Avoid Being Boring, Teacher. Think of your bored students!
The telephone rang. And rang and rang. OK, I picked it up, expecting the worst.
You see, it was the land-line, which we almost never use, that was ringing unexpectedly – yes, everybody in my house is so lazy and accustomed to walking around jabbering in their cell phone that they prefer to pay the extra two thousand Rupiah per call for the convenience. Walk walk walk talk talk talk, yakkity-yak-yak…
Land lines are so “Twentieth Century”. Also when you’re on a wired phone it’s not so easy to be holding up traffic, annoying everybody, picking out food or taking a pee while smoking a kretek ciggie and combing your hair and swatting the cat and fixing your makeup.
If the old-fashioned phone rings, it is usually somebody wanting money: the widow next door, the local neighborhood headman, somebody from the countryside or even the credit card company. How dare they! What terrible manners! I use their MasterCard or Visa or Diner’s Club all over the place, giving them free advertising, and they really and truly have the nerve to ask me to pay them good money back? Who ever heard of such a thing?
The phone call was in any case this time not about money but accommodation. “Hey mister, this is Yudi from Cianjur. Can I come stay with you in Jakarta?” A 17-year-old rocker.
“Sure, why not?” Why isn’t this guy in class, I thought, but held my tongue diplomatically. If he was skipping classes it wasn’t my business.
“Any time.” Hmm, I wondered what’s up…?
Yudi arrives at my place, with Budi and Dudy in tow. These three country cousins want to hang out in the big city awhile.
Well why not. I assume school is out – it’s one of those oh-so-frequent “… faculty meetings… …special holidays… …field trips…” and all the other scams that teachers use to get rid of their students for an afternoon.
But as I’m thinking this the phone rings again. “Hi mister, this is Budi’s mother. Is he there at your place, with Yudi and Dudy?”
Uh-oh. I cannot tell a lie. “Yes, Ibu, they showed up this morning.”
“Well they’re playing hooky from school and the principal is threatening to suspend them…”
“Hmm, I see.” But what do I tell her?
The fact is that I can’t blame them. School is awful.
I’ve visited public schools here and abroad; I’ve seen how chaotic, confused and essentially useless is the “education” students are subjected to.
Ancient textbooks, incompetent, underpaid teachers, a rundown school building threatening to collapse around their ears…
And nobody dares to complain. Ahh, that’s not “the Indonesian way”!
VERY RARE PROTEST BY PARENTS
It’s an unequal contest in Indonesian schools: if a student complains about a boring or lazy teacher, it is likely he or she will trigger a reprisal: poor grades, punishment for bogus offences, extra assignments. Better to keep quiet and suffer through to graduation – that’s the thinking.
Yudi reports to me: ‘Dia bolos sekolah’. Ah how these local guys love to rat on each other. I can’t blame them, however. After having visited classes at both SMP and SMA (often invited by an English teacher, who wanted his unruly students to see a live foreigner talking lively) I could appreciate why so many students give up on going to school:
- Classes of fifty or more. Impossible to do any meaningful learning exercises.
- An insecure teacher, whose own command of English (or any other foreign language) is non-existent.
- Noise from other classrooms leaking over low walls and from outside.
- Inferior textbooks that do not inspire students.
- Tired, dispirited teachers. Some may have two or more outside jobs, just to make enough money to feed their families. “Teacher as Grab Bike driver.” “Teacher selling sate kambing.”
The real tragedy is that a core group of sincere, ambitious, intelligent teachers, and a core group of students desperate to learn and start a career for themselves, cannot make progress, because of systemic failure.
But what about the teacher who is not really committed? What can alert, hard-working students do about such a slacker?
In private schools, including universities, complaints about an instructor – or even a professor – are taken seriously. The student, and her parents, are paying customers, purchasing an educational service, often in the millions of Rupiah, and their satisfaction must be a key objective of teaching routines (unless they are illogical or don’t care, and this is, alas, often the case with demented rich people). In the public school system not much can be done about a lazy, hostile or boring teacher. The students must put up with him (or, less often, her).
But wait! How about social media? Ah, here’s where a worthless teacher can be exposed and action demanded! Now here’s something Indonesia can certainly emulate, to expose the lazy and the crazy.
Look what students wrote about a certain crabby old lady in Plano, Texas: ‘Mrs. Plasterr doesnt help you at all! and when you ask reasonable questions she gives you this look like “what the heck are you doing bothering me”. like go away. I hate her. she picks favorites’ … ‘Takes every project and assignment very seriously, and has her own specifications that have to be followed for everything, but if you do everything she tells you, its not a hard class’ … ‘still having nightmares about her during the summer i am seriously going insane because of her i just cannot get these memories out of my head!’ … ‘Ok so there’s this lady named Adele. But it’s not Adele-Adele, as in the Adele. This is a Plasterr Adele. The Plasterr will scream the name “Ricky!” or “Travis!” everytime they do something wrong. She even tells me that I can’t have my feet on a chair. Everytime you ask a question, she gives you an annoyed face and then talks to you like you’re an idiot. Down with Plasterr! – Sincerely, Armando.’ … ‘One word: idiot. That is all.’ … ‘The exam would have been easy had she read my last speech and actually graded it instead of immediately throwing it away claiming on first glance that “the margins are wrong” after a semester of berating me and telling me that I was “ignorant” for not having “bigger dreams” for myself. Newsflash: Not everyone wants to be a miserable old woman who eats an entire cake in one 90 minute period after college.’ … ‘Good teacher. Knows a lot. Kind of mean sometimes, but ok.’ … ‘The inner machinations of her mind are an enigma.’ … ‘She is the worst teacher I’ve ever and in my entire life and I’ve had some pretty bad teachers. She is so biased and unfair. In my class people don’t talk because they’re scared of her and she continues to yell at us. All I can say is I hate her.” … ‘I had Ms. Plasterr for Yearbook class. And at first, she would sigh exasperatedly at me, even if I worked hard or not. But then we both changed our attitudes. She became nicer and now she’s retiring. 🙁 So plz think before u judge her!’
There are hundreds of comments on this poor old woman! She really inspires people to write creatively! (That’s a joke.) I wonder whether teachers like her bother to go to the internet to read what the students write about them. I wonder if they even care.
College professors don’t get off any easier: ‘Rough teacher. Always seems to be in a bad mood unless it’s Friday. Gives pop quizzes at least once a week and isn’t very fair about his tests. Also does not curve tests or offer extra credit. I was so lucky to get a B. Definitely would not recommend.’ … ‘Listen very carefully. This class is hard. Forget the book and MEMORIZE the outline word for word. Go to his class and write everything he says and record him! 70% from outline and 30% from what he says. If you do both you’ll get an A however, a B is very duoble. He gives a 10 point curve each test including the final as a built-in or a post curve’.
Teacher evaluation systems like this might not work in Indonesia. The one important cultural aspect is that Indonesians are notoriously thin-skinned, and hate to be criticized – particularly those in positions of power, like civil servants, doctors and teachers.
I’ve always said that instead of ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ the national motto should be ‘Bukan salahku’, preferring to make excuses and shift the blame. Criticism is supposed to impart insight and help the person being criticized to improve their style. If they reject it as a personal attack then it’s useless even to try.
Do you wonder why so many of your teachers are bored and boring, perpetually angry or distracted, teaching stale material that has little to do with career plans or with the job market?
It’s easier to define the qualities of a good teacher: she will discern who are her more inspired and motivated students, and she will dedicate her teaching toward them.
Professionals must bear in mind that teaching is a service job, like dry cleaning or automotive repair or nursing. Teachers serve the language needs of their students, and they pay their salaries. So why do we often get stuck with uninspired, uninspiring instructors?
Okay, just for the record, here are the signs of a boring teacher:
- He ignores his ‘audience’.
When a teacher stands in front of a class he or she is ‘selling’, in a sense. He is attempting to impart knowledge, refine attitudes, stimulate original thinking. In order to succeed in this effort he must be convincing, and he must stay in tune with the mood of your listeners. Can you do it? Vary your voice – look students in the eye and speak directly to them, one by one (though all will benefit from what you are saying) – walk around the classroom and act like you care that your charges are actually paying attention.But if you want to bore them to death, just sit in your chair, keep your head down and avoid eye contact.
- She allows students’ minds to wander.If the instructor does not engage the interest of the students she will lose her focus, and students will start paying attention to anything but the education they are being given: food, dates, FB, money, movies, PlaySetan. The boring teacher does not present his or her material in an interesting, colorful manner, arousing the curiosity of their students.
- She sticks to the book at all costs.
This kind of boring teacher does nothing original; she keeps to the lesson plan, even when half the class is asleep and the other half is playing with their handphones. If her brain goes dead then she just reads from the book, in a low monotone. Students nearly die of boredom.
- Always be right – brook no dissent. Never admit you made a mistake or misunderstood a student’s comment or question. You know the old rulebook: ‘Rule #1: Teacher is always right. Rule #2: If teacher is ever wrong, refer back to Rule #1’. This way you exert your authority, show the students who is boss. You also alienate them, make them hate you, and assure a lack of interest in anything you teach from that point onwards.Act like the boss in the class – it will make you feel good and the students will just want to get out and away as fast as they can.
- Assume the students are morons and you are there to enlighten them.Since you know your subject of instruction (like language, geography or history) and they do not (sort of, anyway) you are clearly a super-genius and know-it-all, an expert on everything. Your opinion is the one that counts and the students are dummies whose thoughts, experiences and opinions mean nothing. That way you’ll impress them and ensure they ridicule you behind your back – or ask for another teacher.(This is often a problem when a language school hires someone with an MBA or Ph.D. This person may have the idea that he or she is there to lecture humble students from a lofty vantage; in fact, the students are there for a specific purpose: to upgrade their English skills, not to listen to a lecturer talk down to them, and they will be sorely disappointed with the instructor who does not respect or connect with their goals.)Bad teacher! (Actually not even a teacher, as he is lecturing and not teaching.)
- Sit and talk and read from the book, running the class like a bored robot.If you act bored you will bore the students. If you never move around the classroom, engaging individuals in discussion or question & answer confrontations, most of your students will be floating in dreamland, even if their eyes stay open.Even if you are tired or hungry or have a sore tooth, you have the responsibility of energizing your students – unless you want them to be tired and bored and uninterested as well.
- Be impersonal and act superior.Remember: you’re the boss. (Of course you are not but if you have an inferiority complex then the classroom is where you can play the ‘Little Tyrant’.)Treat your students like tape recorders or stenographers – never listen to their needs, stories and dreams. If you do, the danger is that you will start to see them as your equals: human beings.
- Telegraph your punches – avoid spontaneity.
Repeat yourself often and stick to old, worn-out ideas. Don’t trust any theory or trend that started during your lifetime. Just remember the ‘good old days’. Students will fade away into the distance.
- Spend lots of class time maintaining discipline.
Be rough and tough. Threaten, shout, cajole. Remember: there are 35 of them but only one of you.Do you wonder why so many of your teachers were bored and boring, perpetually angry and snappish, teaching stale material that has little to do with career plans or with the job market?It’s easier to define the qualities of a good teacher: she will discern who are her more inspired and motivated students, and she will dedicate her teaching toward them.Professionals must bear in mind that teaching is a service job, like dry cleaning or automotive repair or nursing. We teachers serve the language needs of our students, and they pay our salaries. So why do we often get stuck with uninspired, uninspiring instructors?
- Choose the wrong profession.Really now, seriously, if you have to think about all this nonsense I’ve written above, it likely means a) you are not a born teacher, with the natural talent for empathizing, organizing and delivering, and b) deep down in your heart, you do not really want to be a teacher.Then why are you doing it? Can’t find another job? Poor you. Poor students too.
Important note for those contemplating study overseas – or their parents: these types of comments and reviews on institutions and teaching personnel by university students (= customers!), available on several dedicated websites, can be immensely helpful to you when choosing a place to study abroad. School brochures may be beautiful and inviting but they only want to sell you an expensive education. The reality of an institution could be quite ugly, and once you spend your money and apply to a school, then you’re stuck with it, at least for a semester. Do your online research before deciding on a study destination.
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