by 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.