My students are the best part of being in Indonesia.
Anyone who has met me in real life is probably not at allsurprised by that sentence. I love teaching, and I live for those moments in the classroom. Generally, in my eyes, students are the best part of anything.
But really, my students are the best part of being in Indonesia.
The students I get to work with every day are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. They take around fourteen classes at the same time, and spend their entire day in the same hot classroom with sometimes up to forty other students. And yet, they are somehow able to have more enthusiasm for learning and living than I would have ever thought possible. They amaze me. They are the reason I go to school even on the days when I know I will be in and out of the classroom all morning, vomiting up whatever delicious food it was my American stomach couldn’t handle. They are the reason I stay up late into the night preparing lessons, accepting that I will be running on instant coffee the next day.
They are the best Bahasa Indonesia teachers Malang has to offer. They are some of the best comedians I have ever seen. They are artists, musicians, athletes, inventors… and they are generally between the ages of fourteen and sixteen.
I am a teaching assistant in both tenth and eleventh grade here at SMAN 10. Today, I want to introduce you to Kelas Sebelas (Grade Eleven).
Kelas Sebelas baffled me at first. It wasn’t their fault at all. My goal is to eventually teach middle school, and the oldest students I had ever regularly worked with prior to coming to Indonesia were ninth grade students. Consequently, I hit it off easily with the tenth graders, who are in their first year of high school, much like my ninth graders back home. But the eleventh graders were older, wiser… and still kids at heart. It took me a little longer to figure out what made them tick, and what they needed from me.
They still want class to be fun. They still enjoy the occasional game, the occasionalgrammar joke, the occasional goofball moment from Miss Grace.
But these are students who next year will be applying to colleges and programs, and generally deciding what they want to want to do with their adult selves. They are beginning
to come into themselves as individuals, and be proud of who they are. And they are beginning to really see themselves as part of their country, and their world. They see opportunities, and strive for success. They see problems, big and small, and want to be part of the solution.
They want real conversations about real-world topics. These are the students with whom I did a unit on social justice activists. These are the students who, when we did a unit on recipes, asked questions about food for the homeless in the United States. These students are getting ready to take on the world, and they want to be prepared to make it better.
But they are still teenagers, full of insecurities and doubts about their abilities and their futures. They dream of changing the world, but are convinced they cannot pass the upcoming Physics test. They hope to make their families proud, but they worry that none of their friends really like them. They get nervous, they hesitate, they stumble, and they fall. Sometimes they stand back up. Sometimes they need a helping hand. Growing pains are hard.
I know that every single one of my students is an incredible individual, capable of endless possibilities. It’s part of my responsibility as their teacher to help them see that.
Thus began what I started calling the “Emma Blackery Project.” Emma Blackery, British YouTube creator and musician, released a song called “Perfect” in early November just last year. It quickly became my favorite song, the one I danced foolishly to in the privacy of my bedroom at the end of a long day. I fell in love with its message, and dreamed of using it in class.
Kelas Sebelas is required by the national curriculum to study the conditional tense. Conditional is hard. Prior to midterms, they still needed more review on the topic. I scoured the internet for ideas—I had already used Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” to help them see the structure used in a real example, and I was hoping for another, somewhat enjoyable way to review—but I could not find anything that really inspired me. Frustrated, I turned to YouTube for some reprieve, and somehow ended up re-watching the music video for “Perfect.”
It was then I noticed that many of the signs Emma’s fans were holding included conditional statements (“I wish I was thin,” “I wish I was funny,” etc.). There were even
examples of conditional in the lyrics. That was all I needed. I proposed my idea to my co-teacher, and she told me to run with it.
I had students watch the video and listen to the song as part mof a listening activity, and then we talked about the conditional in the songs. I had the students correct the minuscule grammatical errors in some of the signs, while trying to make sure they understood what was really important about those signs: “See? People who have trouble using perfect English grammar can be in music videos. English is weird, and it’s hard for everyone. It’s not about being correct. It’s about communicating an important idea.” It’s a concept I’ve been stressing to my students since I arrived in Malang, and Emma Blackery had given me the perfect opportunity to continue the message.
Then it was time for the students to be the star of the show. I had each student write eight sentences: “Three of these sentences must use the conditional tense. These are about things you wish you could change about yourself. Five of these sentences are normal sentences, or statements. These are about what you are proud of, what you can do, what you are that is special, what makes you AWESOME.” When they were finished, they could choose a sentence to write on a sign, and create a short video clip using my
camera. I would then compile the video clips, and create a video during the week of midterms, during which time my Visa does not allow me to be in the classroom. Students were not required to participate, but could be part of the video only if they wanted to be part of it.
I was overwhelmed by how many of them were willing to be part of the video, and especially thrilled to see how many were willing to stand in front of a camera and bare their insecurities to the world. Such an act would be difficult for anyone, but it is only made harder by being an adolescent.
I barely had space in the video to include all of the footage. Cutting even a moment of their smiles was heartbreaking. In the end, I know my video editing skills are mediocre at best, but I can’t help but feel that the amazing essence of my students somehow shines through.
This is why they inspire me.
This is why they are the best part of being here.
I present to you, Kelas Sebelas, perfect the way they are.