Teaching kids is about the little things
Jenny Iredale, Michael Edwards and Lorraine Shiel
Four Australian teachers spent three months teaching at a primary school in Desa Solo, a small village near Boawae district, Central Flores. They were involved in the Nusa Tenggara Timur Primary Education Project (NTTPEP) teacher exchange program. NTTPEP is an Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) program working with the Indonesian Government. In this article, three of them offer insights into a day in the life of a foreign teacher in an Indonesian village.
At 5.30am I can hear the other Australian teachers (Trees, Michael and Alison) starting to get up. The walls are paper-thin and privacy is non-existent. My bucket of hot water arrives a little late so I sit and have a cup of tea on the verandah whilst looking into our lush, green garden and to Mount Ebulobo, an active volcano. The mandi (wash) is wonderful. Then it’s breakfast of rice, vegetables and an omelette.
At 7am we ride our ojek (motorbike) to school. It takes about half an hour and the mountain scenery is to die for. My driver Kristos is very careful and, even though he is only 16, I feel safe with him. I enjoy the crisp air on my face, the wind blowing my hair and the closeness to nature.
Along the road we come across Ibu Theresa, a local fellow teacher. She has a letter for our principal explaining that she is sick and won’t be at school today. Communication is very different here. There are no telephones, let alone computers.
We arrive at school for the start of Monday’s flag raising ceremony. It’s very formal, and the students are obviously well trained. There are some songs and speeches, the Pancasila is recited and the flag is slowly raised. Well-choreographed and practiced marches follow.
The principal is absent and three of the seven teachers are away. There is no such thing as a relief teacher. The classes without a teacher will sit at their desks and entertain themselves.
My school day starts with the year twos’ Indonesian lesson. We read from a book, sing some songs and then they write a song of their own. They love illustrating their songs. This seems to be a new experience. For year two maths we play circle games and concentration with a pack of cards. Then we use lidi sticks, made from bamboo, for counting activities. Any resources must come from the local environment and be sustainable.
After the year two class goes home at 11am, I teach the year threes. For maths, we just play number games. They love it. At midday I teach English to the year sixes who are so eager to learn. They enjoy the informal English conversation activities and become very animated, giggling and laughing. Soon the school day is over and the children walk home.
All the teachers go next door to the principal’s house for lunch. This happens every day. The principal is nowhere to be seen but his wife has graciously prepared our food. They have a modest, bamboo and brick house. Today’s lunch is rice, vegetables and chicken. Prayers are said before and after we eat. From where I sit I can see the spectacular scenery, the mountains and lush vegetation. It’s quiet, peaceful and totally unpolluted here.
We catch a bemo or minibus from the main road home. It’s usually very crowded and people even sit on the roof. We enjoy our interactions with the ever-friendly locals and the children from our school. The bus charges downhill and around the bends. I hang on tightly and feel uncomfortably scared.
We get off at the corner in Boawae and walk the last 1.5 kilometres to our hotel. We buy our water supplies at a little warung and reach ‘home’. I feel ecstatic and privileged that I am in Flores having these amazing experiences.
There were only two staff members at school when I arrived. The children were in the classrooms after early morning assembly and exercises.
I started with the year one class. The assistant teacher wasn’t there to translate. It’s amazing how non-verbal communicative skills improve when they just have to! Maths games, songs and some coordination exercises filled in the morning session. We had a writing lesson outside and used sticks to write in the sand. Without a translator, I was left with a group of children who still have difficulty with Bahasa Indonesia and little understanding of instructions. It was break time.
The year ones went home at 10am, as I felt I was unable to continue without language assistance. The year four class had been without a teacher all morning so I took them in to join the year fives. They didn’t have a teacher either but at least they could understand me. The combined class totalled 31 children. We had a good time playing language and number games.
At 12.15 the year six children appeared with two teachers. There was talk of an upcoming singing competition. Years four, five and six then listened to a recording of the song they had to learn for the competition. The kids copied down the words they recognised and hummed along. It sounded wonderful.
The year threes had spent their time copying work from the blackboard. This is the only way to ensure all children have a copy of the reading material. They then repeatedly read what they had written.
With school over for the day at 12.55pm, I lunched with the other teachers at the principal’s house. It is a lovely time of the day, sharing a meal and chatting socially with the staff and community members, who occasionally drop in or are invited to join us. I was continually amazed at the hospitality, genuine warmth and friendship of some of the most beautiful people I have ever met.
People were busy working around the house in preparation for the coming Sunday’s first communion. Women were cooking and men were constructing a bamboo frame in front of the school. A large truck had arrived earlier with various pieces of equipment and a very large trussed black pig.
School will be closed on Saturday and Monday. The communion celebrations are planned to go on all Sunday night, so everyone has Monday off to recover. You can’t party on a Saturday night, because you have to go to church on Sunday.
At 1.15 pm I left to catch a series of buses to Boawae. I chatted to people on the bus. Being a visitor makes for great conversations. The trip was over very quickly and I said goodbye to a group of people as though they were my best friends. Try that on a bus ride in Adelaide!
At home I washed my clothes, drank some coffee and wrote in my journal. It’s just another day in Desa Solo.
How about a maths lesson with 46 children in year two! I’d cut out paper squares, rectangles, circles and triangles. Their teacher was there to help me with translation. We put the kids into groups and taught them the names of the shapes. Then we tried to discuss what they could possibly make using shapes. There were blank looks all around.
I showed them a picture of a man pushing a cart, made out of shapes. Lots of hands went up and those I asked said they could make a picture of a man pushing a cart. Their teacher explained they could try to make anything at all out of shapes. But all anyone could think of was a man pushing a cart.
I asked them if they could make any animals out of shapes and they said there weren’t any animals that they could make. Then I showed them a picture of a chicken made out of shapes. Hands went up again and some thought that they could make a chicken out of shapes, or a man pushing a cart. But that was all.
We handed out the shapes to the groups and gave them time to play. Group work proved very difficult for some of the students. They wanted to hoard the shapes for themselves, even though there were plenty for everyone to use. It took a lot of encouraging for the kids to leave the shapes they weren’t actually using in the middle for others to access.
After some time playing and making men pushing carts or chickens, a brave little soul eventually said they thought they could make a house out of shapes. I said I thought that would be a good one to try. The teacher and I showed the others in the class what this person had done and praised them.
Most then tried to make a house as well as a man and a chicken. By then it was time to pack away, so we collected up the shapes, ready to use the next day.
Next day, the kids were a little more adventurous with the shapes. Some even made flowers, trees, houses, cars or trucks. I got them to draw their pictures in their books and write something about them. Each group glued one picture onto a piece of cardboard and wrote about it, so it could be displayed in the classroom.
Lorraine Shiel (email@example.com) teaches at Christies Beach Primary School in Adelaide and is President of Intan (Indonesian Teachers Association of SA). Jenny Iredale (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Michael Edwards (email@example.com) work at the Open Access College in Adelaide.