I used to be a teacher — an English teacher. I taught in two institutions simultaneously. One of them was located in a remote area; a village in a mountain. Every trip took me approximately three hours by motorcycle to get there. Since I taught here only for three days, I had to stay at the university dormitory which was in the middle of nowhere. Literally in a jungle where I had to cross a small rocky river. Meanwhile, I spent the other three days teaching at a school in my village. Nonetheless, thanks to the journey I took to these two places that have undoubtedly enriched me in teacher’s personality traits and broadened my horizon.
Teaching English in these areas was tough. The people had very little exposure to English. As a matter of fact, English as a foreign language has somewhat influenced the failure to perceive the importance of the language as a lingua franca.
If you ask me how did it feel to teach an international language in a rural area? I must admit, I felt unwanted — not as an individual, but as a teacher.
In the beginning, I found myself complaining a lot about the situation. The situation whereby most of the students in both institutions had a lack of interest. Often times I had to wait for at least 30 minutes up to an hour until they came. That, too, occasionally only two or three students showed up.
“Did you not set any class rules or make agreements with students in regards to punctuality, discipline, or students’ participation?”, you asked. I did but it did not work out. Those things would cause nothing but made English class even less attractive. Consequently, I had to “follow” their rules. By the way, I taught both formal and informal classes where the latter is something I am focused on here — the only way to measure pupils’ interest in English when it is not mandatory.
I was upset. I was sad. I was disappointed. I felt demotivated. I was discouraged. Too discouraged that I found myself blaming students for being unable to realize what they missed out on. THIS IS WHERE I WAS WRONG. It was not their job to see that, but mine. It was my job to make them understand that. The lesson I learned back at university slipped my mind where Park and Lee elaborate three aspects that should be possessed by an English teacher; English proficiency, pedagogical knowledge, and socio-affective skills. It is the socio-affective ability that is vital. Habte-Gabr describes it as “non-academic in nature (emotions and attitudes) that can stimulate learning through establishing a level of empathy between teachers and students” (p. 2).
To have and comprehend the third aspect took me some time until this weekly journey (back and forth) had helped me achieved it in its own way. To be truthful, it was as if the universe showed its own way to teach me something through this two-hundred-and-fifty-kilometers journey.
Lesson 1: PPP (Patience, Persistence, Perseverance)
I cannot deny the fact that this teaching life in villages had laid out unexpected “natural” and “technical” challenges throughout. The “natural” hurdle such as heavy rain and a local flood was a big part of this journey. When the rain was heavy along with thunderstorms, I stopped off at a mosque or some shelter I ran into on the way to wait out the rain. In most cases, I often got myself and my stuff soaked. Even worse, when the roads were covered by floods and the rapid flow of water coming down from the mountains, I had to get off the motorbike to walk and push it along the watery street. It was not a rare thing that sometimes caused my motorbike to stop functioning. Another thing that has taught me PPP was when I had to wait for the flock of animals like cows, goats, ducks, or some farmers who dried their plants to pass through. The “technical” issue on the way included the classroom I was supposed to teach in was occupied by other teachers, thus we had to teach outdoor. In case of electricity failure and sudden blackout, no water, no service, no wifi had been the daily things during my stay here. Something that I enjoyed despite myself and slowly it became something to laugh off at while moving forward.
Creativity is a result of PPP. Those hurdles I came across brimmed me over with inspirations and teaching ideas. Resting by the sea or rice fields brought my mind to how to make the class lively. I continued to utilize the combination of authentic and created materials based on the contexts and students’ needs. What I did was showcasing the profound meaning of local wisdom, proverbs, and local exotic language in English. Another way that always successfully instilled students’ minds was when they recounted their personal peculiar humorous stories like searching for phone service uphill or by climbing a tree, running into a boar in someone’s field and while fetching water from the river, not finishing shower due to no electricity, and so on and so forth. I believe telling such stories in English lasted longer in memory.
Empathy and Social Understanding
The journey allowed me to meet many diverse people — kind and conflicted but resilient ones, mostly. These kind ones were those who helped me pass through the flood, fallen trees, walked, and fixed my vehicle. The conflicted but resilient ones were the people whom I randomly met in a cottage by the road while waiting for the rain to stop. During the wait, we ended up having a conversation about life — their tough life. Yes, these people were hardworking people, the fighters, the people who throughout their life always try to make it right (read: struggling parents from poor background). I was confident enough they had little interest in talking about something entertaining as life has occupied them. These people were very open and once they started talking, they could not stop. They told me how they were in a deep dilemma whether to send their kids to school or having them work at such a young age; how they got into debt just to let their kids study but they had to make them work; had to work day in day out to survive; had to let either a mother or a father leave the home country as a migrant worker; in which all these resulted in the lack of supervision of their children. All I did was listening although I silently got teary as their stories broke my heart. These made me rethink my students who put English class as the last priority as they had more important things to take care of.
“Do you want me to tell you who is the greatest person in this world? He is who chooses to teach and share knowledge with unlucky people at the foot of a mountain, at the river, at an isolated place where knowledge would illuminate the life.” — Negeri Lima Menara