Teach English in Yangma Zhen - Yancheng Shi

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“Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture I was living in Indonesia for 20 years before I decided to teach English. My first class was a bevy of 14 Islamic High School girls. They were shy and brave, determined and hysterical at once. One girl, Yatmi, arranged the class with me, in Indonesian, arriving at my home. It took great bravery, I am sure, and she must have been coaxed by her friends to go ask the 'Londo' for classes. (Londo is the term for all foreigners in Indonesia, originally from the word for Dutch, Belenda, who colonized much of the country until the bloody war for independence in the mid 20th century.) At first, I did not want to take on another job when I was so busy and, of course, charging these children would be unthinkable. But Yatmi won me over with her polite firmness and her smile which she kept hiding behind her hand. She had come there to set up a class and me refusing was not part of her scenario. When the agreed upon day arrived, the girls all came on their bicycles and motorcycles, with manilla head scarves and long, gray, school uniform skirts. I waited inside until long past class time before I realized they were all in the parking lot, standing in the hot sun, too shy to enter the gate unless I went and greeted them there and escorted them inside. They had each studied years of English at their school but could not actually speak a word of it because their teacher, a gentleman who knew a lot of English grammar, could also not actually speak a word of it. Speaking was a whole different thing. I wrote everyone's name on the board the first day and memorized them immediately because it seemed the only polite thing to do in a culture where people were so extremely gentle and attentive with one another. When I would see one of these girls around the village where we all lived, they would run to greet me and giggle and take selfies of me with their cell phones. Such a poor country but literally every child had his own cell phone with internet. During our classes, I did nearly anything I could think of to get them to open their mouths without bursting into giggles. I remember I taped a list of greetings on the door to the classroom, like, "Good morning; How are you today? Nice to see you again. Is this the English class?" Each student had to choose one as she shook my hand and entered the room. In Java, everyone touches hands each time they meet and then touches their own heart with the same hand. Students will usually take the hand of their teacher and touch it lightly to their cheek by way of greeting and showing respect. If I did not tell them exactly what to say the first few times, they would not dare to speak. Once they were inside, everyone remembered her greeting and wrote it on the board along with a possible response. "Good morning Ibu Melanie." "Good morning to you too." Going to write something on the board was another source of great mirth and embarrassment at first but they gradually got over that and everyone was popping up and writing. We did milling survey exercises and gap-fills, endless sentence practice using structures like: "I can ride a motorcycle but I can't cook an egg," or "My mother has a large family but my father has a small family,"or "Your dog may come to the school room but he can't sit inside." I grew to love this class but it was short lived as the Indonesian government increased the school workload exponentially over the past few years and they were always having to reschedule classes. Finally it was too difficult to schedule and we called it off. I have had many classes since then, privately and in groups, but those girls were my favorite.