SDN Medan 060843 – Our Partner School – Teaching Experiences

On the Monday morning, we arrived at school a little late as we had slept the night before with Ibu Elizawati who lives in Binjai, a nearby city & considered by locals, to be a long way from Medan. At 7am, while still on the road, Ibu Elizawati rang the school and told them to wait a bit longer for us!! Thus, when we arrived 30 minutes later, the entire school was waiting for us. They were all lined up in classes out on the asphalt in the sun facing the flag pole. The ceremony began the minute we stepped out of the car. The  flag raising ceremony is conducted in all Indonesian schools every Monday morning and is extremely formal. While not as polished nor as regimented as is done by high school students, the students at SDN Medan 060843 were still very impressive.  

 After the ceremony, all classes were dismissed, yet one of the junior teachers asked her students to line up and present their hands to her for a nail inspection. Once checked, they would kasih salam to her – take her hand and touch it gently to their forehead or cheek – to show/confirm their respect towards her. It is such a lovely gesture and one I’ve seen throughout Indonesia in schools and at home. One day I’m going to discover the understanding behind it.

Our days at SDN 608043 were largely spent observing teachers in their classrooms. Due to the number of classes at SDN Medan 608043, Pak Pahot put a timetable together for us to ensure that as many teachers and students as possible were given the opportunity to work with us.  

 We observed in a range of classes however the timetable often changed, sometimes with minor alterations and once with a significant change due to a public holiday  – Wednesday’s timetable was almost entirely abandoned due to the Muslim festival of Idhul Adha – which was both a relief and a disappoinment. The cancellation of lessons, meant we could get away to Danau Toba 2-3 hours earlier but it also meant over 100 students missed sharing a lesson with us – mutually disappointing. 

In each lesson, we were introduced to the class by the teacher and then greeted by the students. We would then make our way to the back of the class where inevitably there were spare chairs. This also allowed us to sit with students and chat with them while they were working. In most classes, desks were arranged into groups of 4-6 students; the back groups dominated by one or two vocal and confident students while the other group members preferred to chat &/or day dream whereas the table groups towards the front of the class had 100% student participation and involvement. Fascinating  that high achieving, capable students were seated closer to the teacher than those who obviously struggle academically and are less engaged.

Most lessons we observed were largely teacher centric. The teacher stood out the front, talked and then handed out worksheets to be completed by the students. 

Lesson blocks always began with a prayer.  

 In some classes this is lead by the teacher and in others, the ketua kelas leads. While acknowledging that some students may not be Moslem, the prayer was always Islamic.  

Then the lesson began. Here are some year 2 students demonstrating they understand the task of hefting classroom objects before working in pairs to complete a worksheet:

 One lesson we observed, the teacher instructed her student groups to collaboratively write questions about a picture representing the Indonesian motto; unity in diversity. Groups then, one by one, were instructed to share their questions with the rest of the class. Strangely, the questions were never answered, instead the teacher distributed a teacher generated comprehension sheet – complete with a passage of text and questions!

The junior primary lessons were fascinating because it demonstrated to us clearly how structured their new curriculum is. Each half semester, junior primary teachers are provided with a teacher handbook containing detailed instructions for every lesson to be taught that semester, including complete lesson plans which had to be rewritten out by hand!! Pak Pahot was questioned once because he had typed his on his lap top!! The junior primary curriculum is thematic.   


On Tuesday morning, we observed several JP lessons and each lesson followed on from the last, even though we were visiting different classes.   While visiting one classroom, we could hear the class next door doing the exact same lesson – right down to the songs!! The only difference being teacher delivery. It was fascinating.  


 Each teacher talked about the pressure of covering the content and how difficult it is given the time and the constant interruptions. 

The lesson I enjoyed the most was delivered by Ibu Ana to her year 3 class because it gave us the opportunity to interact with students while they were working. The lesson’s focus was animal features.  Ibu Ana introduced the topic, gave several examples before distributing to students a piece of paper with the picture of a different animal glued at the top. Because each animal was different, there was no copying yet students still worked collaboratively. Lovely to see capable students assisting less accademic students. Students had to identify the characteristics of their animal. One student had the picture of a bird of paradise. Only one leg could be seen so she thought that they must only have one leg!! When asked how would it walk, the penny dropped. 

I enjoyed asking individual students to tell me what features their animal had and then writing exactly what they told me before posting it on Facebook. They too got a huge kick out of it! The power of the internet!! 

 To be a successful junior primary teacher in Indonesia, it seems essential to have a powerful voice. Students are encouraged to contribute at the top of their lungs and the louder the better!! Songs were bellowed by the students with the teacher valiantly singing along too attempting to set the pace. The noise level was deafening which must be so overwhelming for students who are sensitive to noise, let alone teachers! 

After each lesson we observed, the teacher would approach us and ask for our opinion and for suggestions on how the lesson could be improved.  It was tricky being diplomatic. Marg excelled here. She acknowledged that the lessons incorporated aspects like collaboration and group discussion and then would add suggestions on how to increase student participation. Our partner school is recognised provincially as being very progressive and indeed it is yet there is still a huge reluctance by teachers to surrender control to the students. We observed an English lesson where all the language games were controlled by the teacher. Small groups of students were selected to come out the front and play the game  while the rest of the class were supposed to watch. After the lesson Marg suggested to the teacher that the games be played by students in pairs so that not only are all students participating, it saves her voice!! This teacher had the most impressive classroom management techniques. Unlike other teachers, her voice was soft and quiet and she used the teacher glare very successfully on students who weren’t istening! 

We also observed the PE teacher teach Pak Pahot’s year 5 class. He began in the classroom by explaining that they were going to learn forward rolls. They then went outside and did a warmup lap of the asphalt and some stretches before he dragged out the gym mats.  


 One by one, students were called out to do a forward roll. If a student completed a smooth forward roll, oother students cheered and if a student had difficulty, the rest of the class hooted with laughter which attracted students from a nearby class who joined the audience!! It was hot and dirty out on the asphalt and I did not envy the students! Most students sat orderly while watching, probably because sitting quietly was preferable to racing around in the hot midday heat and humidity on the asphalt!  


Lunch times at school were always spent in Ibu Erna’s office where we would be served a beautiful lunch, sometimes cooked for us by various generous staff! The food we were served was always delicious and never the same.  


In fact, towards the end of our stay, we could not do the lunches justice because the constant stream of food pressed upon us was overwhelming. Some days, we were encouraged to order for the following day!! One day a teacher approached us and announced that she wanted to coook fish for us for lunch the next day and then asked us how we wanted it cooked! 

Each morning, straight after the first bell, the school day begins with a whole school focus. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the students grab a sheet of newspaper and a book and sit out on the asphalt  to read for about 30 minutes. Most students chose one of their school text books 

and a few brought ttheir own book from home.


The whole morning contingent of the students (there are so many students that 2 school days run consecutively – a morning shift and an afternon shift) sat on the asphalt except for the year 1’s. They stood because “they don’t know how to read yet.”   

 The supervising staff  consisted of a few class teachers, on of whom stood out the front with a microphone and several support staff. Other class teachers were either doing last minute lesson preparation or had yet to arrive to school. 

While most students were out reading, small groups of rostered students were in their classrooms cleaning. The floors were swept and mopped, the teachers desk tidied and dusted and the bins emptied.


Marg also taught. We both came prepared to teach but for several reasons this only happened formally once. Firstly their teachers were very keen to be observed and secondly we were constricted by my lack of voice. My laryngitis was very frustrating. The more I used my voice the worse it got. Luckily when Marg taught her lesson about Australian animals, the English teacher was in the room and helped with translations. Marg was also given a few minutes at the end of an  English lesson after helping to lead in the singing of 

Marg then led them in her choice of song – heads & shoulders. 



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