“Do you actually work?”

It has been brought to my attention that as fascinating as my blogs are, not many (any?) of them have mentioned my actual 9-5 job—teaching English at IAIN (Institut agama Islam negeri) which translates to Institute of Islamic countries.  My school is a private Islamic college; there is a mosque on campus, where students go to pray during the day.  It is a co-ed school, and most of the students live off-campus with their families or in boarding houses, but some live on campus in dorms.

The entrance to IAIN

The entrance to IAIN

When I received my schedule this fall, I saw that I would be teaching in the Law Faculty—Syariah, the Post-Graduate Islamic Studies Faculty, and a TOEFL preparation class in the Language Center.

There were two Fellows at my school before me who taught exclusively in the English Faculty, and apparently with me being the third Fellow, and the other Faculties getting a wee bit jealous, they decided the share the wealth (me).  It is nice to be wanted, but I must admit, I do wish I was teaching more in the English faculty.  I’ve met some of the students, but not as many as I’d like.  They’re excited about English and are really passionate about it.  That being said, I don’t want to knock my lovely students from the other faculties.

My Syariah students (law) are all first semester students, around 17-18 years old.  (I have two separate classes of them, about 30 students in each and see them once a week for 2 and a half hours.)  It’s definitely like teaching high school again.  Not necessarily in a good or bad way—just different from what I expected at university level.  My students overall are very shy and hesitant to speak up in class.  There are a few brave souls, but usually I have to drag it out of them or force them into speaking by assigning presentations (individual and group).  Despite going through years of English classes in junior and senior high school, their English language level is quite low in general.  I don’t know whether it is a lack of good English teachers (many people’s argument); apparently the method of rote-learning and grammar instruction is still favored by many instead of a more communicative approach.  There is not much English around—most people do not speak English here, except for “Hello Mister!” and “Where you going?!”  Palembang is definitely not a tourist destination, so there isn’t much incentive in that regard to learn English.  Whatever the reason was, most of my students either couldn’t or wouldn’t string a sentence together those first few weeks of classes in September.

One of my Syariah classes

One of my Syariah classes

My post-graduate students (Master’s level) are a really fun bunch.  I’ve had two classes of them as well, with about 17 students in each that I see once a week for 2 hours.  They’re all getting their Master’s in Islamic Education and are adults.  The youngest would be early 20s, and the oldest probably in his late 50s?  I’ve always loved teaching adult learners, and until my student-teaching experience in Roanoke, swore I’d never teach kids.  I really loved teaching (although yes, it was only student-teaching) high school students, but it was nice to get to experience teaching adults again here at IAIN.  Their language levels range, but many also have a very low-level of English.  There are a few in each class that are more fluent though, and of course the challenge is to differentiate to the range of levels.

Students doing a sorting/matching activity

Students doing a sorting/matching activity

In reflecting over the semester, I see what my biggest challenges were: not having a set curriculum, textbook, or really any sort of guidance on what to teach.  Going into the classes for the first time, I had no idea what to expect; what language level would they be? Would I need to teach English for specific purposes (English for Law?)  I quickly realized I needed to just start from the beginning and make it a General English course.  But then, where do you start?  Although strictly following a textbook is not something I do or support, I found myself missing the guidance of at least having some organization.  The semester has been a bit of a hodge-podge of basic skills, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking these students were just one more semester away from never having to take another English class.  It is pessimistic of me, yes, but I felt especially discouraged by it all a few times during the semester.  I couldn’t help whining to my friends at other schools in Indonesia that I wished I was teaching students who wanted to teach English and study it for life.  Then my Catholic guilt would kick in, and I’d quickly reassure my friends (and myself) that it wasn’t that I don’t like my current students or that I don’t like teaching learners who are at a low language level; on the contrary, my students are sweet and fun, and I love teaching beginners.  *But* these students are not beginners; they’re false beginners—they’ve had English for years, it just didn’t work!

One of our first classes; students in one of my post-grad classes writing down all the verbs they can think of

One of our first classes; students in one of my post-grad classes writing down all the verbs they can think of

A few examples of classes we’ve had: They’ve interviewed someone close to them and presented a poster or powerpoint (depending on the technological capabilities of our classroom) and presented on their person’s name, interests, ambitions, etc.  They’ve done group presentations describing a place and recommending things.  We have learned feelings and emotions and they’ve demonstrated said emotions (I’m working on brining drama into the classroom here… it’s hard).

Lesson on making recommendations: They served as my tour guides for Conor's upcoming visit to Palembang!

Lesson on making recommendations: They served as my tour guides for Conor’s upcoming visit to Palembang!

A quick note on facilities, AC, or lack thereof:

I had been told to prepare for the possibility of not having air conditioning—and I knew it was a possibility.  However, I wasn’t exactly prepared for needing to bring a washcloth to class in order to wipe my sweaty face.  (Yes, I bring a washcloth).  I didn’t really know it was possible to sweat this much!  And of course, I must wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and must not show much of my neck (no v-necks) because it is an Islamic school.  I don’t have to wear a hijab, though.   I don’t really wear long skirts like all my students (who still wear pants/leggings underneath!) because I take an ojek to school every day (motorcycle).  I am not as skilled (or as danger-loving) as most of the girls at school who sit ‘side-saddle’ on the motorcycles.  Seriously people, are you that sure of your balance on those things?! So long story short, it’s been a hot semester.  The rainy season which came maybe end of October has cooled things down a bit, so that’s good.  In my post-grad classes, there is technically an AC, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work.  They DO have fans in their classrooms though, and I tend to stand in front of it at times or if it’s on the swivel setting, I swivel along with it, while the students are working.  They laugh at me.

Some Syariah students loving the camera

Some Syariah students loving the camera

A few anecdotes:

One day in my 1st semester Syariah class, a beggar wandered into our classroom.  He made the rounds, students gave him some change, and he wandered back out.  I looked around at my students who didn’t look bothered by it, and asked if they knew him (maybe he was a regular?)  and they said “no!”  Then they got back to work.  No big deal.

Another day a small group of 3 students from another class wandered in and (in Indonesian) said something to me I didn’t understand.  They were holding a massive box of money and so I acted surprised and said, “For me?” & gestured to the box  (uh, JOKING) and all my students were like, “NO MISS!” They were collecting for a classmate whose mom had passed away.  Unfortunately I had not learned the Indonesian word for joke yet….

One day it rained early in the morning (usually it rains in the afternoon).  This made my life a bit more complicated as I usually take an ojek to school—and obviously going by motorcycle in the rain is no fun.  So I had to figure out how to get to school (my neighbor Danie drove me).  I got there a little bit late, (class starts at 7, and I arrived around 7:05 or 7:10).  There were no students there.  I had heard that things slowed down (or stopped) or things were canceled when it rains, but I had no idea of the extent.  A few students started trickling in at a quarter past.  By 7:30 I think there were 6 or 7 students of out 30.  I get a text message from a student at 7:24: “Miss Dee This day have a class or not cause day is rain”.  I texted him back, “Yes we are in class now”. He responded, “Ok wait me, sory I’m late”.  It seems some people just assume there is no class when it rains!  It does make sense because of how many of them do come by motorcycle.  Things grind to a halt.  But there’s no stopping this American, rain or no rain! Get yer wellies on!

Another classic (excuse the crudeness)

In my post-graduate classes, students had to present PowerPoints and talk about/introduce someone.  Many people chose brothers or sisters or husbands or wives, and they had to talk about that person’s name, job, hobbies, religion, favorite foods, movies, bands, and pets.

So one of the students stands up as it’s his turn to tell everyone about his friend.  He goes through his presentation, and I see it coming on a slide.  At the top of the slide Religion: Islam, and at the bottom it reads: Pets: two cocks.

So I know it’s coming, and I bite my lip so as not to burst out laughing (because I have the maturity of a 13 year old boy).  And he gets to it:  “my friend have two cocks.”  My eyes dart around the room, wondering if anyone else is holding in the laughter.  But NOTHING.  They are CLEARLY low-level English speakers, because anyone who watches Hollywood movies would know that word!  And they’re not being polite, they would have laughed if they’d gotten the joke.  They laugh a lot.
Anyway, I had to pinch myself while watching and listening, and was quite close to breaking down into giggles. But I prevailed, and have lived to tell the tale.

So on that note, I shall end your brief glimpse into my classrooms at IAIN.  Perhaps next semester will produce some more hilarious and awkward moments for me.  Oh yes, and some growth in the English language skills of my students.


About Deirdre Hand

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." Bill Bryson
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2 Responses to “Do you actually work?”

  1. Molly Cox says:

    The picture on the blackboard looks JUST like Conor. Love it.

  2. Jennifer McCloud says:

    I LOVE this! Great stories. You are doing great! It sounds like that you are doing everything right! Keep it up. Happy New Year!

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