coconuts coconuts


Every single morning I’m out of bed before my host dad. He comes out of his room, looks at me, giggles, and says “Sudah bangun.” You’re already up. Yeah, I am! It reminds me of the play-by-play Scott’s always getting about his life, but luckily nobody ever tells me when I’m going to the bathroom. Very funny.

Lesson planning. This is so incredibly difficult. I decided to make a two-week unit plan for teaching “narrative,” which is in the curriculum as a genre with which students must be technically fluent (understand exposition, rising action, climax, etc) and linguistically proficient…since they read stories in English. The problem is that their language skills are too low to accommodate the stories found in their workbooks, which are usually misrepresented or threadbare retellings of classic stories like Goldilocks, Cinderella, or Snow White. Sometimes there’s an Indonesian folktale or a short fable but the majority of workbook “narrative” texts are Western. So, we’re bound to the really awful curriculum that’s not tailored to meet the needs of the students but to the content of the national exams. This makes lesson planning a drag since I’ve got to figure out how to teach the content (the students have paid for their workbooks, so my counterpart is insisting they be used. Plus I can’t make photocopies without going into town), give them some significant grammar review, help them practice producing the language in a reading-based curriculum, make it fun and enjoyable, not over-plan or under-plan (which has been happening a lot), differentiate delivery and content as needed for the two different tracks, and design activities for my two students with exceptional needs. And I can’t explain things to them in English; their workbooks have no bahasa Indonesia, but how can we expect beginning English language students to understand, for example, the definition in English of past progressive tense?

On top of it all, my counterpart and I don’t plan in the same way and it’s gotten to a point where it’s easier, more efficient, and probably more educational for my counterpart if I make the lessons instead of if we collaborate. At this point, she’s not bringing much to the table except “we’ve got to stick to the curriculum” and answering my questions about the capabilities of the students, when she’s asked. She doesn’t contribute activities or ideas for the lesson plan itself, which is fine (I can’t yet expect her to do something she’s never really been asked to do). I’m satisfied—since this is still the beginning—to take the majority of the planning into my own hands and let her execute the plan after it’s demonstrated by me.

So, planning the narrative unit. I’ve decided to incorporate some heavy grammar stuff. When we were still in Malang, I didn’t think I’d need to teach much grammar since I thought that if students could understand and be understood, grammar wasn’t that important. However, I’ve learned over the past three months that the kids need grammar—they’ve got tons of English vocabulary but they can hardly put sentences together (and when they do, they’re riddled with grammatical mistakes that are usually so severe as to impede comprehension). It’s imperative to have grammar skills when speaking a foreign language, of course; I didn’t anticipate that after seven or eight years of studying English, my students would say things like “Her is sixteen” and “Him haves two sister.” I can understand what they’re saying but I think the source of some of their shyness is that they often know their grammar is incorrect but don’t know how to fix it; I feel much more comfortable speaking bahasa Indonesia when I know my word order and prefixes and suffixes are right and imagine the students feel the same about their English. They need to feel confident that they are correct and to achieve this we have to review (re-learn?) basic grammar concepts.

Last week we studied all sorts of different types of pronouns and how to identify antecedents; how can you expect readers to understand English without understanding pronouns? I’m hoping the pronouns stuff will help get them up to speed since it’s such a critical thing to understand. Before we went over pronouns, for example, Bu Heri would have a pair of sentences like “Anik went to Jogjakarta. She thought it was fun.” and ask the students who “she” was. In the advanced class, less then half of the kids sheepishly ventured “Anik?” I’m not chalking the lack of response up to a failure to participate, either—when the kids know something, they’ll not hesitate to say it.

So I’m using the narrative texts—three decent readings that I’ll have to orally correct with the kids before assigning them—as a vehicle for teaching grammar. I’m still focusing on reviewing material and concepts they have already learned; interestingly, they’ve studied almost every aspect of English grammar over the course of their educations. They’ve heard the words for all of the parts of speech and tenses and they’ve studied grammar rules and irregularities. Years of non-participatory learning, teachers not clarifying or providing examples or checking for comprehension, few to no real-world opportunities to practice the language, and workbooks with mistakes and insignificant (not meaningful) exercises have allowed the students to slip through their English courses with nothing much more than random vocabulary words. Luckily, they’ve got the vocabulary: I have no idea how I’d go about teaching huge amounts of vocabulary and the much needed grammar concepts at the same time (I’m still feeling green about TEFL). Theoretically, once they begin to understand the way the language works, they can plug in the vocabulary they already know and be on their way.

So, I’m doing simple past tense, past progressive tense, and negation—along with narrative—for the two weeks after the holiday. I’m hoping to show my counterpart that we can meet the students’ needs and still hit the curriculum standards if we’re creative about it and don’t work directly from the textbook.


In honor of traveling to Bali for a week of hanging out on the beach with my friends, I’d like to write a little bit about things in my life that make me feel the moniker of “Posh Corps” for Asian PC countries is rather accurate. I suppose you could describe this stuff as contradictions of expectations and anticipations I had about what the Peace Corps would be like.

  • My host family is wealthy enough to hire a maid (who—along with her daughter—happens to be my best friend in the village). I’m not allowed to help her sweep, mop, or do dishes, even if they’re my own. She feels bad if I help because she’s getting paid by my host mother.
  • We’ve got a much nicer house than the majority of people in my village, evidenced by our marble floors and expansive kitchen, clothes washing/spinning machine, and the fact that my host mother cooks chicken almost daily.
  • Since we’re the first group of Volunteers in this country, our financial needs have been over-estimated, probably in the vein of “better safe than sorry.” This means I am significantly wealthier than I’d like to be in comparison with most of my friends in the village and my coworkers at school. This makes me feel awkward and ashamed because I’m frequently asked how much I get per month from the Peace Corps and I frequently lie about it because it’s a completely ridiculous amount of money to divulge (“How much do I make? Gee, I don’t know! Just enough for daily expenses, I guess.”). Grand prizes on game shows are in the ball park of what we have.
  • I have to shower twice a day, dress up (in uniform) to go to work, and take an afternoon break.
  • Folks are happier if I don’t help them with chores or cooking, or if they let me help I’m usually allowed to try once, giggled at, then politely told to stop and just watch instead of being given the chance to try again. Unfortunately, I’m constantly worried about being polite so I don’t press.
  • I own a computer and can get near-daily internet access, while sending snail mail is a huge hassle (I’ve got to send my US-bound mail to Noel’s village, which is three hours away, so she can mail it from her post office).
  • I have to get permission for everything (this is loss of independence to me though it’s normal for unmarried Indonesian women my age).
  • I’m given and expected to eat way, way more food than I could ever possibly eat and it’s okay if food is wasted or thrown out.
  • I can buy anything at any time at a toko just down the street or in the town that’s twenty minutes and 3,000 Rp away (a little over $0.30).

So, it’s ok! Here are a few pictures of my friends down the street. These are my favorite tiny people in town. It was Tia’s 6th birthday and the kids were stoked that I brought my camera out. Enjoy!


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