The Needs and Abundance Issue

There is no school perfectly suited to meet the needs of every student that walks through the classroom door. There are very few schools that provide all the opportunities for growth that teachers deserve. And yet, for most of us, there is something about the places we work that makes going in to teach more than just a job. In this issue of the iTDi blog Pravita Indriati, Anne Hendler, and Faten Romdhani where asked to reflect on two questions, ‘What is one thing that your school lacks?’ and ‘What is one thing your school has which you believe all school should have as well?’ Their responses are a window into the joys and hardships of teaching. They are also a reminder that the support of the teachers around us is often what allows us to identify and meet unaddressed needs while at the same time celebrating abundances which might otherwise go unnoticed.



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.

A Supportive Work Environment

Anne Hendlerby Anne Hendler

“Anne!” My boss, Grace, calls me as I’m on my way home. “Are you still near the school? Can you come back?”

Inwardly, I sigh. It’s Friday night and my week is over. “Sure. Just a sec.”

She meets me at the door. I’m a little nervous because she had just observed two of my classes, something she rarely does. “Can I borrow your book?” Grace asks. “I told the high schoolers about the debate your classes had and they want to try it out.”

I’m surprised, but I fish out the book and hand it over.

She smiles. “Thank you for your hard work. Always.”

She goes back to her class.

My boss notices when I do extra work. When I organise a debate or make a test, she sees. She’s a teacher herself, so she is aware of the time and effort that go into the extra things. And she never fails to say thank you.

“Come and see!” Jessica, the only other regular staffroom teacher walks into my room with a big smile. I follow her out to her own classroom, where she’s posted the paragraphs and pictures the students have made on the wall. She describes the effort they put into the work and how proud she is of them. Jessica is our school’s Korean ‘English grammar teacher’, one of the quirks of ELT in Korea. But she means so much more than that to me and our school.

Another day: “How was your class?” I ask as Jessica sits down.

She sighs. “One student lost his temper.”

“I bet I can guess who.” I sigh, too.

Our biggest challenges are classroom management with the younger students. But we share them and talk through them together. We have a supportive work environment.

The four of us make a dedicated, hard-working team. I teach five days a week. Jessica and Grace teach six. Our boss’s husband teaches seven. We all work over 30 hour weeks. We all bring our work home to prepare classes and find, create, or adapt materials. And the thing I wish we had: more time and space to prepare for each day. Or maybe, just maybe, some extra help.

We are Hopemongers

Faten Romdhaniby Faten Romdhani

The whole educational scene has been altered by the digital age and it has affected the teaching and learning processes, to a very large extent in some “developed” areas and to a very small scale in some “developing” areas of the globe. The challenges facing English language teachers nowadays in the developing world are becoming more visible, especially when we can see a wave of tablets invading classrooms as official, school supplied learning devices…classrooms in which ours seem like the only exception. The setting where I and my coworkers teach is not following the same trends as those in “developed” areas. Have our classrooms been furbished to suit the hopes of the “screenagers” or “Gen Y”? The answer is absolutely NO. The space, the classrooms, the whole setting of the learning experience is pretty much the same as the setting in the early years of the 20th century.

We crave, as teachers and as learners, for a “creative”, “innovative”, “dream-like” space, with the necessary equipment (easy access to data, posters, comfy and colourful seats). Though there are moments when we feel like we’re swimming against the tide,we are not giving up on our rosy dreams. If the space does not match the predilections of the screen-agers, then attending school will feel like a burden to many of our learners. So in my school, the teachers bring their own laptops to class so as to help meet the needs of the screen-agers and adopt a teaching style which leads to higher levels of engagement.

And then there is the challenge of how to make use of the mobile devices the learners themselves bring to school. There is staggering pressure to allow the use of these devices in class. At my school we know that mobile learning does indeed need to be part of the teachers’ action plans. If it’s not included, learning is hindered by the students’ desire to use these devices which they rely on outside of class. In my school, and in my classes, we use these mobile devices in ice-breaking, warm-ups, and shorter classroom activities. Unfortunately, once in the students’ hands, learners tend to use these mobile devices to check social media and other activities which hinder learning. We need to gain more expertise in dealing with these issues. We need to understand if and how our students’ multitasking skills can be used drawn upon to facilitate as opposed to undermine classroom learning.

All this said, the success of teaching does not depend upon wholly on an inspiring, high tech space. We are blessed with students of talent. But fostering their creativity and creating opportunities for students to share it with the class and the wider world takes a bit of courage on the part of the teacher. It is not easy to help learners discover their talents, empower them to be better learners, love the learning journey and ignite the spark in them. That is why, in spite of lack of technology and other difficulties, teachers in my country must be “hope mongers.” We must learn to grow the seeds of hope that rest in every student, even in hindering and frustrating situations. Throughout the years of my teaching, 16 years so far, many of the students who said they couldn’t write a few lines of poetry later proved themselves wrong and relished the experience of writing their own poem. From experiences like these, I’ve learned that the success of the teaching process, which is always relative, depends on the teacher-student partnership, a partnership which is only modified, but rarely fundamentally changed by the level of comfort or technology in the classroom. This relationship can be discovered through answering two questions: How well do the teachers and learners trust each other? Are the learners and teachers ready to partner in the learning-teaching process?

Trust should be mutual. If I trust you, I can understand you in your most difficult states, and I will have faith that you are doing your best to help me explore new lands. If I trust you, I know that no matter how tough it may feel, we will make progress on our intriguing journey of learning, a journey for both the teacher and the learners. With trust, both students and teachers can admit that failure is an inevitable stepping stone in the process of teaching/ learning. With trust, we can admit that the ability to fail and learn from failure is what distinguishes “warriors” from “mere passive recipients”, “dreamers” from “doers”, “builders” from “watchers.” But to make this happen, trust must also exist between teachers as well as between students and teacher. I strongly believe this trust allows teachers to collaborate more, and most importantly, to break free from the shackles of “outmoded” coursebooks. Collaboration and creativity is how we can engage our students and inspire them to aim higher.

“From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success.” Challenges are here to make us grow stronger and more determined. Challenges are invitation to dream bigger dreams. The majority of the students in my school are creative, caring and supportive. And what allows me to see and foster this beauty in my students even in our challenging environment, is the collaborative spirit I have with my fellow teachers. Everyone is willing to lend a hand when need be. We are a group of teachers, who despite all the challenges, do not fail to listen to each other’s worries, do not fail to suggest ideas. We continually trust in one another, trust that we can and will build stronger relationships and uplift each other’s morale when facing hardships. Despite all the challenges, the lack of equipment, ‘hope for a better tomorrow,’ is a motto for everyone in our school. And this is why most of the students and teachers do not fail to prove to be highly creative and innovative, if they are given the chance.