It’s Always Sunny in Kidea

Yitzha Sarwono
Yitzha Sarwono
By Yitzha Sarwono

Whenever I tell people that I am a kindergarten teacher, they always say “Wow, you are so lucky to be playing with children every day!” Well, that’s not all wrong, but if you think that what I do all day is holding hands and singing, then you need to step in my shoes for one day (or rather socks as I wear socks in the classroom).

Let me take you through a day in one of the first few weeks of this school year of my K1 class.

It was 7:45 in the morning. I was already in my Montessori classroom with materials ready to go and felt very excited and optimistic about the day, though the last few days had not been easy. Some of my four-year-old students started coming to the classroom. One girl who had been with us since the previous level entered with a beautiful smile, said hi to me and my assistant, and washed her hands before sitting on the carpet to play while waiting for the others. Some boys came in and started playing, too.

8 a.m., time to start class. As usual, I gathered the students on the carpet and started the lesson. As we began to pray, one more student came in. She didn’t enter though, she just kept standing by the door, with her backpack on and not letting go of the door handle. My assistant tried to persuade her to join us but she wouldn’t let go of the door. The girl screamed and started to cry so my assistant stayed with her as I tried to continue the class greetings. Another girl, who was already sitting on the carpet with the rest, didn’t like the fact that I asked them to jump to the song, so she started kicking and screaming. I tried to calm her down but then she kicked me and pulled my hair. Just then the administrator came in with two new kids, who were twins. They didn’t want their mom to leave them but she had to, so they started crying. I carried one of them in but the other pulled my hand and asked to be carried along, too. So there I was, sitting on the carpet, with both of the new kids on my lap, trying to start my presentation. I laid my mat and placed my model farm animals on it. One of the boys took the horse and started playing with it, and I couldn’t move fast enough to grab it back from him because I already had two children on my lap and my assistant was still trying to calm the tantrum girl down and the one who was still by the door. The 15-minute presentation dragged for much longer and didn’t finish in the end, though I somehow managed to present the topic.

After the failed presentation, we had some individual learning time which turned out to be a little chaos of its own. One kid was throwing around all of the rice from the bowl instead of spooning it from one bowl to another; another kid tore the paper out of one of the reading books because he loved the picture in it. The chaos had many other “activities” that can only be described as “not in the lesson plan.”

Then we headed off to the gym for some obstacle course time. Even though most kids wouldn’t do as we had shown them, some actually tried to perform the whole routine. After that we had snack time planned. I called my students in two by two to wash their hands, took their bags and eating mats, and set their tables to eat. We prayed before the meal and I showed them how to eat properly. Surprisingly, though they were very active and noisy during lesson, they were all behaving very well during snack time, even the crying, kicking, and sulking ones.

After snacks we had a Mandarin Chinese lesson, where my job was to help our teacher of Mandarin to maintain order in the classroom. But then it meant most kids would try to sit on my lap or at least close to me.

Finally, it’s time to go home. We said our pray, sang our goodbye song, and marched to be dismissed. My students were all smiling and some even hugged me and told me that they loved me. My hair was a mess, the two air-conditioners in the classroom couldn’t stop me from sweating because of all the chasing around, my T-shirt had food stains on it and was wet from tears, and I didn’t feel that I looked decent at all and was happy to catch a breath.

But guess what? I’d do it all over again the next day! Because the kids bring sunshine to my life and that’s why I know I’m lucky to be their teacher.


Embracing CLIL as a teacher trainer


Yitzha Sarwono
Yitzha Sarwono

By Yitzha Sarwono

First time is fresh, first time gives new flesh. Experience makes you rich and experience sets you free. As an adventurer, I’ve always loved to be given a chance to embrace something new. I must say I was getting rusty because I didn’t do anything challenging for quite a while.

The opportunity came along in the form of teacher training. I should say that training teachers wasn’t something entirely new for me since I’d done it a few times before, though on a smaller scale and only for teachers in my school. But this was something I considered out of my league: not only did I get the chance to train teachers from a different school, but I also had to train Maths and Science teachers!

Let me start from the beginning. Last February I was offered a chance to provide training for ENET (English for Non English Teachers). I was in a team of 7 trainers who came from different backgrounds and teaching fields. Our client was one of the most popular private schools in Indonesia and the program involved 80 hours of training. The goal was for the Maths and Science teachers to feel confident in teaching their subjects using full English in the classroom.

Before we could jump into training, we had to be trained, too, because none of us actually knew much about Maths or Science curriculum. We had to embrace CLIL (content language integrated learning) and start by learning the school’s material. We had to learn about things like phylum cordata, vertebrate, decimal system, 2 digits subtraction pattern, and many others. Learning this material was fun but trying to build a lesson in such a way that the teachers would be able to teach students using simple and comprehensible language was something else. Aside from learning the subjects, we were also trained on how to organize the program. As it was 80-hour training, we divided it into blocks of 3 sessions each day, 2 hours per session. In practice that meant that every time we got to the classroom we were set to teach for 6 hours, which was really intense! The length of the course could be demotivating for the participants and there was so much content to cover, so the preparation had to be thorough and handled well. Thankfully, we had an awesome team who would go extra miles in preparing the material for all the trainers. As our schedule consisted of long sessions, we had to make sure that we would provide engaging activities for all the trainees to stay motivated and actively participating throughout the program.

Every trainer was also taking part in designing lesson plans and the teacher’s guide. We spent a lot of time doing it, and since some of us lived in other cities, there were a lot of late nights, whatsapp sessions, dozens of emails, and revision here and there. We used all the tools we could to provide the healthy environment for all teachers to grow. From Power Point and flashcards to online learning sessions – we did it all.

I was very nervous before I started my first session because not only some of the teachers were more experienced than me in teaching, but I was also afraid that I wouldn’t answer their questions or fulfill their needs. Another concern I had was how I’d get through 6 hours of training time without anyone yawning in my class! Luckily, everyone in my team was very supportive (and the head of trainers reminded me to always speak slowly and look a bit more mature).

I had the privilege to teach three groups in three locations of our training, but I spent most of the training with one group in North Jakarta Area. There were 22 teachers in my group and everyone was very keen on learning. They embraced all the activities joyfully! Even the simplest activity, such as interviewing your friends, could turn out to be full of laughter. We did a lot of one-on-one Q&A sessions to work on their spelling ability and created engaging and fun role play cards with famous characters like Captain America, Thor and Indonesian famous comedians. We played with emotions, talking to each other in angry or laughing voices. One example of a role play we had was a bunny and sloth interview that I came up with, where one teacher would be the bunny and ask questions really quickly and the other would act as the sloth and mimic the slow characteristic of the animal. My group had a blast and the 6 hours of training went by like a breeze, leaving everyone happy and excited!

The CLIL session became my favorite, even if I was terrified of it at first. I soon found out that nobody in the classroom would judge me for not being a master of Maths and Science. These teachers were already full of ideas on how to teach their students. All they needed was some confidence and language means to use in their class to teach what they already knew so well. And that’s what we provided to them. After a couple of sessions, both the teachers in my group and I grew more confident as we had built trust towards each other.

When the 80 hours came to an end, it was a bitter-sweet moment for me. I was probably more happy than my trainees, because I completed all sessions and also gained a lot from the experience itself. Besides, it meant no more working at night, cutting papers, making slides, and doing assessment. But I was also sad that I had to say goodbye to my groups who I considered to be more than just participants in my class but rather my colleagues.

This experience has taught me a lot and I do hope that in the future I’ll get another chance like this. For that I must and I am willing to work harder. New experience? I will have my arms wide open for you!

To Open Doors

Ichaby Yitzha Sarwono Bryant

Teachers are people who dare to open doors and make ways for the students to find themselves . But sometimes, even the teachers need someone to open the door for them too. And that happened to me.

Around 2010 I started working for Montessori school. I was literally lost when I began learning about the Montessori method. I felt like everything I knew about teaching was suddenly of no use to me. That’s when I met Ms Helennor Otaza Lasco, the head of curriculum in my school. She was tough. She expected nothing but the best out of me. She would position me as a student whenever she showed me a Montessori technique, and whenever I asked her a question, she would help guide me so that, in the end, I would try to figure out an answer for myself. She always tried to spark my curiosity, and I realised that was the way I wanted to make my students feel as well. With Ms. Lasco’s help, I’ve come to realise that Montessori is based on 2 things : Learning by using all your five senses, and that all children should be provided with the freedom (within limits) to study at their own pace, so no one is left behind and no one is prevented from trying to strive for something even higher. It’s a truly student centred environment.

But Ms. Helennor Lasco not only opened my eyes to Montessori, she also encouraged me to try finding more doors to open. And as they say: Fortune favours the bold, so I searched out more ways to improve my teaching. As I was trying to find resources and opportunity to learn more, I joined Twitter and there I found #ELTchat. I wasn’t sure if I belonged at first because I felt like I was the only one in that community who was teaching children. But the topics discussed were useful for me (and all teachers, really) things like how to handle assessment in the classroom or Methods for teaching writing. At first, I was petrified to join in the conversation. But after getting a few responses to my first tweets, I became more involved. I even wrote up several of the official #ELTchat summaries.

It was in #ELTchat that I met James Taylor. After a discussion on #ELTchat about Dogme teaching, I posted on how I thought that it was a bit similar to Montessori. Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching that encourages teaching without published textbooks and focuses instead on conversational communication among learners and the teacher. In Montessori, the focus is on one-on-one lessons without textbooks as well. So I was interested in using the communicative techniques in Dogme in a Montessori environment. I felt it would be a good match as both recognise the centrality of the learners’ voice. To my surprise, James contacted me to support the idea of me trying to combine Dogme teaching and Montessori in my class. Not only that , he also gave me 3 slots on his blog for me to write up my experience about it! I wasn’t sure at first since I wasn’t a regular blogger. And to write on his blog felt like a little bit too much for me. But he convinced me to try. He let me write a draft for him and then he took the time to proofread it so I had the confidence to continue writing. I’m thankful that James, just like Ms Helen, never said that what I thought or wrote was not good enough. Instead of negative criticism, he gave me more space, the space I needed so I could get my ideas out and organised in words. James taught me that ideas belong to everyone, and every idea matters.

Long story short, the opportunity James gave me has opened up a lot of doors for me. James, along with Vicky Loras, helped me to get a piece on my Dogme/Montessori teaching experiences into the ETAS Journal, I’ve presented in 3 difference conferences ( 1 online and 2 in indonesia), and even more important, what James helped me do has made me believe in myself. Now I know that even this little teacher who teaches Kindergarten could leave a footprint in the ELT world and be accepted.

Since that #ELTchat back in 2012, my approach on teaching has changed. And how I see my students has changed, too. I realise that learning doesn’t always need to follow a plan. The other day we were supposed to have a picnic in our school’s yard and do a drama play on “Family”. But the rain fell, and kept falling, so we couldn’t go outside. Instead of giving in to a feeling of disappointment, my students and I had a tea party in the classroom and I read them a story and we had fun as the rain fell. Now, when my class doesn’t manage to complete an assignment, or I don’t meet the weekly goals I’ve set for myself, I realise that goals are not what’s important. Learning is what matters. And instead of making my students stay late after school, I remember that there is always the next day to take the next step.

In 2013 I met two important friends, Ika and Indrie. They had come to their first iTDi event in Jakarta that year. I surprised myself by how keen I was to interact with them. I could see a reflection of myself in them. They were so eager to know more, to learn more, and to reach for more. Their desire was a reminder of those first positive influences I had gotten from Ms. Lasco and James. But Ika and Indrie were not only taking in a similar positive influence, they were also eagerly working to find ways to spread it out further. One thing I’ve learned about myself since I’ve come to know Ms. Helen and James, I’m no longer afraid. I now believe that, when it comes to studying and teaching, everyone should have the same chance. And that’s what I’m trying to do, to give that same chance to all the students in my class and to find ways to pass on those chances to my fellow teachers. Because there are a lot of doors out there in the world, and we need to have as many hands as possible that are ready to swing them wide open.

Professional Goals for 2013 – Yitzha


I believe everybody has their own passion. For me, teaching has been something that I love doing and hope to be doing for the rest of my life. That’s my passion. I actually am not very good at making New Year’s resolutions, but given the fact that last year was such an amazing year for me, this coming year I want to do more even more than what I’ve done profesionally up till now.

One of the things that is becoming my goal is to attend more webinars. I meanl I would love to be able to join more conferences, but to be able to travel to do so is a bit hard with my condition at work —  but I have found the solution in webinars. There will be a lot of great webinar to attend too. iTDi will host some of them.

For someone who lives in Asia where traveling to conferences isn’t always possible, the internet can be a teaching aid and webinars one way to keep up with current developments. Another way is to take an online course. I’ve taken some last year and they helped me make my teaching better. So that too becomes one of the things that is on my list for better professional development (PD).

As someone who’s experienced first hand the power of online community and its role in helping my professional development,  I plan on encouraging as many Indonesian teachers as possible to do the same. To do that, I’ll add being a mentor as well as a mentee as another of my  goals for 2013. I know I still have to learn a lot, but at the same time I want to share my experience —  as someone who sort of knows her way around the online community — with others who’d love to give it a shot. That is why I’m so thrilled to participate in the upcoming Global Teacher Development Workshop on February 4th in Jakarta and February 6th in Bandung, Indonesia as well as in the International English Workshop on February 2nd in Semerang. I hope I could get more teachers in Indonesia to see that self development can come in many ways. When  you use the internet effectively — like by joining iTDi for example —  you can find more ways to reflect on your teaching and achieve more.

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And for my class, my resolution this year is to try more things with them. I’m planning to implement some of the ideas I’ve got from the conferences and webinars I’ve attended,  too. I’ll definitely try Wordle for my phonic lessons as well as  Voki and Vocaroo. I’m not sure how many to try right away as I’ll also prepare  for the annual championship (quiz bee, math, spelling and drama) in May and a musical concert along with their graduation in June — but we will sure try them all.

Of course, this will all require  very good time management, but hey, when it comes to making resolutions, I may as well go big for it.  I’ve got the drive to do  it all.

Welcome 2013! Aza aza Achieving!

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What I learned in 2012 – Yitzha

My 2012 Ride Icha

Wow! I can’t believe that this year is almost over! I felt like I’ve only just begun actually. It has been such a full and amazing year for me. I literally started the year as a little Kindergarten teacher who was just starting my PLN and eager to learn a lot.

Well, I haven’t done a lot really, but what I did this year was to be willing to try and learn new things. After joining #teachmeet at the end of 2011, I certainly was ready to take on more challenges. I started my class blog and have been having fun with it. My class has joined some projects —  having skype session with classes from Australia and then we also did a Voicethread project together.

This year with the help of the amazing Vicky Loras and Ceres Pioquinto, I had the chance to write for ETAS Journal for their spring 2012 Issue, and I also had the honor of being featured in one of the #ELTChat podcasts for their 5th episode, thanks to James Taylor.

I think one of the highlights for me this year was being able to present in a conference. My first ever was at the JELTA Conference in Jakarta this September where as nervous as I was, I was very happy to have some of  my PLN around me including the lovely Barbara Sakamoto, Adi Cerman, Marlene Yosefien and Trika Simandjuntak. Marlene and Trika had also helped me to introduce iTDi among the participants of the conference. Now that’s the true power of PLN in my opinion J . I was also very lucky to have the chance to attend and stood by Barbara’s side as her co-presenter along with the incredible Marco Brazil at the 2012 JALT Conference in Hamamatsu, Japan. Not only that, I also got to meet and learnt from a lot of incredible people! It was a wonderful time indeed!

Oh and one other thing that I’m proud of; I have finally been able to present  material at my school’s curriculum meeting! For somebody who just started to learnt about Montessori and in a school where the standard has always been set, it was a major achievement for me! J

I have to admit that my class has been a major force in my life; personally and professionally. My students have been the greatest muse any teacher could ever hope for. And if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have the urge to constantly learn and grow, so I could be a better teacher for them. Another muse in my personal development is of course my PLN, especially here in iTDi. I have never thought that being active online could give me so much! Not only for my teaching but also for my self.

So my plan next year is to continue what I’ve been doing — but raising the  bar even higher! I’m already excited about the  iTDi workshop this coming February in Semerang, Indonesia, because I’ll get the chance to share and hopefully inspire teachers here to always crave for more personal development and notice the power that PLN could give you. I’m very optimistic for the coming year and to that I’d say : Welcome 2013! Aza Aza Vivacity! ^_^