First six weeks of school

School started July 17th and it has been a whirlwind! All Peace Corps Indonesia Volunteers work at either a high school or middle school and compared to many other Peace Corps posts, our time is relatively structured. I work Monday – Friday, from roughly 7 am till roughly 5 pm. The first few weeks have been with lots of lessons for me.

Even though school “started” on the 17th classes didn’t get underway until the July 25th, and I work at a very organized school, many volunteers actually start later. The first day of school was just the upacara. The upacara is an exhausting flag raising ceremony performed every Monday at 7 am where the whole school stands in the field and raises the Indonesian flag. They sing the national anthem, my school has a special school song, and they recite the Pancasila, “the official, foundational philosophical theory of the Indonesian state” (Wikipedia). If any trophies have been won over the weekend they present the trophy to the student, take a picture with the principal and the student, and take the trophy away from the student to have it moved to the schools trophy room. The students section is uncovered, and even though it is only 7 am it’s already hot and humid. There is a special extracurricular group of students who patrol the upacara and move the kids who pass out to the nurse’s office. The whole production takes about 45 minutes assuming there are no special announcements.
Lesson: I don’t go to upacara unless it’s a special occasion, like Independence Day.

upacara 2
The one time a week Indonesia feels organized is during upacara
upacara 1
Various times throughout the upacara the students stand at an official attention pose. The ceremony has militaristic and nationalistic tones.

For the rest of the first week the teachers were in a workshop. The workshop was roughly 8 – 11 and the teachers prepared their RPP, which is the government required lesson plan. Unfortunately these lesson plans don’t actually plan any classes, but rather are just rhetoric filled documents about curriculum objectives and outcomes. For most teachers it something that is created and submitted at the beginning of the year and never used again. I’ve heard from other PCVs that many teachers just plagiarize them from versions they find online.
Lesson: I’m insanely lucky because my counterpart, Bu Nia, works hard and is actually super excited to do weekly lesson plans with me.

Meanwhile Osis (student government) runs an entire orientation for the new 10th graders. (Here high school is 10th – 12th grade.) I dropped in on some of orientation and for much of it there wasn’t an adult in sight. It is truly amazing how much autonomy the students are given here, which is both great and sad. On one hand, it’s amazing how well they pull things together on their own, on the other it’s a bummer that there aren’t adults around to help make projects more complex and challenging for the students. On any given day after school there are several extracurricular activities going on completely adult free. Some activities, like karate do have a regular supervision, and all have at least a token supervisor, even if they aren’t present for most meetings.
Lesson: Students run the show. Also, sometimes they know more than the teachers.

New student orientation put on by the 12th graders!

Indonesian schools are both very disorganized and amazingly coordinated at the same time. Things are extremely fluid here and change daily, hourly and by the minute. This last week Friday was a holiday and at about 11:15 someone got on the loudspeaker to announce that classes would be finished at 12. When I showed up at school that morning I was told it would be a regular full day.
That being said every class, (here the students stay in the same room all day and the teachers move from room to room), has a class leader, KM, and it’s easy to disseminate information through them. For example, when I started a new DuoLingo contest I just told the KMs to meet me at my desk after school and they all showed up.
Lesson: Be flexible and expect the unexpected. And try to figure out the method to the chaos.

One example of chaos. Construction on the chemistry lab began after the start of classes.

Priorities are different here, and that’s part of the method to the chaos. One day almost all of the teachers left after lunch to go visit someone’s new baby. I was teaching alone that day because Bu Nia was sick, so I firmly stated that going to class was more important and still went. What happens to the other students? They aren’t allowed to leave campus, so they just loiter around. In theory they do “self-study” and the truly diligent ones do, but the rest take naps or play on their phone for the free hour or two. There are no substitute teachers so whenever a teacher is sick, or running an errand during the day, which also happens a lot, the students are alone. After the upacara there is usually a teachers meeting. Classes “start” at 8:00. The teachers meeting often runs till 8:30, once as late as 9:30. Then one day all of the teachers were pulled into the teachers room and missed an hour of class to send a retired teacher off on his Hajj to Mecca (an important part of any Muslim’s life). I’d say that on average I lose 1-3 hours of class a week.
Lesson: Don’t get too attached to my class time because sometimes it will be canceled.

Bu Nia, my main counterpart, is not just a full time English teacher, but is also responsible for much of the organization of the school. She works as the assistant to the Vice Principal of Student Affairs, is a treasurer for different school budgets, and is on every committee I’ve heard of on campus. If we aren’t in class she’s running around working on other school projects. When she goes home she works more; she told me that she only gets about 3 hours of sleep a night, sleeping from 8pm – 11 pm, and then working through the night. There is an insane amount of paperwork that is done by hand essentially, or with just Excel, instead of proper database software. I’m pretty sure the school would fall apart without her.
Lesson: Again, I’m insanely lucky to have a counterpart like Bu Nia. She understands the school and how it works so well that I’m never too lost or confused.

I know that Indonesia is a cash based society, but that has become exceedingly clear to me while following Bu Nia around school. Even though direct deposit is an option, many teachers are paid in cash. And the bonuses that they get for attending the required meetings are handed out in cash. But nothing prepared me for the day when Bu Nia pulled out FAT STACKS while just sitting in the teachers room like it was no big deal. The first time it was 30 juta. More recently it was 100 juta. To put that in perspective my living allowance as a volunteer is just under 3 juta a month. So in one trip to the bank Bu Nia pulled out more cash than I’ll make my entire two years here. 100 juta is enough to buy an average house here. Currency alone it’s $7,505 USD, but imagine walking around with enough cash to buy a house! Also, all that juta was just sitting in her backpack, unattended in the teachers room for part of the day. I leave my computer at my desk often and have never worried about theft. There’s always someone sitting in the teachers room, and in Indonesia there’s always someone watching.
Lesson: Bu Nia is a gangster.

cash 1
Is Bu Nia actually a gangster? Photo evidence indicates yes.
cash 3
Also – this plastic bag full of cash was just pulled out of a desk in the main office.

I have 12 classes, with an average of 40 students, for a total of 484 students. The students study 14 different subjects so I only see them for 90 minutes once a week, assuming classes aren’t canceled. The expectation that they will all speak English well by the time they graduate high school is a bit far fetched. But they do start studying English young, so all of my 12th graders can form sentences, even if the grammar is funky. The students are definitely the best part of the day. Not everyone likes the required English class, and that’s totally okay with me, but some of the students are really committed and that’s encouraging. The school day ends at 11:30 on Friday for the important Friday noon prayer, but I have a group of about 10 who stick around for a one hour bonus lesson at 1:00. It’s new, so it could dissolve over time, but it’s still promising. I try to include lots of different activities in my lessons with Bu Nia. So far an adapted version of Telephone and Simon Says were big hits. Last week the students practiced writing captions for New Yorker Cartoons, which was especially entertaining for me.
Lesson: The kids are great.

Playing Telephone with style.

Something I should highlight is that every school is different. Some volunteers never get a chance to lesson plan. Some volunteers have counterparts who rarely show up for class. One volunteer played DND with his debate team to work on their English. My school has AC in many rooms, some schools don’t have electricity. There is so much variety in volunteer experiences. This is just my school.

Bonus Lesson: Sleeping at school is totally okay for anyone, anywhere. One day I was feeling especially tired from the heat and humidity and I took a 40 nap in the fancy counselors room (with AC!). When I woke up right before class I realized Bu Nia decided to join me in napping.

Straight chilling in the middle of the main office.

2 thoughts on “First six weeks of school”

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