Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why teaching is hard...

October 19, 2009
Today marks the first day of my second week of teaching and I’m beat. These kids, I love them all, but they take a lot out of me. I’m reminded often of my own days in high school, and while I look back at my teachers and classes fondly, I can’t stop feeling sorry for all of the times my classes, and I admittedly, misbehaved. I apologize for the poor sentence structure in that last sentence; while I could change it, I’m not going to.

Really though, I am beginning to have such a deep respect for the way my high school teachers commanded our respect, and guided our interest in the direction of their lesson. What skill and what prowess they all demonstrated! This is a time tested skill that I know I can’t acquire after just a week or even just a year of teaching.

I say all of this because my after school 10th grade English club was taxing today. The lesson was their second as a club, and I was focusing on talking about habitual actions. I chose this topic for two reasons: because it uses only the simple present tense, something they’re comfortable with, and because the habitual actions they participate in every day are actions they will need to know how to express in their foreign language. I remember often writing, “Cada dia yo como almuerzo.” When recounting our days, we usually mention eating, because we do this every day.

Before I go on, it just occurred to me that maybe some of you don’t know what my circumstances are. For those of you that don’t know, I am in Indonesia this year on a Fulbright as an English Teaching Assistant. I am at MAN Limboto teaching an English class a week to all of the 10th graders and all of the 11th graders. These classes are all taught once during the week by their regular English teacher, and once by me. So as you see, they have English class only twice a week, but these class periods are 45 minutes long, and the periods are always taught in blocks. This means that I teach one class for 90 minutes at a time. This is very long, and I really struggle to keep them interested during the entire class. In addition to teaching the 10th and 11th graders, I teach all of the 10th graders in an English club on Mondays, all of the teachers in an English club on Wednesdays and all of the 11th graders after school on Thursdays. These clubs last for two hours after school and are taught solely by moi. And just so you can imagine it, that’s 80 10th graders with me in one hot room for two hours after school on Mondays and 112 11th graders after school on Thursdays.

Now that you have a better idea of what I do, I can tell you a little bit more about my experiences today with the 10th grade English club. I felt that I did a pretty good job introducing my first activity, leading into it for about 20 minutes. They brainstormed most of the words they were about to be using, and the sentences they would be saying most frequently I modeled for them beforehand. They loved the activity I had them do where they act out the habitual actions of someone in a particular profession and their group members ask them yes or no questions until they can clearly guess what kind of profession they’re acting out. So each person chooses a card that has a profession printed on it, and then they act out actions that that person might do every day, while their group members ask them questions like, “Do you work outside?” or , “Do you work for the state?”

I must give credit where credit is due and tell you that I got the idea for this activity from the book Grammar Practice Activities by Penny Ur – a very useful book.

I then transferred the focus to them; what kinds of habitual activities do they do? Well, we brainstormed for a while about what we do every day, what we do once a month and then what we do once a year. The brainstorming went well, and they understood what to do when I asked them to make three lists of their own of what they do every day, once a month and once a year. I gave them 20 minutes to come up with their own individual lists, and then I put them in groups of 10 to share what they wrote with everyone in their group. The catch here was that, if someone read aloud a habitual activity that you also had on your list, then you must both cross it out. In this way, at the end of the activity each student in the group is left with a list of habitual activities that are unique to them.

I had lots of problems during this second activity. After counting them off into groups of 10, I found that my 8 groups were very uneven. Being a math major, I knew I myself had not counted them off wrong. But somehow my group 2 had morphed into containing some 17 members, when I knew at most it should have 11. Where had these extra 6 or so members come from, and why were groups 6 and 3 so small? Had these students all forgotten their numbers, and just joined group 2, or had they wanted to be in the group with their friends? Moreover why was this discrepancy in group size bothering me so very much? I was getting very flustered before they even began sharing their lists with one another, because I could not stand how uneven these groups had turned out, and more importantly why my system had failed.

I earnestly asked the members of what I thought to be the large group 2 to raise their hands, but to no avail. I asked and asked and asked them to raise their hands so that I could determine just how many more people I needed to move out of group two, but I never really got them all to raise their hands. I think this may be because some of them knew they were not actually members of group 2. But I’m getting a little bogged down in the details here.

So yes, grouping was a problem, and so was reading aloud. So many of the students simply allowed others in their group to view their lists, and subsequently cross things out, instead of reading their lists aloud to each other in English. That was the third struggle: getting the students to use English when I wasn’t listening. This is perhaps my biggest challenge. I don’t know how to encourage them to speak English when I’m not listening. I almost resorted to begging. Almost.

The last problem, and by far the most upsetting is the students lack of respect for me, but more importantly, for their fellow students.

I have been to high school. I know that many times we do not respect our classmates, but this is more brazen than I have ever seen. The students continually have side conversations that almost always drown out any student that is speaking out loud in the class. That means when their fellow classmates brave speaking out loud in their foreign language, in front of everyone (something I shudder at doing myself), they laugh and talk in Bahasa Indonesia and don’t bother listening to a word being said. It really upsets me to see. I got very upset today when they would not listen to me, they never stopped talking, and when their classmate stood up to speak many continued on as if no one was standing and talking to all of them.

And do you know what really discourages me, making me think I will never change their habit? The student who stood and spoke to the class, clearly did not expect them to ever stop talking and listen to him. When I told him to wait with me as I waited for complete silence, he continued speaking long before total silence was ever reached, because even he saw this as a unachievable goal.

Please, for those of you that are reading this blog – what should I do? How can I make them want to respect each other? Can this be instilled this late in the game?

If you are a teacher, maybe you have dealt with this. What can I do?

I did end the class by giving them a quick talk about how I wanted them to respect each other and me when we’re speaking. I made sure to define respect, and I think they understood what it meant. They clearly sensed that I was upset, but while I was disciplining them, they were still talking amongst themselves and having side-conversations. I felt so discouraged after this lesson.

Well, a little time has passed and I’m feeling a little more hopeful, but I think this will be a challenging problem to face.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My first blog post!

October 10, 2009

This blog has been way too long in the coming. But as my closest friends and relatives, you know that my perfectionism and poor communication skills combined make this fact far from surprising. However, even in light of that, I am sorry for the delay. Thank you all for gently nagging me, and waiting patiently. This is as much for you as it is for me, and I think I have overcome my fear of your judgment to let you all read my most personal and reflective thoughts so that you can share this other-worldly experience with me.

Let’s begin.

I think I am required to say at some point that the opinions and information expressed in this blog are solely my own, and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State. THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL DEPARTMENT OF STATE WEBSITE. Let not the wandering souls of the internet be confused.
Well, now that that’s done, I can begin to tell you about Indonesia.

October 16, 2009

So…great ready for a great read.

Today, I went to the gym. In Indonesia. It was so much more than I could have hoped for.

So, you’re thinking, “Okay, it’s a gym in a small town in Indonesia, how great could it be? What, does it have some treadmills or something? Maybe a few weight machines? Wait. Does it have air conditioning?! It’s got to have air conditioning, right? Right?!”

No. No air conditioning, no weight machines, and no machines at all except one stereo. This is a one room gym run by one amazing women. I really, truly wish you could all meet her.

This room reminds me a lot of a dance room I know from Gainesville in a small dance studio that goes by the name Cameron Dance Center. This room, like the one at Cameron Dance Center, has one wall lined entirely with mirrors (for the obvious help this gives the dancer when practicing for good form). Unlike the room at Cameron Dance Studio, this room has tile on the floor. Now these large white tiles on the floor, were I swear, the cleanest white tiles I have ever seen on a floor. They looked brand new. Maybe they were. Alexa and I commented that we can’t even keep our floors at home this clean, and supposedly, these floors have women sweating all over them.

Oh, I should mention, that like my tap class that I took at Cameron, this gym/room was filled only with middle-aged women, and of course Alexa and I. Oh and a few children who were there with their mothers, being watched.
So, we walk into this all women’s gym with Ibu Selvi (pronounced sel-fee), and were welcomed by other aerobic-enthusiasts. And wow - I was worried about my work-out shorts being too short…I had nothing to worry about. These women were wearing matching work-out outfits, that were skin-tight, and sometimes the tops were more like bras. It was awesome. I felt so much more comfortable, like I could have easily been in America.

We had the usual picture-taking with the Americans, and then the instructor arrived. She was wearing a matching two piece red, white and blue ensemble, that looked striking like an American flag. It made me so happy. Just like home  And man she was toned. This small framed woman was compact and strong.

So, then we began the only real thing we could have done in this gym – aerobics. And let me tell all of you who don’t know that I’ve never done an aerobics class in America, but this class was INTENSE. Alexa and I were both drenched in sweat by the end. I mean we were more drenched then I have ever been. Ever.

The work-out started slow, with marching in place, something that never stopped throughout. There were two thirty minute sessions: one very active, and second (which we didn’t know about until the first one was over) was more like ‘slow’ dancing. At least that’s what they called it. It was not slow, but it wasn’t as hard-core as the first one. In the second half we did a lot more dancing that they told us was Indonesian dancing. It was so much fun – lots of hip moving, and hands turning.

But what you really need to know is that this work-out was the most sexual of any I’ve seen ever. You’d be surprised that in this conservative culture where I get stares for showing my shoulders, that these women were pulsating and gyrating their hips hard and with real enthusiasm. I’m glad to see that they have a release, where behind closed doors they’re able to get out any sexual frustration that they may have. I mean these women were working out but having a great time pulsing their bodies to “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.” You all should have seen it.

Well, since there was no air conditioning, I am really dripping with sweat still, so I’m going to go take a nice cold shower. Mmmm. Finally, I’m looking forward to that cold shower I wake up to every morning.

Now, I will finish off my night with a little “Save the Last Dance” on the tv, and then “Definitely Maybe.” Be jealous. It’s going to be a great night…