As many of my blogs are about my travels and trips and sometimes day-to-day annoyances/observations, I thought I’d talk a bit about my more professional moments. (With a few asides).
Here, at my school—IAIN (Insitut Agama Islam Negeri- State Institute of Islamic Studies), I am known to the students and faculty as “Miss Dee”. In Indonesia, people are called by their first name—sometimes they don’t have a last name. But always with a term of respect before, “Pak, Ibu” or if you’re an English teacher “Mrs. or Mr.” Most people on campus DO realize that I am a ‘Miss’, not a “mister”, so that is a victory in my book.
(Aside 1): Speaking of Miss/Mrs/Mr., the other day, my colleague, Senior Fellow Michael Kelley came to IAIN to visit and gave a presentation. The formality before any presentation is sometimes annoying. There is so much pomp and circumstance for even a simple presentation. So the Rector of IAIN (like a university president) gave a short speech before Michael spoke, and as usual, referred to me, being the Fellow at IAIN. It was in Indonesian, and yet I caught “masih” and “sendiri” (still single) in there. I thought he was explaining his use of “miss” instead of “mrs” (which is very important here). I found out later from Michael (who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia) that it was in fact, a joke about another teacher who is also, still single. Very professional, no?
And yet, your marital status is fair game here. It’s up for discussion. It is a common question you are asked within minutes of meeting someone. You quickly learn not to be offended by it (or you try). People want you to be married. I quickly assure people that 26 is ‘masih muda’ (still young) in the US, although here you’re practically an old maid.
Back to being profesh.
My classes this semester are amazing. All two of them. (The others didn’t quite pan out)….
I’m teaching two Speaking 2 classes, so my students are second semester, English Dept students. This means that they are way more eager than my students from last semester who were too frightened to even talk to me about their weekend. Because they’re speaking classes, the goal is (duh) speaking. So doing drama activities is possible and having a loud, interactive class is a weekly occurrence. Yippee! However, it is a challenge sometimes with a class of around 40 students. 40 students having conversations can be rather deafening.
The rooms I teach in are in a new building, created for the English and Arabic departments, and each is equipped with an air conditioner AND an LCD projector. However, (get this), actually having POWER to run these things is beyond the budget of this Institute. Hmmmm…. (I’m not bitter. Okay just a little). I leave my (AC’d) office in another building, and the fresh air is nice; I enter the classrooms of the building where I teach, and almost immediately, the sweat begins to drip. I look around at the poor students, who all have fans out—or pieces of paper used as fans—and our weekly routine is to complain about how hot it is.
That being said, they’re troopers, and they don’t let it get them down. This semester, I am happy to feel really energized by my classes. We’ve done a lot of interactive activities, and I have a facebook group set up for each class where they can respond to questions I pose or submit their ‘homework’ (asking each other questions about the topic we are discussing).
A lot of what I’ve done these past eight months is present at conferences or helped run workshops. (And I’ve got two more months to go!) This makes me sound very professional, and it has been great experience for me. When we started here, our boss told us it was ‘very hard to fail’ in Indonesia. It’s pretty true—most people assume because you are a native speaker, you know best. A lot of basics that we learn doing our Master’s are a bit revolutionary here. The concept of student-centered teaching and using communicative activities to teach English are often not implemented in schools. Students may be able to take a test in English and do okay, but often can’t have a real conversation. Of course, this is the struggle of all language teaching outside the country where it is spoken.
One conference I attended (but didn’t present at), was here in Palembang. Apparently I was asked, but I never got the message—I was obviously devastated. Ha. But my boss—the Regional English Language Officer, Eran, was able to come and give a keynote speech. The Governor of South Sumatra was a co-sponsor of the conference, and although he didn’t attend the conference, he invited the participants to his house (mansion) for dinner that evening. It was a real swanky affair, and leading up to the big speeches and all, the native speakers (me, Eran, and three representatives from Pearson) posed for about a BILLION photos with the participants. Oy.
(Aside 2) One tradition that I had heard of in Indonesia, but haven’t (yet) been forced to participate in, is being asked to sing a song when at a gathering, wedding, conference, etc. We were told at orientation (half-jokingly) to have a ‘go-to’ song in case you were suddenly thrust on stage. I never paid much attention, I figured I could worm my way out of it if it ever happened. Luckily it still hasn’t, but that night at the Governor’s house, it happened to my boss. (And I’m sure not for the first time). The governor made a long speech about how great he is, and also about English, and then he said, “I’d like to close, with a song.” And he did. He sang “what a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong. It was pretty amusing—mostly because he is the Governor! Imagine some politician in the USA doing that! He wasn’t half bad either. So after that, the MC asked the other keynote speaker (from Pearson) to sing. He was a British guy, and he sang…something. Can’t remember. And of course, that left the other ‘big-wig’ –Eran. Well, he totally blew the crowd away with a stirring rendition of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. I was dying. He’s a laid-back guy from California. It was so funny to see him on stage singing his heart out, especially because he was really GOOD! I was told by my friend Jon that when he was put in a similar situation, he sang the national anthem, and another Fellow, Michael, sang On Top of Spaghetti! I don’t know what my go-to would be, but I guess I’ve only got two more months. I think I’ll get through fine.
I’ve been a keynote speaker at a conference on the island of Bangka, along with my friend Autumn. Even typing that, (I’ve been a keynote speaker), I realize another thing my boss told us is true. It is easy to get a big head in Indonesia. It’s easy to think you’re awesome. (I mean, obviously I am, but really.) You walk down the street, and people look at you like you’re a movie star, they shout out hello. They ask to have their photo with you. (Not only young people, older people want their photo with you too). They value your thoughts, opinions, and ideas (simply because you’re a native speaker). For all they know, I don’t know the first thing about ___________, and yet they ask. I’ve been asked to write a foreword for an Introductory Linguistics book. Does it matter that I only studied Intro to Linguistics? Nah. I’ve been asked to edit an entire book of proceedings from an International conference. (It is painful). When I speak (or any of my colleagues/ friends speak), people think we have all the answers. “How do I motivate my students?” That is the most common question we get from Indonesian English teachers. Coming to Indonesia has certainly been a confidence booster career-wise. Leading professional development and presenting at conferences is something I would be much more nervous doing back in the US. That being said, I do feel that often we do have a lot to offer teachers here, whether it’s just suggesting arranging a classroom differently or providing some useful activities to encourage speaking. However, I know that there is much I can learn from some of the teachers I’ve met here. I think it is easy to think the native speaker knows best, when in fact, teachers here have more to offer than they think.
It has been a great eight months of growing professionally in a pretty low-stress environment. Two more months to go, and in May I’m going to take a swing at planning a presentation/workshop at my school, since I’ve been jetting around the country to help at friends’ events. Stay tuned.