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Monday, January 26, 2009

Teaching Literature

In my workplace, besides being assigned to teach English and Bahasa Indonesia, I am also responsible to watch students during ‘library’ sessions. Every student is assigned to read one book—minimally 100 pages for grade 7, 150 pages for grades 8 and 9—every one term. After finishing reading one book, they are to write ‘book review’. In writing the book review, I must check whether they write good English sentences or not. If not, I will return it and have them revise it.

The main reason why students have library sessions (two slots per week) is to help them improve their vocabulary and also skill in reading English books. As a language as well as literature teacher, I am of opinion that this reading assignment is also important to balance students’ left and right brain. Literature—a part of art—is essential to smoothen people’s soul, to be more humane.

I have read some articles related to some criticism addressed to schoolteachers—especially who teach Bahasa Indonesia subject—in some sites. Some complained because many teachers themselves do not like reading. Even in one article I read several months ago—sorry, I forgot to cite the site address—the writer stated that many Bahasa Indonesia teachers he interviewed had not read LASKAR PELANGI novel yet, one very famous novel by Andrea Hirata recently, moreover this novel portrayed the life of schoolchildren studying in a remote and poor school, but still they had very high spirit and enthusiasm to study. Isn’t it a very good example to boost students’ enthusiasm to go to school. Why did those teachers not read LASKAR PELANGI yet? Several reasons gathered were: they did not like reading; they were busy teaching (at school as well as had part time job outside to get more income) so that they could not spare their time to read; the price of books was expensive and teachers who got low salary could not afford to buy them.

For the first reason, it is indeed very shameful if teachers do not like reading. I have loved reading since I was a kid. Feeling unhappy with the fact cited by the writer in that article, I commented that not all teachers did not enjoy reading. Some did, including me.

For the second and the third reasons, I think they come from the same background: lack of sufficient income. When teachers get enough income, they do not need to have part time jobs, in order that they get enough spare time to read, to improve their knowledge and skill as well. For the third reason, schools can be of any help by providing books to be lent to teachers.

I think my educational background has made me a bit different from those teachers interviewed by the writer of the article. I did not graduate from Teachers’ College. Instead, I graduated from Faculty of Letters, especially English Department, and American Studies, with literature interest. When teaching Bahasa Indonesia in my workplace, I just need to adjust the material: from American literary works (or any other work written in English), to any literary works written by Indonesian, in Bahasa Indonesia.

Talking about educational background, this is also a very crucial issue. Many schools prefer having teachers graduating from Teachers’ College. They are assumed to be supplied with teaching techniques and methods. On the other hand, people graduating from other than Teachers’ College only get science and knowledge, minus teaching techniques/methods. As a result, they are not considered to be capable to teach, or to transfer their knowledge to students.

When it comes to teaching literature at high schools, it is understandable when teachers teaching literature (who graduated from Teachers’ College) do not really master anything related to literature, they even do not enjoy reading any piece of literature. When they themselves do not enjoy reading it, they do not know how to make their students enjoy it either. How can they make their students enjoy studying literature and make them realize that studying literature is as fun and important as studying any other exact subjects, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology?

Going back to my job—assigning students to read and ask them to write reviews—I can conclude that many students from grades 7 and 8 enjoy this assignment. However, only a few grade 9 students who enjoy it. It seems to me that their concentration is more absorbed by the National Examination they will face a few months again.

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johnorford said...

i agree, it's so obvious when teachers have a passion for their subject. i think the passionate teachers were my favourite...

A Feminist Blog said...

Absolutely. 'Passion' is the right term here, passion for the subject teachers teach.
Thanks for the comment, John.