Starting Anew

This year I have moved to a new school in a small country town to teach Indonesian. It has been extremely challenging adapting after such a long time at my previous site, but I have absolutely no regrets about the move. As I look back over the term, there are several points I’d like to explore and hopefully in this, they will help others who may be considering moving sites or have already done so.

The biggest challenge for me moving to a small town by myself was that the only person I knew here was the person I was replacing! Chatting on the phone to the wonderful Senora Anna/ Ibu Anne about my feelings of loneliness made me realise that this was the first time I had moved schools by myself! With all my previous moves, there was always someone with me; someone who was also adapting to a new place and who was also navigating unfamiliar streets, shops and people. Let me tell you, it’s super tough by yourself! I felt so conspicuous everywhere; just walking around my neighbourhood felt awkward and uncomfortable.

So, if there is anyone new at your site, please reach out to them as soon as possible. I wasn’t expecting meal invitations! I just wanted people to say hello and ask how I was going! The fact that the staff at my new site didn’t do this is not a reflection on them personally, it actually speaks volumes about their workload. They hit the ground running! So today; please take the time to smile and say hello to anyone new on your staff. It will honestly make their day!

On top of loneliness, another huge challenge has been two hundred and fifty new students. After almost eighteen years at the previous site where I knew every student as well as their families extremely well, it has been a steep learning curve for me starting again. A kind and thoughtful colleague from the previous site gave me a notebook as a farewell gift which has been invaluable. Every day it sits open on my desk and in it I jot down any thoughts I have during and post lessons. The most frequent comment I wrote to myself was; get to know the students. It was super difficult to build connections with students at first when I knew nothing about them; not even their names!! Without connections, students push back on everything. This in turn necessitated strong behaviour management routines however there are only so many students you can have in classroom timeout at any one time!! Without a doubt, the best strategies that have helped with behaviour management have been incorporating nakal/pandai points (Ibu Sharon), phoning home (Ben Slavic) and classroom jobs (Bryce Hedstrom).

Nakal/Pandai

I have blogged about this technique several times. Read here and here. As you will quickly notice, in the past I only used pandai/nakal points with junior primary students. Sharon and Hannah though, use it successfully with all ages and it has also become one of their classroom jobs. A student tallies the points as they are accrued and then at the end of the lesson, they tell the teacher the total for each in the target. language. Another aspect of how Sharon and Hannah implement this is that at the beginning of each year, they hand out a small paper rectangle to students who then each write their name on one before decorating it. These then are placed in a class envelope for a random student to be selected from if the nakal points are less than the pandai. This lucky student then has a dip in the treasure box while their name is added to the paper clip in the envelope of all those who have already had a turn! I highly recommend this as it allows you to surreptitiously ensure your ‘selection’ is appropriate. Unfortunately some classes suggested using the random option on class dojo to which I agreed before remembering the benefits of the envelope! To get around this, I have instigated a rule that any student on a step is ineligible for a dip in the treasure box for that lesson. A special mention to Sharon who raided her local shops for prizes for my treasusre box and I recieved in the courier a parcel full of goodies that have been very popular. Thank you so much Sharon!

Phoning Home

Overall my new students are great kids however in most classes there are a small group of disrespectful ones who constantly challenged and sabotaged the lesson. As a new teacher, I was treated like a TRT. This on top of managing some tricky students with special needs, was extremely disheartening. So I dug out my TCI/TPRS books for ideas on behaviour management.

In one of Ben Slavic’s I discovered his main tip for behaviour management with new students. He strongly recommends phoning parents as early as possible as this, he promises, will stop misbehaviour instantly. He also suggested offering to phone students’ parents as a reward option! I really like the idea of offering to phone home to say how well a student is progressing in Indonesian! I understand the value of phoning home but the idea of phoning new parents in a new community really pushed me out of my comfort zone! I was terrified. I imagined several scenarios where the phone call was not successful. So, in the end I do what I am very good at, I put my head in the sand, procrastinated and soldiered on.

I am so grateful to a bunch of colleagues who in week 5, travelled long distances to spend a day observing me for a day. Their support, encouragement and feedback at that time was invaluable. I will be eternally grateful for their positive comments and constructive feedback at a time when I was feeling so alone. They also reminded me again that it takes a while to settle into a new school! A very important fact that I keep overlooking!

Then in week 8, I had the ‘Week From Hell’! Everything that could go wrong did. Student behaviour dropped to an all-time low and consequently I became severely sleep deprived directly caused by the stress. A truly vicious cycle. I took Thursday off to recharge my batteries and mentally regroup but Friday was no better. In fact I burst into tears when a friend came into my room after school to commiserate on the terrible day.  I wanted to retire then and there. I shuffled dispiritedly home and spent the weekend resting and trying to regroup ready for Monday. By Monday, I was resigned to the fact that I just had to be super tough and consistently put students through the steps regardless of any consequences.

On opening my email, I discovered that parent student conferences were scheduled fot the following week. Perfect!! This was the final impetus to finally make a few phone calls. I rang one parent to ask if she was free during the week of conferences to come in and chat with me. I then rang another. The first parent returned my call and arranged a time. The second parent has yet to return my call, however her son has been significantly better behaved, so obviously the call in itself was worthwhile. As a result of just two calls and a meeting, there has been a noticeable improvement in behaviour.

In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I should have made the calls earlier. So if you too are procrastinating about ringing parents, I highly recommend making a list of the key students and then approaching other staff you trust to ask about the benefits of making the call. Best too to get a heads up on volatile parents which may have worrying repercussions for the student.

Classroom Jobs

I blogged about classroom jobs in 2015. As can be seen in the post, I first heard about classroom jobs from Ben Slavic. Bryce Hedstrom is now the go to person for thoughts and tips on student jobs.

Classroom jobs are a great example of why getting to know your students is a priority at a new site. I prefer to incorporate student jobs early in each school year and it has always been hugely successful. Until this year! In week two, I began by introducing three jobs and only got as far as choosing a secretaris and a tukang foto; both essential for Kursi Luar Biasa. I had intended to also hold auditions for the ketua kelas position as well but only did so with one class. I learned very quickly that in order for students to be invested in auditioning for jobs, they had to trust me on not only the importance and value of the job and also the selection of the ‘winner’. Thus I recommend starting with just a sekretaris and tukang foto with new students and ensure that there is an aspect of the job that makes it desirable. In my classes, it was that these two people were the only ones who could sit on the sofa! The ketua kelas will instead be introduced in other classes next term!

Once students start to ask about replacing the sekretaris and/or tukang foto, I know they finally value jobs and can see the benefits! This then leads me nicely to explaining that job holders hold their jobs for as long as they want it. I used to change job holders regularly (every 5 weeks) but doing this used to take a whole lesson!! I prefer to encourage students to think of a new and different job that supports the teaching and learning of Indonesian and they would are happy to do. I illustrate this by pointing out that while cleaning up after lessons is a useful thing to do, it does not help teaching and learning. It’s fascinating what ideas students come up with. I also make the jobs desirable by offering job holders special seating options. In past classrooms, they had first pick of the limited chairs available and this year they are the only students who enjoy a comfy chair to sit on. The comfy chairs (old staff chairs rescued from the furniture shed covered in a piece of batik) are placed at the back of the room and while not intentional, their placement has meant that students are easier to manage now that the class has three separate seating options! Comfy chairs are currently along the back wall, plastic chairs are arranged in semi-circle facing the interactive tv and the third seating option is on the floor in front of the plastic chairs.

Since my 2015 post, I have tweaked the student jobs several times in several ways; both in what they are called and what they are. I am a huge believer in using multifunctional language in the primary classroom. This language is based on the language I believe my students would find useful if/when they visit Indonesia or talk to an Indonesian/Malay person. Just so happens that there are at least two Malaysian families each owning a Malay take away food shop in two nearby towns! Woohoo! I spoke Indonesian while ordering my food and everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly and happy for me to use Indonesian. (Note: Please be respectful and aware of the current political animosity between Indonesia and Malaysia.) A couple of weeks ago (prior to phone calls home) several of my students asked about the value of learning Indonesian. They were absolutely amazed to learn that they could use Indonesian so close to home.

So, the language I use for my jobs is simple and centres on the word ‘tukang’ (skilled expert). Last week the number of job holders started to increase significantly as interest in them grew. Not every class has the full range of these jobs yet, but it won’t take long before word gets around!

My current jobs:

  •  tukang foto – Photographer
  • tukang menulis– writes information on the board
  • tukang diam – shusher:  at a gesture from me, they stand and loudly say DIAM, 1,2,3 by which time the class must be quiet. Repeated as often as required!
  • sekretaris – secretary
  • tukang proxy – proxy (must be prepared to do any job when needed)
  • tukang kertas – hands out paper
  • tukang pensil – hands out, counts, sharpens pencils
  • tukang klipboard – hands out clipboard (great opportunity to discuss c/k
  • polisi – keeps track of behaviour – good and bad – with details
  • tukang hp – answers the class phone during lessons
  • Ketua kelas – welcomes adults to the Indonesian classroom
  • Tukang pandai/nakal – records points as they are accrued

Last week was tough with students being super excited about the Easter long weekend. However I was so relieved to see that with a few stategic nakal/pandai points, I was able to settle classes quickly and teach with minimal interruptions. I didn’t realise just how improved the students were for me until during a hand over discussion with a TRT for the second lesson, I was warned that her class had been extremely disrespectful during lesson 1. The behaviour she described sounded all too familiar, small stuff but so disruptive. I was therefore amazed when they settled almost immediately after entering the Indonesian classroom and I had no problems with anyone. Next time she is in, I will enourage her to send to me any ratbags and I will deal with them appropriately!! GRRR

Fingers crossed though that students continue being settled and respectful in my lessons next week after a long weekend feasting on sugar!! Most classes will be illustrating book pages as I anticipate that this will be all that they are capable of doing!!

If you are also new at your site, what has been helpful for you? Did you also face some of the issues I have struggled with this term? I really hope you too are starting to feel a sense of belonging and familiarity.

3 thoughts on “Starting Anew

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