Teaching practicum week 1

The fifth week of PST was centered around attaining experience teaching at an Indonesian school. Each trainee was paired with another trainee to teach in a school around Kediri. Some schools received up to five pairs of trainees. My partner, Sonam, and I were placed at SMP 4 along with Hilary and Abby.

Our first day at the school happened to be the day that Indonesian schools celebrated Kartini Day. Kartini Day was the 21st of April but the celebration was scheduled for the 25th. Kartini fought for women’s rights and education in Indonesia and brought an end to women being prohibited from working outside the home. To celebrate, kids dressed up in traditional garb and partook in activities centered around Indonesian culture.

Some of the teaching faculty from SMP 4 Kediri dressed up for Kartini Day with their Peace Corps trainees

We arrived to the school at 6:15 in the morning and walked around the grounds for a little while before students started to trickle in. At 6:30 we went to the front gate to greet students with a few other teachers. As each student walked through the gate they shook hands with the teachers and typically would bring the back of the teacher’s hand to their cheek or forehead. Salim is the name of this traditional Arabic greeting. Usually young children will do it to people much older than them or in to people in a position of authority.

After greeting all of the students we were taken to the headmistress’ office to speak with her about the Peace Corps. Two bright students were brought into the office to discuss their school with us and eventually take us on a tour of the campus.

Hanging out with two students from SMP 4 Kediri

We walked around the school and looked in the classrooms as students participated in the Kartini Day activities. Our stated objective was to observe students in the classroom during a lesson, but since it was a holiday there were no regular classes. We met with our counterparts that will be teaching with us and briefly discussed lesson planning. Hilary and Abby were matched with bu Endah while Sonam and I were to be with pak Haryono. Endah teaches eighth grade English and Haryono teaches seventh grade. Seventh grade is when students are first formally introduced to learning English in a school setting.

Students making nasi kuning (yellow rice) sculptures. Impressive display of culinary artisansip.

Our second day ended up being much more productive. We were finally able to observe an English language lesson being taught. Unfortunately it was not the most well produced lesson I have ever sat through and it was not what the Peace Corps has in mind for us to implement ourselves. Though it was useful to watch nonetheless. My counterpart, the teacher we observed first, told us that he had already finished working through the textbook that the state provided and had moved onto doing about worksheets with his students in class to review. The worksheets lacked a consistent theme or teaching objective and if there was a theme then it was not focused upon, explained, or reinforced. Student interaction was minimal and it was not clear whether the students truly comprehended what it was they were doing.Despite some minor issues with teaching methodologies, it was a very well-ran classroom. The teaching techniques may be a little dated, but that is exactly why we have come to Indonesia: to modernize teaching practices and move towards student-centered methods.

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Angkots are public transportation that are free to students in Kediri. Unfortunately we don’t qualify as students, but they are pretty economical. Despite an angkot’s small size we’re able to fit quite a few people in them.

Wednesday was the first day we were allowed to teach. We got to the school at six o’clock again but opted not to go participate in greeting the students. Salim is an interesting cultural practice, but its clear delineation of a power differential without an objective explanation as to why or how such a balance is shifted does not sit well with me. But that’s the American in me speaking; I understand that it is a gesture of respect and not much else.

Abby and Hilary immediately set to work on preparing for their upcoming lesson with their counterpart while Sonam and I went with another English teacher, bu Arni, to observe her teach the accelerated ninth grade class.

One note about Indonesian schools that I believe I have yet to mention is that students are divided up by how well they performed on the previous year’s exams. Because of this it is very easy to tell which students are advanced and which are not. There is not the same emphasis on treating students equally in Indonesia as there is in America. This, of course, leads to teachers expecting better performance from their brighter students and often getting it. Furthermore, the students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers move from room to room instead of the students. This entrenches students’ notions about who the “smart” ones are in each individual class and produces a similar outcome to teachers thinking students are smart.

Sonam and I observed bu Arni teach for about fifteen minutes until about midway through her lesson she asked Sonam and me to take over. Monday and Tuesday we were told not to teach with/for our counterparts, but since it was Wednesday and Arni wasn’t our counterpart I saw no problem in helping. Once we completed our segment we returned to observing. Arni had a student perform a story that he memorized for an English language story telling competition. It was quite impressive. Arni then asked Sonam and I to do something else so we played a short game with the students. We had been having trouble getting the students to speak so after the game we asked every student to write down a question on a piece of paper for Sonam and me to answer. The goal was to elicit more interaction from the students by impeding their fear of being wrong in front of the class. However, Arni had a different idea in mind. She asked each student to write their name on the paper and Sonam and I would pick the best question to be the “winner.” Not at all what we wanted. We managed to steer the exercise back on course and answered some basic questions about ourselves, the US, and the Peace Corps.

Hilary and Abby teaching an eighth grade class about drug use and vocabulary related to promoting drug use prevention

Abby and Hilary started to teach their first lesson at 9:30. Each trainee needs to observe and evaluate another trainee teaching at least five times throughout practicum so Sonam and I went to the classroom with them to observe and evaluate. Their counterpart already had a theme for the lesson that they were to teach: narkoba. Narcotics. There is quite an antidrug push in Indonesia right now. I have not seen any drug usage and I am unaware of the extent of the problem, but they are definitely not lacking in material regarding drug use prevention. Abby and Hilary’s lesson lasted for an hour and a half and was well executed, especially considering the cumbersome subject material.

Each class painted a mural about being drug free. I am constantly impressed by what skilled artists all of the students are.

Thursday was the first day that Sonam and I would be teaching. We got to the school at our usual time, 6:00. Sonam and I did not have to teach until 9:35 so we spent or first hour at the school preparing for class. We had planned a lesson on animals, their key characteristics, and descriptors. At 7:15 we went with Hilary and Abby to observe their second lesson. They taught until 8:35 and afterwards we hung out in the teacher’s room.

At 9:00 Helena, one of the Peace Corps staff involved with PST, came to SMP 4 to monitor Sonam and me while we taught. We began our lesson on time and opened up with a game that focused on the students’ vocabulary regarding animals. We then introduced adjectives and nouns that are used to describe animals. “A camel has a hump,” or “a camel is furry.” Once they were accustomed with the concept they had to work with a  partner to write ten sentences about an animal. When they completed their sentences we then asked them to pick out some descriptors at random and then use them to draw a fictitious animal and write sentences about “their animal.”

The entire lesson took an hour and a half and went fairly well. Helena said that we did a great job and offered a little advice to improve our lessons in the future.

Sonam and I listening as a student shares her drawing of her animal with the class
Sonam and I listening as a student shares her drawing of her animal with the class

Friday will be our last day of practicum for this week but we will resume teaching at SMP 4 on 13th of May until the 21st. Sonam and I will not teach tomorrow but Abby and Hilary will deliver another lesson.

2 thoughts on “Teaching practicum week 1

  1. as a former teacher I am enjoying your blog Mitch. I am so impressed with what you are doing.

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