A Day At SMPN 7 Arut Selatan, Pangkalan Bun

Here I am at SMPN 7 Arut Selatan where I am spending today. The principal is a good friend of Bu Arfa’s and at a meeting yesterday which we attended. she invited me to spend the day with her today. As this is my first opportunity to visit to a SMP school this trip as well as the fact that I didn’t have any commitments with the English teachers at SMAN2 Pangkalan Bun, I was more than happy to take Bu Rosemala up on her invitation. A SMP school is the middle school between primary school and senior high school. Students in first year are about 13/14 years of age which means in Australia they would be either in year 7 or 8.
Running late as usual, we met Bu Rosemala at the traffic lights 10 minutes late and I quickly jumped off Bu Arfa’s motorbike and jumped onto Bu Rosemala’s and off we raced. Her school is quite a way out of town which explains why it is SMP 7! We passed many blocks of rain forest where the temperature felt significantly cooler and the breeze slightly stronger. At one point it grabbed my helmet and I was very thankful I had done up the strap!
Two students were waiting at the gate and as soon as we had passed through, the gates were closed and then manned to prevent anyone else entering. Waiting patiently in the quadrangle were the remainder of the staff and students. The students were standing in neat rows, class by class and the staff were out the front behind the flag pole in 2 neat rows. Next to us were a group of students who I discovered afterwards to be placed there because a teacher had decided that their uniform was either incomplete or not up to standard.
The flag raisisng ceremony began once we had joined the line of teachers. The man next to me introduced himself as Pak Imam. He is not only the vice principal, but also one of the English teachers. He was so excited to see me and repeatedly told me that I was the first foreigner to participate in their flag raising ceremony! As I was in the front row, I could feel all 600 pairs of students eyes on me which was quite nerve wracking so when Pak Imam asked me to talk to the students to increase their enthusiasm for English, my heart started beating very loudly! imageI tried to avoid giving him an answer, but he was determined and so I dug deep and agreed. I immediately started wracking my brains for tips to encourage foreign language learners, but beforehand I thought I should make sure I remembered how to say in Indonesian, “Please excuse any mistakes I make while speaking Indonesian.” because I knew that while Pak Imam said I could speak in Indonesian, it would be pointless if I wanted students to understand what I was saying.
The ceremony progressed identically to all other flag raising ceremonies I have attended however one aspect I didn’t recognise was the student pledge. All together, students pledged to study hard, take care of their school and respect their teachers. It was very powerful for me as an outsider to hear all students promising this together.
After the formal part of the asssembly had finished, Pak Imam introduced me to the students and then handed me the microphone. I would have much prefered to have had a script but hopefully the meanning of what I was trying to say was clear. I spoke briefly about my job as an Indonesian teacher and then briefly outlined the difference between the South Australian school system and the Indonesian school system in regards to junior high school (SMP). I then finished off my with 3 tips for learning English:
1. Develop your vocabulary
2. Practice English wherever and with whomever you can.
3. Be brave! Have courage.
I then handed the microphone back to Bu Rosemala who then invited questions from the students for me. As she had specified the questions to be in English, there was deathly silence. Eventually after much cajoling, one student finally asked me where I was staying in Pangkalan Bun and then at the encouragement of her friends asked if I knew a Javanese dance. Pak Imam immediately pounced on the microphone and stressed that the questions must be serious.
No more questions were forth coming, so I was ushered to the principals’ air-conditioned office where I was offered the following cake. What do you think the icing is made from?image
Did you guess grated cheese? A very popular topping these days!
No sooner had we sat down, than a teacher arrived with an invitation from the department for Bu Rosemala for a meeting in town today. As much as she wanted to pass on the invitation to her deputy principal, it clearly stated that it was for principals only. So with a quick goodbye, she was off to her meeting. The deputy, Pak Imam, was only too happy to take over making me feel welcome at the school especially as I had chosen to stay at their school rather than go with Bu Rosemala to the meeting. He had a double English lesson starting in 15 minutes, so in the interim, he gave me a quick tour of the school. The building that really interested me was the library. It only had a few shelves and almost every single book on the shelves was text book. At the very back was a cupboard with a few books higgledy piggelty stacked with a small ‘non-fiction’ sign attached. Pak Imam was amazed when I told him that at PEPS, these are not shelved in the main library and that in some schools, subject teachers are responsible for storing and managing the borrowing of these books. There was also a selection of newspapers which are mainly there for staff. Pak Imam asked me where would be the best place to put the newspapers and after discovering that there isn’t a staff room, we agreed that the library was indeed the best place.
It was time for his English lesson to begin, so we headed off to his class who were waiting for him. He obviously has a very good rapport with his students. His enthusiastic manner was refreshing to watch. He began with a warm up revising specific vocabulary firstly covering nouns, then verbs, then adjectives and lastly time (yesterday, tomorrow). He asked students to volunteer the words and then asked for translations as well. After each group of words, he would put some of them into a sentence and then ask the students to translate it into English. He followed this with a warm up game. He gave the first word and then choosing each student one by one they had to think of any English word that started the last letter from the word of the previous student. All students were familiar with this game except one, Nila, who has recently arrived from Java. She looked totally uncomfortable and was obviously unfamiliar with contributing within English lessons! Other students who couldn’t think of a word within 10 seconds were given a consequence. One had to think of 5 animal words in English and another had to name 5 classroom objects in English. The final warmup game was guessing an English word after listening to some clues. For example: Something students and Mr Imam always carry to school. Its function is to bring books. Can you guess?
Pak Imam then introduced the main topic for todays lesson which was to introduce the concept of a narrative because they will be expected to write a narrative in the national exam next April. Sound familiar?
He then read the Mount Wayang legend from their English text and they did the exercises in the text together. image
A huge thank you to the staff and students of SMPN 7 Arut Selatan for the extremely warm welcome. I had a terrific day with you all.

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