counting and sorting with – things like buttons, pom-pom balls, or even beads.

Reading materials: You can teach letter recognition, letter sounds or sight words and make the teaching aids for free. Collect lots of bottle caps of different colors, tissue rolls, and also used yoghurt cups to make them. Decorate and write the letters or sight words taught and put the objects you want your students to match.

Why not try some of these ideas in your classes? I’d love to hear how they work for you and would be very happy if you shared some ideas of your own in the comments below. It’s great when we share and learn more from each other.

 

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