Preserving minds

The year was new and I just finished a teaching course, a long, exhausting 30 days course. It cost me almost two thousand dollars and at the end of it I felt nothing but glad it was over. My boyfriend picked me up at the centre and as we drove back to Bandung on the dark, rainy evening he asked me how I feel. He, of all people, knew how hard the course was for me. The constant late-night calls, the whining and the crying, the frustration and the stress. I was surprised he didn’t break up with me after what I pulled the last month in Jakarta.

I rested my head and sighed, I said I guess now I know how to teach better. How could you not? Thirty days of teaching methodologies, textbooks to read, observed teaching practices and feedbacks that got rougher each weeks. Don’t forget the CCQs. You know how to make one do you? Don’t forget to put pronunciation before form. And don’t forget that you can’t say ‘I’m going to’. All for you to be a better teacher. You have to know your shit.

Back in the office, I was hoping – expecting, that from now on, my life would be different. It did in some ways, I was more confident, I planned my lesson better, and yes I always put pronunciation before form. I didn’t thank my brain, but the 30 days of brainwashing. Feed your brain with fear and you won’t ever forget things that traumatize you. My friends asked me did I enjoy my course. No. I enjoy a day with coffee and TV, I enjoy holiday at the beach, and I enjoy walking my dogs every morning. I’m pretty sure I didn’t enjoy the last month I spent in a building with strangers figuring out what was the meaning of past continuous tense.

I keep asking myself: is this how to be a better teacher. Teacher has to know things. And that’s not enough; they also have to be able to explain things. Wait, to make it more complicated: they have to do so in various levels. You can’t teach present simple using the same aims for elementary and intermediate. You have to know your audience so you’ll be rewarded at the end by their understanding. This much I know and it took me awhile to figure this out. My course helped, but what came next, still quite shocking to me.

I have some regular classes and one of them was a class of teenagers. It was true what they said about teaching teenagers: painful. During my first months with them I was so desperate that I found myself googling on ‘how to handle difficult teens in classrooms’. I liked one of the tips, it said just get out of the room when you feel really, really upset. I did that often and each month I found them easier to talk to. I noticed how they listen to me when they didn’t before. I took interests on their lives and I wasn’t pretending. Anya loves cosplay and she showed me a picture of hers with pink wig. Della had a hard time with her parents’ divorce and sulked every time she came into the class, but now she enjoys her high school life. Josh, who stutters, speaks more confidently about his days at school and the new club he joined, karate. Oscar who had been very uncooperative last year now couldn’t stop talking about photography. They made a really weird combination, but to my surprise, was a good mix. Teaching them had been a pain, but I found myself enjoyed my hours with them as we entered our third year together – as teacher and students.

One afternoon, we were on our books, listening to a story about women spies during the World War II and matched some sentences. They had finished (quite easily because they were bright), and we were checking answers when Oscar blurted out, so casually it caught me off guard, that Hitler had done the right thing after all. I looked at him, confused. Did he really say that? We weren’t on Hitler on the book. He just said, “I had World War II at my history lesson today”. When I asked him what was right he explained, without hesitation, that by killing Jews, Hitler did the right thing. He knew it was a bad thing, killing people, but Jews are Muslims’ enemy, so by doing so Hitler had done some good for Muslims people. He finished it by saying that he got this from his history teacher, not the fact, but the opinion.

I stared at him, searching in my brain what my 30 days, 2000 dollars course had said about this situation. I was pretty sure there was a topic about how to handle difficult students. But he wasn’t being difficult. He was being..

“Crazy,” Anya said, “it wasn’t right doing that. Those people he killed were innocent.”

At this Oscar, being a teenager, carefree and I was pretty sure he didn’t do a thorough research about the pros and cons of holocaust, just shrugged. “You’re a Muslim miss, don’t you read the Qur’an?” It wasn’t just a question, but a challenge. “I did,” I could feel my palms wet with sweat. “Then you know that Jews should be banished from the face of earth. We should kill them.”

“Daniel is Jewish.” Josh said, matter of factly, “what would you do to him?” Oscar shrugged again, as if Joshjust asked some irrelevant question, “Daniel is different.” Daniel was a teacher I shared this class with. He got the Mondays, I got the Wednesdays. I know that Daniel liked this class too, we shared stories about our sessions in the teachers’ room, and I know the students liked him as well. Oscar looked at me again, “Jews are Muslims’ enemies. The Qur’an said so,” as if I was the stubborn student and he was tired of explaining the obvious to me. “We should kill them.”

Surely the course must have said something on how to handle this situation, but nothing came to my mind. I just said what was obvious even to a five year old, “killing other people, whatever the reason is, is wrong. I think Qur’an also mentioned it.” The truth was, no one needs a holy book to grasp that basic understanding, and second, I did read the Qur’an but I didn’t try to interpret it. I could recite the Arabic, but to me it’s just a sing-song chanting that calms me. So I said that to him, “I think our humanity prevents us to kill other human being, just like you won’t do any harm to Daniel even though your understanding of Qur’an said he must be killed.”

He wouldn’t let it go, he was at this age when they think they knew everything – or at least they think their teachers knew everything. Including his history teacher, and the he added his religious studies teacher also said so. So what did he make of me? I was his teacher and he expected me to provide some support on his other teachers’ opinion. Surely, all teachers – all Muslim teachers thought the same, didn’t they? At this point, grasping for an explanation teacher should be able to provide, like Jeremy Harmer had said in one of his seminar: Teacher must know stuff; I was stumbling in the dark. Then I remember Adrien Broody.

In his movies Detachment, Adrien as Henry Barthes the teacher, made a speech in front of his students. He asked how are we to imagine anything if the images are already provided for us? According to him we must “doublethink,” meaning having two opposing beliefs at once and believing both are true. It’s not easy, if applied to this situation I must believe in what Oscar said and my logic said. They are both true, but how could he be true? What situations and conditions actually supported his opinions?  This is what Mr.Barthes said following,

“Assimilate ubiquitously. Doublethink. To deliberately believe in lies, while knowing they’re false. Examples of this in everyday life: “oh, I need to be pretty to be happy. I need surgery to be pretty. I need to be thin, famous, fashionable.” Our young men today are being told that women are whores, bitches, things to be screwed, beaten, shit on, and shamed. This is a marketing holocaust. Twenty-four hours a day for the rest of our lives, the powers that be are hard at work dumbing us to death. So to defend ourselves, and fight against assimilating this dullness into our thought processes, we must learn to read. To stimulate our own imagination, to cultivate our own consciousness, our own belief systems. We all need skills to defend, to preserve, our own minds.”

I could just dismiss Oscar and his idiot teachers’ opinion from my mind or from my life. I could just easily think that I was right and they were wrong. I didn’t need to think much further and I could just carry on the lesson and I knew for sure they would just forget about this altogether soon. I could stick to my lesson plan, achieved my aim and moved on to the next class. Wasn’t that what expected from a good teacher? Suppressed your opinion – personal opinions – and be professional. I had the control to do so since the room was mine.

Instead, I did the opposite.

We all need skills to defend, to preserve, our own minds.

 “I think your teachers are wrong, because I think killing people are wrong. I still believe that some people deserved to die – rapist, serial killers, child abusers – Muslims or not, but I think it is dangerous to hate other people because of the way they live their lives. You know, I might be wrong too. So you need to figure this out by yourself.” At this, Oscar furrowed his brows, “me?”

“Your teachers said Jews should be banished, I said the opposite. You believe in Qur’an and I do too. But it is obvious that how we believe is different. And we can go on and on proving each other who is right, but that is useless, isn’t it? Because at the end, Oscar, you won’t need me or your teachers to tell you what is right. You have your own opinions, your own minds, and your own life.”

“Does that mean we shouldn’t listen to you?” he said, smirking.

“Listen to your teachers, but think for yourself.”

When I got out of the classroom to take a breath (tip #2 from the website), my hands were shaking. For weeks the incident had bugged me, surely, the class didn’t even recall the event on the next meeting. They were busy talking about their girlfriends and boyfriends and such topic has never risen again. I trusted Oscar and I believed he would be able to think for himself. Other teachers have criticised me for doing this, I should have stick on my lesson plan and isn’t religion one of the taboo topic you should have steered away at the first place? Don’t touch that topic, even though you had a 16 year old who talked about killing people because his teachers said it was the right thing to do. Don’t touch it.

I think teaching is the most narcissist and self-centred job on the planet. With all those eyes and ears looking at you, listening to you, absorbing your comments, who wouldn’t? After all, teachers know stuff. But I think (and you are free to ‘doublethink’ this, of course), if we turn our back to taboo topics in classrooms, just because they are sensitive and personal, we are not helping anybody but ourselves. If I had turned my back at Oscar’s that day, he would have gone on believing his teachers. He might still do, for all I know, or he might have changed his opinion. But when I trusted him with the capability to think for himself, I hope (and hope is all that we can do) that he did so. I know for sure I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I had steered away from the topic.

Ubiquitous assimilation, a way to absorb everything, everywhere at all time. That applies even for us, teachers, because it is okay not to know stuff and never think that you know how to do stuff – even when a 2000 dollar course certified that you are.


about being alone

When I told my boyfriend that I was going to Japan, he told me to go alone. He insisted that there are certain things that you can only experience when you are traveling alone. I didn’t mind and probably because it was Japan, I wasn’tl worried too much. After all, I have my sister in Tokyo.

So, yeah, I bought my JR Pass, booked my dorms and hostels, packed my carrier and armed by my new second hand Nikon. I was ready to embrace new things alone. Some people are not into traveling alone, but after this trip, I realize I’m not that kind of people. I loved every minute of it.

I met new people, I spoke new phrases in a new language (ohayo gosaimasitaaaaaa), I saw new places, I tried new food, but I have to say the best of all was I had freedom. I could feel it when I stood next to Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin facing the grey sea, I could feel it when I walked under the gates up in the mountain in Koyasan, I could feel it when the view outside my window on Shinkansen became blurry. Everything felt so light.

I left my country with so many things in my mind. Before I left, I told myself that this could be a good opportunity to think things over. But when I was there, all I wanted was not thinking about anything, because I felt that there isn’t a problem too big if I could stop and enjoy the view in front of me.

I love this quote from Albert Einstein:

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”


to say life is good

The day has come to an end and I have Michael Giacchino’s La Festin on my iTunes.

In a moment we’re going downtown to watch a movie at the cinema and I’m thinking maybe I should put on the heels he bought me last year.

My best friend just texted me asking what birthday gift I would like, and the truth is I don’t really care as long as she’s here (she’s coming!!)

He hugged me and said he loved me.

The cicadas are shrieking outside and the rain has just stopped.

Alf, the big St Bernard is sleeping by my side.



Life is good, isn’t it?



The Great Gatsby Experience

Went to movie last weekend with H and I was excited to see that The Great Gatsby was on! Baz Luhrmann directed this movie and we just knew this when we saw the end credit title. It explained the ‘oooh’s and ‘aahh’s we made during the show! It was a perfect picture, the dresses, the hats, the music, the scenes, the houses (oh, the houses!), the lines. Everything was fabulous.

Prada,Brook Brothers and Tiffany & Co. jewelry created the actors’ and actresses’ costumes and jewelries . In that movie all the guys weren’t ‘guys’ they were gentlemen. They way they dressed and spoke (and behaved). The collar pin, the leather riding boot, the casual three piece clothes, the colored suspenders. Oh, I pray to you fashion goddess so this style becomes popular among young men!

And the women, they were dazzling and beautiful and sad and mellow but in a sexy way. I loved Carey Mulligan’s accent, she was amazing.

What is freedom for women?

Sitting in a quiet restaurant was a Spanish girl, looking restless and sometimes between her words that kept coming out from her lips, she smiled. But her eyes were restless, she was telling me a story about how the idea of love is killing people, killing women. She studied gender and she knew a lot about women in third world countries, where men rule and women obey. Where men lead and women follow, and worlds where men get more and women get what are given to them.

She’s European and I’m Asian, but borders and oceans that separate us prove that being a woman is pretty much the same. She did some research about how myths’ of love destroy women. They believe – or want to believe – that the idea of love is real. The origin of marriage happens when people realize that in order to expand the family businesses, they need to merge with other families by legal bonding, thus marriage was created. Not for love, but money and power. But as civilization changes, people want to have a better idea of a marriage, love becomes one sole reason in modern world to wed.

Now the world is changing again, women feel that they also contribute in how the world works and they realize they can make big things happen, important changes and moreover, they realize that they are a person capable of living their own chosen way of live without help of men. Feminism to the extreme level happen and though this baffled men in many ways (plus, I think men never take women seriously) the old myth that said woman was created from man’s ribs and solely to company Adam who was lonely, in other way to say that women exist to complete men always rings awfully true.

There are many ways to look on women’s role in society and it really depends on how we look at it. Some women’s opinion differ from other women, some even criticize they way other women think. But try hard as we women may, we would be lying to ourselves if we declare that we need no men. Men can live without women, but women -psychologically speaking- find it hard to live without men. There are, of course, many young women who chose to live all by themselves and provide themselves, some even raise children by themselves and declare bravely that they’ll be a mother and also a father for their children. (This case not applied to widowers of course)

These new type of women think marriage is a terrible idea and they don’t see any reason why – if they’re with a partner – should government meddle with it. Being married – if it’s by love – should not need certification or legalization by government. Why should I prove it with paper and seal that I love this man I am with? Some argue that government protects mothers’ rights to their children in case of divorce and inter-citizen marriage. (Which I agree with)

But the idea of freedom for women still lingers without no one has a real grasp of what it means. Being a woman is a hundred different things, being a wife and a mother is another hundreds different thing.

The Spanish girl sipping her drink, realized she had talked too much and apologized. I told her to keep talking because she interests me. She told me that lots of her European friends think that Western women are freer than Asian women or Muslims because in Europe they don’t have to cover their skins and free to wear clothes as they like. She was angry and said that her friend is stupid, “do you think by showing skins means that you are free? Do you think by wearing sexy clothes you are freer than women who wear jilbab? Yet you told me that your parents demand you to get married! How free you are!!”

Now define freedom for women,

If it’s not by the choice of clothes,

or by freedom in living a life,

or by saying what they meant without being judged,

or by feeling proud that they make money,

or by the choice that you married by love not an arranged one,

or by getting equal education, opportunity, and salary with men,

then what?

I think this moment, me sipped tea in small restaurant feeling a weird connection with this girl, was some kind of freedom.

The rain started falling and everything turned grey. There are many questions left unanswered and maybe the urge of women around the world to answer this with their own way is freedom in its own weird form.



Moment of doubt

I stared numbly at the faces of my students. I could tell that their minds were not on the worksheet I had just handed them three minutes ago.

There were six of them, all boys and even though I only had them on Fridays, the sixty minute lesson felt like infinity. I remembered two years ago when I had just started teaching them, they were obnoxious and loud -they are still, now- but they were kids, now they are teenagers. In other words, they’re completely different species.

“I hate you, you know.” one of them said to me when I told him to stop texting.

He was waiting for my reaction so I said, “I don’t really care”. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I told myself, he didn’t mean it, but I knew he did. He was always the most difficult in this class and many times I had wished he just quit and stop coming. And every time I felt guilt for wishing such things.

The class ended and I felt relieved. Children never told you that they hate you, they don’t understand the concept of hate and they put things into two categories: like and dislike, in which the components in each group exchanging in seconds. It was easier to please a child, sing with them, dance with them, play with them, joke with them and if you feel too tired to do each of those, buy them chocolates.

With adults it’s easier in different ways. You can make sense with them, they can make sense with you. They can see things through different layers and most healthy-minded  adults filter things that they’ve received. They can easily see advantage or disadvantages of everyday behavior (though what the actions they do with that knowledge depends on each individual).

But with teens..they can make you hate yourself for disliking their behavior. Since I’ve started this job, I’ve been reading a lot of methodology books about teaching and a lot about handling teenagers and also been reading teachers’ blogs and forums that share other teachers experience about handling difficult students.

But none of those prepare you for these:

student : miss, do you want to see video of me kissing my girlfriend?

me : err.., no thanks?

or this,

me : okay, now open page..

student : why should I?  (with sour look in his eyes – as if I was someone that the presence is so revolting he wanted to puke)

and this :

me: don’t play with your pho..

student : I hear you, God damned it!!

me : … (stunned)


me : okay, guess how do I feel at the moment (it was a lesson about feelings)

student : fucked?

me : frustrated (I mean it)


Rob told me that they acted that way because they are used to me. And I thought, should I change the way I am to disciplined them. How? I don’t think that I have different faces or masks every time I step inside a class. I’m just being me.

One day, I was having a bad day at the class. One of the boys acted unbelievably rude and I tried to reason with him. After the class had finished, and there were only two of us walking down the corridor, I asked him: “Why were you so angry?”

It took him moments before he answered, then without looking at me, he said “I think I’m going to be like my father. He lied all the time. That’s why my mother left him.”

I didn’t see this coming.

All I could say was, “you are you, not your father.”

He shrugged and ran to catch his friends.

Did it make me feel any better knowing he had a valid reason he didn’t even realized to act the way he just did? Maybe. Did it make my teaching hours easier? I doubt it.

But I felt something pushed me to take another step. No solid promise that it’s going to be easier, no certificates that says I passed a teaching course to certify that I can do this. And many moments I doubt myself. My adult student once asked me why I chose this line of career instead of designing. I didn’t know why, I wanted to say that there was something in teaching that you don’t get in other line of job but it sounded so cheesy.

But sometimes, it’s not about teaching which tenses you should use, sometimes it’s about learning to be more human.

I was once had a discussion in a teenager class: robot teacher or human teacher. To my relieved they chose to have human teacher compared to an android. The reason? They said robot teacher couldn’t laugh with them.