When a Brain Child Grows Up: The Bahasa Project

Throughout my first grant as an ETA, the best teachers I had as I tried to learn Bahasa Indonesia were my students.  I had bought and borrowed textbooks, I searched online for resources, but nothing was as effective as the enthusiasm and humor my students brought to my bumbling attempts to master their language.  I wished on more than one occasion that I could somehow bring my students to every Bahasa Indonesia learner.

This was the spark that brought me to head a project that stretched across the great archipelago of Indonesia, The Bahasa Project.  The aim of the project is to create a series of videos, and sometimes supporting materials, to help folks who may want to learn Bahasa Indonesia or one of the hundreds of local languages spoken throughout the country.  To do this, ETAs enlist the help of their students and other members of their school communities, the true experts in the field, as they talk, tease, and tell their stories in these languages each and every day.

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Almost a third of the 2015-15 ETA cohort created such videos with their students.  This is not the sort of project you can tackle on their own, and I was awed and thankful for the amount of support my crazy idea received after I pitched it to the cohort.  This project would not be what it is without them.

Facilitating the making the videos with my own students was an absolute joy.  I placed control of the project firmly in their hands, from selecting the topic and subsequent vocabulary, to writing and developing the script (I helped with editing a bit), to the directing and acting while the video was being filmed.  I supported them, but refused to tell them what to do with the project: it was they who were the teachers now.

My English Club girls rose to the task at hand, and created not one but two videos for the Bahasa Indonesia section of the project, both about describing people’s personalities.  The thoughtfully crafted skits for each vocabulary word, checking with me to make sure certain examples would make sense to someone outside of Indonesian culture, and adding cultural explanations where needed.  Their skits were effective, creative, and almost always hilarious.  While the filming was taking place, my job was generally limited to pressing the record button on my camera and making sure that everyone was in frame, while my girls tweaked parts of the script, determined whether or not they needed to retake a scene, and teased one another good-naturedly for forgotten lines or for laughing before the scene was over.

Plenty of fun was had by all, and more than once we all ended up on the floor in stitches.  At the same time, my girls treated the project with a seriousness that made me feel like I was on the set of a real movie on occasion.

Many of the students in my English Club were too shy to so much as say hello to me in English when I first started holding English Club meetings, but they stuck to it and kept trying, and their hard work really showed as they tacked this project.  Working with students in this way is one of the most wonderfully humbling experiences I think anyone can have, and I feel blessed to have been a part of this.

In the end, it was time that got in our way, as it always does.  While we had planned out the video for Bahasa Gorontalo, because school was repeatedly canceled we did not have enough English Club days to film it together.  I ended up filming it during my last week at site, and did far more directing than originally planned.  Even so, it was great fun to do, as it involved more students and even some of the teachers.

Due to time and the fact that my old laptop was on its last legs, editing the videos—something my students and I had planned to do together—had to wait until I returned to the states.  While I have at this point shared the completed videos in the English Club Facebook Group, but a large part of me still wishes we had been able to watch them for the first time together.  I comfort myself by knowing that waiting allowed me to create a much higher-quality video, to truly showcase the talent of my students.

Technology and time meant I was not the only ETA whose videos were not finished at the end of the grant, and a few tweaks needed to be made to several of the videos handed to me at our end-of-year conference.  I didn’t really mind one bit, as this meant I had the privilege of seeing the brilliant work made by other students and ETAs from across Indonesia before they were even posted to YouTube.  Though enough videos have been uploaded for the project to go live, there are more videos on the way, and I cannot wait to see what other schools have produced.

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The young people I get to meet and work with as an ETA impress me in a million ways each and every day, and this was just one more chance for them to blow me away.  I am incredibly proud of the work all of the students and ETAs have accomplished in The Bahasa Project, and humbled and blessed to have been a part of it.



Website: thebahasaproject.wordpress.com

YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UC6MFZUgG58VZRkqyuFIJ4vA



Last Lines: The End of My Gorontalo Chapter

There are entire blogs, Tumblr accounts, etc. dedicated to the last lines of novels.  I myself wonder at the lack of attention given to the last lines of chapters: those few words that transition the reader out of one adventure and into the next.  These are often my favorite lines of a novel, some for their subtlety, others for their pomp and circumstance, and still others that somehow manage to be both at once.

If my time in Gorontalo was a chapter in a book, it’s last line would have been of that last sort, a perfect blend of quiet moments and full-scale productions.


It may have taken me until my last day at site to see the marching band perform, but that didn’t make it any less amazing.

I left site in the week after finals, which meant I had no more real responsibilities with my school: no classes to teach, no clubs to run, no meeting to attend.  I was thankful for this time and space to really say goodbye to the place I had come to call home; to finally learn how to make tinituan from my closest friend and her mother, after months of planning to do so; to ride my motorbike along my favorite roads one last time; to stop by my favorite martabak sellers and ask them to make me one last of my usual orders; to tell the folks at the internet café, who have become almost like family because I have spent so much time there, that they wouldn’t be seeing me around anymore… my job was done.


Coordinated costumes, giggles, and balloons…

But it was not all quiet goodbyes.  My final full day at site was an adventuresome one: it began with a jalan sehat (literally, “healthy walk”) in honor of my school’s birthday, which coincided with my leaving; I was finally able to see the school’s marching band perform, after passing by their practice for nine months; and as a themed costume contest was part of the parade, my last day was spent surrounded by the enthusiasm and creativity that I so love to celebrate in my brilliant students.  In the afternoon, my school held a perpisahan, or going-away party, for me, complete with speeches and singing: even I wrote a speech, and sang in front of a crowd for the first time since becoming an ETA in Indonesia (how I managed to escape this for so long is a mystery).  There was a stage, there was a banner, and there was more love than I could ever deserve.


One last sweaty, happy group photo with some of my students.

My final morning in Gorontalo was spent with some of my favorite teachers, packing up the last of my things and stopping to eat delicious ikan bakar, one last time.  We piled into cars, and headed off to the airport.  We laughed, we cried, we hugged, and said goodbye.

And then it was over.  I boarded the plane with my sitemates, every bit as important to my time here than anyone from my school or community, and headed to Jakarta for the End-of-Year Conference, to say goodbye to the cohort that was my extended family this grant period.


One of my Indonesian Moms.

Again and again throughout my last week at site, I told people: “It’s not just goodbye, it’s see you later.”  And as I am returning to Indonesia again, I know that I will see many of the wonderful people from that side of the globe again, and I do hope that I will cross paths in the future with the ETAs I have come to love.

But I will never again live in Gorontalo as the ETA at MAN Model.  That chapter of my life is over, and a new chapter is beginning.  The people and places will carry over—if not in my actual everyday existence, then in the cornerstones of my heart—because though this may be a new chapter, but it is still the same story.  But they will take on a new role, as the plot twists into a new shape.

I am sad and excited to turn the page.  I will miss the tale this chapter told.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

Teaching, Learning, Growing: The ELF Workshop

One of the new initiatives for the ETA program this year is a required Teaching Workshop, preferably in collaboration with an English Language Fellow (ELF).  In Indonesia, ELFs are associated with the Regional English Language Office (RELO), and their primary job is to teach in various tertiary educational institutions (most of the ELFs in Indonesia are in universities, but there are also those in Police Academies and the like).  But while most of their time is spent at their host institution, schools and such can also request a workshop held by an ELF in their Region.


Listening as my kepala sekolah (headmaster) gives an opening speech.

There is no ELF in Gorontalo, but there is one in Manado: Jeremy, who has been in and out of Indonesia for years now, has taught in all sorts of contexts, and is all-around the kind of awesome I can only dream of being.  Jeremy was also at our Mid-Year Enrichment Conference (MYEC) during my first grant, so I already had some idea as to how great he is, and it was a pleasure to work with him again.

I’ve assisted in the implementation of various conferences before, but I’ve never been anywhere close to heading one, and so as my two sitemates and I planned the conference together, there were certainly quite a few learning curves.  But I think we all gained a lot from the experience, and the workshop ended up being really helpful for all the teachers who attended.


Teachers listen as Jeremy describes a speaking activity.

Because my school is most centrally located, we held the workshop there.  My teachers helped to plan much of the details, including when the workshop should be held, food (you simply cannot have an event in Indonesia without food), and inviting teachers from other schools to attend the workshop.  My sitemates and I chose incorporating speaking into the classroom as the subject of the workshop, and communicated with Jeremy to plan what we wanted out of sessions.  Our workshop, cleverly entitled “Teaching Dynamic Effective Speaking” (courtesy of Jeremy), was well on the road to fruition.

There were plenty of bumps along the way: many of elements we thought had been planned well ahead had actually been forgotten on the wayside by various parties and ended up being completed last minute (to an extent, this happens when planning any kind of event, but I do feel jam karet was somewhat to blame[1]), and only about two-thirds of the teachers whom we had been told were coming actually came to the event.



Jeremy looks on as teachers try one of the activities he had explained.

Nevertheless, through some heroic efforts of everyone involved, everything managed to jalan dengan lacar (this literally means “walk with fluency,” and means “to go well”; it’s one of my favorite phrases in Indoensian). We had twenty-six teachers at the workshop, from fifteen different schools. Jeremy’s sessions—which, while they also talked about some of the more theoretical reasons as to why speaking should be incorporated into the language classrooms and what a speaking objective looks like, mostly focused on practical ways to incorporate speaking into the classroom (and having the teachers actually try the activities, a hands-on approach that is certainly effective)—were an absolute hit.  While I cannot speak for all the teachers who attended, I can certainly say that my own teachers were very excited to change various things that we do in class in order to further encourage speaking.

All in all, the Teachers Workshop was probably one of the coolest things I’ve been part of since becoming an ETA.  As hard as we strive to do so, times when I truly feel I’ve been able to benefit those I am working with are rare indeed.  This workshop was one of those moments.

[1] Jam karet means “rubber time,” and it the idea that time is flexible.  Sometimes I can find jam karet somewhat positive, as it means people here are much more forgiving if a person is, say, caught in traffic and might be late for a meeting, than the average American might be.  But most of the time, jam karet  means that pretty much nothing starts on time, and makes planning anything an exercise in patience.

When Educational Worlds Collide: An American Classroom and Teacher in an Indonesian School

There are many things that I absolutely adore about teaching in Indonesia.

I love the energy of my students, which sometimes does need some reigning in, but honestly is the reason I show up to work every day.  In the States, one of the biggest challenges of teaching high school, in my experience, was creating excitement and enthusiasm.  That is already there every time I walk into any classroom here.


Taking class outside, because, well, why not?

I love the way the outside world begins where the classroom ends, and we just have to walk out the door if we want to take class outside.  There is no trekking down the hallway, there is no making sure alarms won’t go off if we go into the courtyard, as there is in so many northern U.S. schools.  We just step out of the classroom, and… there we are.

I love how quickly my students help one another, how they support students who struggle with English to keep up, as best they can, with the rest of the class[1].  I love how easy this makes incorporating group work into the classroom.

I love how the relationship between students and teachers is much more informal than it is in the States: teachers seem more like parents than the distant professionals various regulations have forced U.S. teachers to be[2].  I love the way all of my students take pride in the class they come from, the way their class becomes a sort of family.  I love the way the whole school feels like a family, like a home.

But there is no denying that teaching in Indonesia is also a considerable challenge.


One of my classes didn’t have a white board for a while, so we used the floor instead.

I laugh now at how much of my own training to become a teacher focused on the use of technology in the classroom, as I now work in classrooms with one whiteboard, no markers unless I bring them myself, and a few shared projectors that can’t be used half the time because of mati lampu.

The classrooms are hot, and often packed with far more students than I would ever recommend in one class[3].  Sometimes, there are not enough chairs for all of the students.

The students take too many classes.  My students take anywhere from fourteen to seventeen classes during their six day school week, and this leaves a mere hour and a half each week for English.  I remember being in college and taking seven or eight classes in a semester, rather than the recommended six, and finding that I was never able to find as much time as I wanted to dedicate to each subject; I can’t imagine how my students survive.

Teachers show up late to class, or not at all, and there doesn’t seem to be any real accountability for them.  And there is no system of substitute teachers in Indonesia, which means the students are left alone for that period.  Students come late to class and skip class too, generally coming to school but hanging out in the canteen when they don’t feel like going to class.  The teachers reprimand them, but in some ways I can’t blame them, what with the examples they see every day.

Every day, I navigate the ups and downs of these joys and frustrations.  Perhaps the most difficult part of this is differentiating when something is particular wonderful or vexing because it simply is, or because it is so different from the American context in which I am accustomed to learning and working.  I do my best to consider everything as objectively as possible—which makes me pretty confident in my critiques of classroom size, but less so in regards to just how advantageous collectivism in the classroom is—but the truth is I will never really be sure.

One of hardest things about teaching in Indonesia, for me, is not having a consistent space in which to teach.  In Indonesia, the students do not come to the teacher; the teacher goes to the students.  This means that I need to be able to carry all of my supplies for a lesson with me, and they need to work in ten different classrooms with ten different set-ups[4].  This means my students sit in the same classroom all day.  This means I cannot leave permanent learning spaces in the classroom.  It is maddening.

At the beginning of the second semester, my school moved the entire tenth grade to a new building, leaving the old tenth grade classrooms empty.  We had just used the required content of diary entries to compare and contrast American and Indonesian schools.  I saw an opportunity.  I took it.

In one of the classrooms left empty by the tenth grade move, my teachers and I have created an American Classroom.  It started as an experiment, as a one-week trip to give them a taste of what they had read about and we had discussed.  But the students and my co-teachers loved it so much that English Class is now held in the American Classroom every week, and I use the space for all of the after-school English activities I run as well.

Students flock to the world map in the back of the room when they arrive, pestering me with questions about different countries on the map (ever so thankful for my high school geography class now).  On the way out they take selfies with the American Flag while making jokes about how they are in the U.S.A.  And they tease me for refusing to take down the Indonesian Flags on the ceiling: “This is the American Class, Miss!,” while I insist on the beauty of campur (mix).  When they are assigned to present on a hero of their choice, a handful of students in each class pick the American social justice leaders whose inspirational quotes are displayed by the door.


Students using the Irregular Verb Word Wall for a poetry exercise.

But it’s not just about the decorations.  It’s about creating a permanent space to learn in.  When it was time to incorporate biographies into the tenth grade curriculum, I was able to create an interactive gallery walk about famous Black American heroes, something that, had I needed to move it to each of my ten classes, would have taken too much class time to set up to really be feasible; those same biographies now line one of the classroom walls, and some of the eleventh graders, visiting the American Classroom after school, recently read through and asked me questions, thereby extending the Black History Month lesson well beyond only the classes I teach.  I have created Word Walls of all the new vocabulary they were exposed to last semester, and of the irregular verbs they have been working with so intensively this semester; not only does this act as a great resource for students while they are doing their work (no more leafing through the notebook for those words they cannot remember), those students who tend to finish work a bit more quickly go to these Word Walls when their assignment is finished, extending their vocabulary.  Upon the request of my co-teachers, I will be adding more quotes and reading materials for some of the other walls, to provide more extended practice for high-achieving students.  Students are currently working on their own poems, and I plan to display that poetry on one of the walls which, for now, is intentionally blank.  There may only be three months left in or grant, but I already have so many ideas as to how to use this new space for future lessons.


The kind of lesson that just wouldn’t really be feasible without the American Classroom.

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating when I say that every aspiring teacher dreams for the day when they have a classroom of their own.  I ended up with my first classroom in a fairly untraditional fashion, in a borrowed, faded, unused classroom, devoid of desks and chairs and with broken windows and a whiteboard that had to be re-nailed to the wall.  But as I sweep the classroom floor before school, and students start to file in early (usually stealing the broom from me in the process—it is considered disrespectful if they let their teacher do the classroom cleaning), firing questions off right from the beginning about whatever it is I have added to the wall or written on the board that week, satisfaction settles in around my smile.  What I have is a classroom that is a blend of American and Indonesian traditions, with both an American and an Indonesian teacher, with some of the loveliest students any teacher in the world could ask for.  Who needs desks?


Waiting for students to arrive.

[1] This probably comes from the culture of collectivism that prevails in Indonesia.  Collectivism is complicated, with plenty of positives and negatives alike, and I don’t fully understand it yet, but I do so love this one element.

[2] Most of the teachers I have worked with are not actually all that distant.  But there is no denying that any time a student would give me a hug there was bound to be someone telling me to be careful about physical contact with students, and I could really only get away with it at all because I am a woman.  This is not the case in Indonesia.  Students and teachers touch all the time (though gender does play a role, still).

[3] This year, my largest class has thirty-six students, which is pretty close to the average class size in Indonesia.  Last year, I had more than one class with forty students in it, and fellow ETAs have taught in classes pushing fifty students.  In comparison, the average U.S. High School Classroom, according to data from 2012, is 26.8.

[4] Objectively, I know this experience will make me a much stronger teacher in the future, especially if, instead of becoming a more traditional classroom English teacher, I go into ESL education and work in a variety of classroom alongside other subject teachers.  Nonetheless, I am an American teacher trained with the expectation of someday having a classroom space of my own, and the lack thereof wears on me.

My Wish for You: MAN Model WORDS Competition 2016

Each year, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) hold English Speech Competition called WORDS at their respective schools, and the winner from that competition goes to Jakarta to compete nationally and participate in a number of activities with other WORDS winners from all over Indonesia.  Many ETAs refer to WORDS as one of their favorite parts of their grant year, myself among them.  After learning so much from my first WORDS competition last year, I couldn’t wait for WORDS to come around this year.

Due to the testing schedule for this year, and judge availability, and a slew of other factors that needed to somehow be juggled (typical ETA life, that), the WORDS Competition for this year had to be scheduled much earlier in the semester than it did last year, giving my students less time to prepare.  This only added to students’ nervousness, and so I decided to do away with the memorization requirement for this year, and spent far more time leading up to the completion simply telling students that mistakes were okay and that they shouldn’t be takut (scared), than I did actually helping students to write and practice their speeches.


This is the photo that was taken for the WORDS banner.  There are only fifteen students pictured here, and to be honest, I anticipated that even fewer would show up to the actual competition.  But my students perseverance surprised even me, and eighteen arrived on the day of the competition.


Each year, there is a different theme for the speeches, and this year’s was “Three Wishes.”  Students were asked to think about the question, “If you were given three wishes to change something about the world, Indonesia, or yourself, what would you wish for?” and structure their speech around that idea.  The students who participated in our competition wished for everything from the end of corruption in Indonesia, to becoming the best scout member at MAN Model, to ending war in the world, to being able to talk again with their parents who had passed away.

There were a number of students who were able to memorize their speeches even with the short time available to them, while others read their speeches from notebooks.  Some students demonstrated a talent, while for others simply giving the speech was all they had time to plan.  All of them were nervous, but all of them bravely took the stage.  Speaking on stage in a language that is not your own is no small feat, and I was proud of every one of my students.

Choosing the winner for the competition was no easy task for my judges, one of my site mates and my closest Indonesian friend, who was actually the WORDS winner from MAN Model two years ago.  I’m glad the final decision was out of my hands, because if I had my way I would be taking a whole group of students to Jakarta.


All of the students recognized with various awards, and the adults privileged to watch them perform.  From left to right: Ibu Tuti (English Teacher), Ibu Ike (English Teacher), me, Sidrah (Judge ), Indah (Third place), Ayu (Second place), Noni (First Place), Fani (Best Personality), Naafi (Best Talent), Akbar (Most Creative), Clare (Judge), Bu Cici (English Teacher), and Pak Mustain (English Teacher).

The winner ended up being a girl named Noni, who not only gave a thoughtful speech about how in order to change the world it is important to first gain the support for your family and change yourself, but also wrote a song (in English!) on that same theme.  Noni is also the reason many of the other participants even took the stage, as she spent much of her time prior to the competition convincing both her classmates and students from other classes to “Just try!” because “It is a good experience!”  I’m very excited to work with Noni over the course of the next month to improve her speech and prepare her for our adventures in Jakarta.

WORDS always takes a considerable amount of planning and work, but it is worth every minute of it.  Since the competition, my phone’s inbox has been full of texts from students saying things like, “Miss, after WORDS Competition I’ll be confident and run after my dream!” We may only be able to take one student to Jakarta for the national competition, but even our local competition is a great opportunity for all of our kids.

While as an ETA I am not permitted to prepare my own speech, if I were to take on the topic of three wishes, my hopes would center very much around my students: that they continue to work hard and find success in all they strive to achieve; that they see themselves as the amazing young people I know them to be; and that they continue to learn and grow as I have seen them do while I have been fortunate enough to be their teacher.


The whole crew.  I cannot express just how proud I am of all of these students.

A Happy Teacher Gets an English Corner

MAN Model is a big school.  I teach ten classes every week, and that doesn’t cover even the entirety of the tenth grade.  Trying to reach the larger student population and offer my services as an ETA is a daunting task.  Fortunately, generations of ETAs before me have been fighting the same battle, and I had numerous ideas I could attempt to implement.  A friend from last year’s co-hort had waxed rhapsodic about her “English Corner,” a white board in the school courtyard on which she could put up information about English Club and other English-related activities, facts and figures about American Culture, and short English challenges for students to try.

I seemed to remember that the ETA who was at my school last year—a fabulous individual very much missed by her students—had also had an English Corner (I was right).  So in mid-October I approached the English teachers to ask if it might be possible if I could set up an English Corner as well.  They were completely on board, and one week later there was a shiny new white board at my disposal.


The English Corner when it first began.

The middle school teacher in me was thrilled.  I love bulletin boards, but I haven’t had too many opportunities to work with them, since I have yet to have my own classroom. I bought copious amounts of colored paper, foam, and patterned tape, and set to work.

In many ways, the English Corner was an immediate success.  Students flocked to it between classes, and all I had to do was sit on a nearby ledge during breaks in order to have the opportunity to talk to the eleventh and twelfth grade students who wanted to practice their conversational English.  My own students asked about and commented on parts of it after class, and even the teachers got excited when something new popped up.


Students interacting with the English Corner during a break in-between classes.

But it wasn’t perfect.  My English Corner throughout the first semester a little too ambitious.  I created six different sections of the English board: “Daily Word,” “Weekly Idiom,” “Weekly Challenge,” “Monthly Project,” “News,” and a section which I intentionally left blank, so that I could use it in any way I needed.  I vowed to change out these various parts of the English Corner accordingly.  I thought that was completely doable.

I was wrong.  I had ten classes which I co-taught with four different teachers, English Club, Bahasa Indonesia lessons, various off-campus commitments, and my responsibilities as a returning ETA.  I often found myself overwhelmingly busy, and when I had to cut drop something from my daily to-do list, it was often my English Corner.  The “Daily Word” section would stay the same for three or four days in a row, the “Weekly Challenge” wouldn’t be updated until Wednesday.  I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew.


The completed “Thankfulness Tree” at the end of November.

I was also continually fighting the location of my English Corner.  The wind would steal the sticky notes on which my students had written their favorite hobbies.  Elementary school children who would play in the courtyard after school would take the leaves I had painstakingly cut out for the Thankfulness Tree (I don’t really blame the kiddos—they had no idea what they were for, and who wouldn’t want a bright red leaf to take home with them?—but the amount of time I spent cutting out leaves in the month of November was a bit ridiculous).

All of this, while somewhat frustrating at the time, was an opportunity to learn, and improve.  When I came back from my December travels and the new semester began, I made some pretty significant changes to my English Corner.  I decreased the number of sections, and I completely eliminated anything that required me to change a section daily or weekly.


One student’s contribution to the “New Year’s Resolution” project.

Meanwhile, I kept the elements of the English Corner that had already proven to be really successful.  The students love interacting with the English Corner and filling it with their own words (and if I’m honest, I’m really fond of that as well), and so I am always certain to include elements of that.  But this time, instead of using sticky notes, I tape a whiteboard marker to the side of the English Board, and have students write their responses.  I also make sure to include lots of culture, for my ever-inquisitive students whose curiosity is absolutely insatiable.

And since then, my English Corner has bloomed.  My most recent English Board included multiple sections related to Black History Month, including a focus on Black American Heroes, a timeline of important dates in Black American History, and a word bank full of vocabulary they need to understand those other sections.  The other sections were an interactive section in which students could write about their own heroes, and information about an upcoming English speech competition.  A crowd of students helped me to put it together; they were so impatient to see what the updates would bring.


The most recent English Corner.  A little faded, but still going strong.

I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to learn from my past attempts in order to create something more useful for my students.  At some point during my time as an undergraduate education major, I remember a professor explaining what she felt the difference was between the lessons from a new teacher and an experienced one: the lessons of the experienced teacher are less flashy.  While the young teacher is determined to be bold and exciting, the experienced teacher doesn’t want anything to do with bells and whistles.  The experienced teacher wants tried and true, she wants what she knows will help students learn. This is not to say the experienced teacher is boring, or that the new teacher is not in any way effective.  But the experienced teacher has had time to tweak lessons and classroom elements, fiddling with its wires and gearboxes, so that even if the paint isn’t quite as bright, it runs like a dream.

As I take in my new English Corner, with its faded lettering and slightly-dusty edging, I can’t help but feel this is true.  My English Corner no longer looks as flashy as I might have once dreamed it would, but that’s okay: it’s more effective as it is.




The Wonder and Chaos of English Camp

From Monday, October 12th, to Wednesday October 21st, the agenda book I carry everywhere in an attempt to keep my life in order was… well, a mess.  One glorious, adventurous, wonderful mess.  Because that was the “week” of English Camp.

When I was first told about English Camp, it was described as just that: one week of activities which would replace class for a select group of students chosen by the English Teachers.  It would run parallel to Japanese Camp and Arabic Camp, as those are the other two languages taught at MAN Model.  As my counterpart explained the idea to me, I found myself getting unreasonably excited: English Camp sounded AWESOME.

“Listening Practice” means I get to expose my kiddos to “Seasons of Love” from RENT.

What didn’t sound so awesome was that apparently someone from the upper echelons of my school seemed to think that I should be the one to coordinate all of the activities of English Camp (therefore not attending any of my classes, of course), from seven in the morning until nine at night, for six days straight (even with breaks factored in, that’s over 50 hours of different activities), with one week’s notice.

Last year’s ETA Grace would have panicked, smiled, nodded, and spent most of the next week not sleeping in an attempt to accomplish the impossible.  This year’s ETA Grace is better at saying no[1].

Using “Guessing Cards.” (Major thanks to the English Language Fellow who gave me a PDF copy!)

After a bit of persuading, I convinced my school that it would be more beneficial for me to continue to join my classes (something which is actually a Fulbright policy… I CANNOT skip class), and participate in English club outside of those hours during the school day, while the other teacher involved handled the activities at night[2].  This was still a little over fifteen hours of activities to plan, in addition to my classes and other weekly activities, but while that still adds up to a busy week of planning and preparation, that is doable.

The activities I planned for the students went really well, for the most part.  We learned about U.S. Geography[3], the history of the flags from various English-speaking nations, the subtle differences in the English language from one nation to the other[4], and even spent a day learning vocabulary related to cooking (and then making our own delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and pancakes… and eating far too much).

The students in English Camp were from both the 10th and 11th grades, and from all different classes, so they were a really interesting and awesome bunch to work with.  It was all wonderful.


Then the chaos ensued.

The teacher actually in charge of English Camp was part of a nation-wide competition for the Best Teacher of the Year award, and there was a last-minute change in when the final stage of this competition would be held.  This meant that, instead of leaving for Java a week after English Camp was over, this teacher needed to leave the Thursday of the week of English Camp.  It also meant that a group of people from the central government would be visiting MAN Model to interview other teachers and inspect the original documents that made up this teacher’s portfolio; this in turn meant this teacher had to hastily collect all of these papers from their various sources over a week before they had expected to.

“Guessing Cards,: this time ones they made themselves.

Unable to attend English Camp because of all the other responsibilities that had been thrown at them, this teacher, understandably, turned to me for help.  I took on the night sessions of English Camp in addition to the daytime sessions, with no time to prepare (picture me mumbling rapidly to myself during a five minute shower while I consider anything and everything I might have in my house that might help students learn English, and you have a good picture of what that looked like).

I pulled out the various English Games I had brought with me, dug deep into my memory for every race or role-play game I had ever heard of, and winged it.

Somehow, it worked.  The students had fun, we all learned something along the way, and I survived.

When a teacher shows up at your house and tells you that you will be running four hours of English Camp in 20 minutes… grab every English Game you have (Bananagrams, Pictureka, Apples to Apples…) and go!

Thursday through Saturday of English Camp were postponed, because the teacher in charge was in Java.  Those days were moved to Monday through Wednesday of the following week, which meant a weekend of crazy planning on my part once again[5], but once again, it was doable.

We learned about body parts (and then played “The Hokey Pokey” again and again… I never would have dreamed that song would be so popular, but there you have it), American slang (kids are still shouting “That’s WHACK!” in my class whenever the English language does something particularly strange[6]), and English idioms.  Exhausted though I was, I gained energy from the kids[7] and had just as good of a time as they seemed to be having.

The various language camps ended with a closing ceremony that included performances from all the students who participated.  The students from Japanese Camp sang, the students from Arabic Camp put on a musical about a student’s first day of school, and the students from English Camp put on a play in which Barbie finds herself a student at Horror School, shunned by the vampires and ghosts that make up the student body there (and later wakes up, discovering the whole thing was a dream…).  It was absolutely brilliant, and I am so proud of the students for creating such a fantastic piece.  (You can see the whole performance here.)

Photo-bombing a student selfie at the closing ceremony.

All in all, English Camp epitomized so much of the experience of being an ETA.  It is often stressful, frustrating, and exhausting.   There are days when you feel you have no more left to give, but are still expected to give fully, and to many; these are the days you want to throw in the towel, to walk away from everything and tell everyone they just need to accept your failure.  But it is also hilarious, heartwarming, and rewarding.  It gives you the opportunity to live and learn with amazing people, of all ages; it gives you a reason to smile, a reason to love life for all it is.

The English Camp Crew!

It makes you go home at the end of a good day, glad you stuck out the bad days.  Because as hard as the bad days are, the good days are so much better.

[1] I’ve always objectively known that, as an educator, I need to prioritize quality over quantity, and that it is okay to not take on project you don’t have time for or you are not qualified for.  But I’ve also always been really bad at saying no when people ask me for help, even if I’m not really able to give quality assistance.  Last year, this led to stretch myself so thin that I ended up really, really sick; it was an awful experience, but it also seemed to be the lesson I needed.  I won’t pretend I’m suddenly particularly good at not overworking myself, but I am getting better.

[2] This teacher was actually getting paid a bonus to run English Camp.  I, meanwhile, am not allowed to receive any payment outside of my stipend… this did help alleviate the guilt I still felt about saying no to running all of English Camp by myself.

[3] This was a topic requested of me.  I basically used it as an excuse to talk about the diversity of the United States, both in regards to its nature and the cultural influences that make it up (all you need to do is have students look at the names of the capitals of the different states in order to have an opening to do so).  The kids got really excited about making comparisons to the diversity present in Indonesia

[4] These two were topics I persuaded my school to let me include.  Although I am part of an exchange program from the United States, and much of the cultural exchange I do is very directly between the United States and Indonesia, I also know that students from Indonesia who are interested in studying abroad will not always end up in the States, and I do not want to give them limited exposure to the English Language.

[5] Because my class schedule is heavier towards the end of the week, I had more free time during the beginning of the week for English Camp.  This meant than when the second part of English camp was moved to the beginning of the following week, hours in which I was in charge were actually added to the schedule.

[6] I actually have my fellow ETA Michael, to thanks for this activity.  The best teaching is often stealing, as a professor once told me.

[7] I’ve found that teaching is something that gives me energy continuously, while also taking energy but in a way that I am unaware of until I get home and my very bones are tired.  I can’t imagine a better career to be in.