I’ve talked about so many things over the past few months but, except for a brief mention soon after I started teaching, I haven’t really talked about my students.
There are several things that have struck me about Indonesian students. First, they are troopers; it doesn’t matter what’s happening, they’re going to show up for classes. Bear in mind that this centre isn’t a school, it’s an after-school programme so it’s not compulsory. The only days that the centre is closed is on Sundays. Every other day of the year, the place is open and we are prepared to teach classes if any students show up, and they always do. It may be pouring rain or it may be a public holiday, at least half of the class is going to show up, even if they get here late. For example, Thursday and Friday, May 5th and 6th were public holidays here so it was a 4-day weekend. If we had a 4-day weekend in Jamaica, not 1 student would spend it at a mandatory class – we would all be in Ochi living it up. Not so these Indonesian students. While half of Jakarta exited the city headed for their villages, our students who were still in town showed up for class.
A few weeks ago, we had end of semester exams. Almost every student showed up and I still don’t know why. Don’t condemn me for that statement; I have a reason for thinking it. We have exams here at the centre but the students don’t really have to do them – no matter how well or how poorly they do, no matter if they show up for the exam or not, we advance them all to the next grade level. This would not happen in Jamaica; very few, if any, students would show up because they literally have no reason to. Kudos to these Indonesian students for turning up even when it’s totally unnecessary!
The second thing that I have observed about Indonesian students is that they copy from each other…a lot. At first, I tried to stop them until I came to understand that this is a cultural thing because Indonesian students are group-oriented; in class, the interest of the group (everybody succeeding at the exercise) is more important than the interest of the individual (I only care if I succeed at the exercise). Even my brightest students do it. Of course, proper understanding of concepts are missed by slower students because of this. To combat this, I try to give as much group work as possible, mixing stronger students with weaker ones. They’re all going to copy so at least I make the copying productive.
The third thing that I notice about these students is their respect for elders. It manifests itself in 1 particular way that I find absolutely charming. When students are greeting me or saying goodbye, each one takes my right hand in theirs, touches the back of my hand to their forehead, cheek, nose or lips, releases it then touches their right hands to their chest. The first time a student did it in Aceh, I was startled but it was somehow endearing. I learned that it conveys respect for their elders (yup, I’m an elder…sigh). Some students don’t do it but at least half of them do; I still don’t know why some do and some don’t. I confess that it gives me a soft feeling in my chest every time it happens. A line of 10 students could be waiting to salam (translation: greet) me like this, I feel soft and fuzzy when every single 1 of those 10 students does it. They don’t even have to be my students. To me, it’s just such a sweet gesture.
I also notice that my students are very kind to each other. They do not hesitate to share their pencils, pens, erasers, white-out or anything else with their fellow students. They also rip pages out of their notebooks like nobody’s business. If somebody needs paper for some reason, notebook pages come ripping out without hesitation. A Jamaican child would get such a spanking for ripping a page out of their notebook.
Those are the major things that strike me about my students.
Unlike in Aceh with my exteen kid and a couple of his classmates, there is no 1 student who stands out above the rest or who has stolen my heart here in Jakarta. So far, when it’s time to go, it won’t be hard for me to leave. Even still, I do so enjoy teaching them.