by thomas gunawan wibowo

Personal Reflection: Long Journey To Be A Constructive Teacher

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Am I dreaming?

In my hand is "United State", but in my heart is still "Indonesia"

It looks strange if someone has never heard about The United States. Nevertheless, I felt that I didn’t know much about The United States. George bush – the “cowboy” president, Barrack Obama, Michael Jackson, their conflict with Iraq, their fear on the world terrorists and others. Maybe I knew those things. But is Chicago? I didn’t know much about it. Information regarding this city was very limited. “This city is quite, managed, fresh, and windy,” that’s what the people say. The talk show of the Oprah “black” Winfrey, which was held in Chicago, was also ever heard by me. The rest information about this city was only what the people say or the rumors performed by the alumnae who ever studied there.
But that someday I would put my feet there, moreover for study, was only a dream. Therefore, when the chance to take a course in Chicago offered to me, I felt like waken up from my dream. I felt that this was a gift, bless, and even a generosity that I received from God.
Studying abroad was a scarce chance. A feeling that sometimes made me uncertain was the condition that forced me to leave my family for a long time. Two months seemed not to be a short time. Especially for a young couple that has not been given any children, loneliness would surely come to my wife. Fortunately, even though there was a “heavy” feeling, my wife understood enough and received the situation. This might be because I often go to another city because of an official meeting or other duties, which absolutely have to leave my wife for several days.
“Am I able?” That was the question which then occurred in my mind. I had a belief that I was able to master the course materials that would be studied, but I had a handicape regarding the lack of my English performance. I felt that my English performance was very low. Would I be able to absorb the materials completely? Within my belief, my spirit to keep studying, and my firm heart, I finally flew to Chicago.
What did I go through?
The long journey with a plane for almost 20 hours was finally succeeded. The “friendliness” of O’Hare, the biggest airport in Chicago, was felt by us. For almost three hours, we had to accomplish immigration processes there. The atmosphere of how tight they received “guests” from other countries was really strong, especially to the Asian, particularly to those who entered the United States for the first time. Moreover, there was an experience of a friend who had ever gone there, which his return to Indonesia was not reported in the airport officer’s computer system; how complete the long and boring process was.
But the annoying feeling was started to be dismissed when the twelve persons of us “were brought” to an apartment, the place for us to stay. During our journey to go along the streets of Chicago that afternoon, a feeling of admiring and wondering was fulfilling me. How could the city be like that? The environment was very orderly, the drivers of cars or big motorcycles were very discipline in running their vehicles, the appreciation for the walkers, the buildings, houses and stores were so beautifully managed. Along the journey, I started to have changing image on this city. The statement of a friend in my home country: “this city is quite, managed, fresh, and windy,” might be true.
After having introduction period in the first week, I finally started the real-learning period in the second week. The study item I took was Instructional Strategies, which was presented by Dr. Michael Boyle. As a lecturer, he had excellent-teaching ability. Besides creative within fresh ideas, he was also innovative with the materials performed, he also had “sharp” look to see the interaction atmosphere in the teaching and learning activities at class. He really understood that our catch and understanding in English were very varied. Therefore, what he did was to teach slowly and repetitive on certain parts that considered to be important.

Ms Rachel and me. Ms Rachel is one of math teacher in Uplift Community School, state school in Chicago.

At class, I studied two big theories in learning that consisted of behaviorist and constructivist approaches. I think that they are interesting. Why? First, most of teachers in Indonesia use behaviorism approach. Teacher becomes the single actor at class, teacher determines his own way on how the students learn, the methods, the materials, and even the patterns that should be conducted by the students. On the other side, I see that students only become passive receivers. The worse is that this approach is institutionized by the presence of national-evaluation system which is facilitated by the government – shown from its double choice model. Contrary, in the constructive approach, students’ roles are central. Teacher becomes the facilitator in order to help the students’ way of learning so that they have deeper understanding on the materials they learn. In that case, some requirements are needed to make teachers are able to run that roles. I name the requirements as “the strategies.” Dr. Boyle invited us to discuss a lot of strategies when we wanted to develop this approach. Those strategies include similarities and differences, summarizing and note taking, reinforcing effort, homework principles, non-linguistic representation, cooperative learning, setting objectives, and providing feedback, etc.
One model in teaching approach, which made me felt that “I am able and courageous” within the language limitation that I had, was his behavior and ingenuity to encourage us, his students. He was not easy to blame or give “verdict” on the answers or assignments that we should accomplish. “Please…” and “Tell me more…” were the sentences he often to say when he listened uncompleted answers from his students on the questions he proposed. Or some comments such as “Great”, “Clear, ”Good,” or “Excellent,” on the covers of our 2 to 3 papers that we should collect for each week. Such statements are very seldom and “expensive”, I think, to be occurred by a teacher/ lecturer in our people.
In the other parts, I found some inspiring things during our visits to some schools in the United States. Most of the schools there owned and developed their school’s culture consistently. Physically, they had complete learning facilities, the schools’ buildings were managed well and functional, the schools’ environments were very clean and orderly. The class designs reflected the spirit of the schools and the teachers in placing students as the main actors in the teaching and learning activities. For example, whiteboards were set on some sides of the classrooms’ wall, the goal was to make the students were mobile in the learning process, the students had spaces for creating and exploring their ideas, each class was completed with an audio visual system as an instrument/ learning method that was inspiring and close to the youth’s world.
Meanwhile, on the other side, it was clear that school placed its alumnae specially. Alumni’s profiles were clearly shown on the schools’ wall, which surely would make the alumni or their children who were still studying at the schools felt proud. Quality of the schools was also shown from their taking sides to the group of children that had less-academic performances. Schools provided some special programs to assist them, as what had been done by St. Scholastica High School and St. Gregory High School. Teachers still owned dedication and big totality in assisting students, particularly to the students who had less-academic performances, even financially (like teachers in Indonesia-the writer) their salary were not too high.
The sense of admiring the interesting experiences at class or during the visit to some American schools is not the end of this story. The atmosphere of fellowship was truly felt by the twelve of us when we felt that we were really accompanied by our facilitators there. Pater Justin Daffron, as the Chief ISEDP-Chicago, and Karnell Black (the cute-black rounded man) had made us feel like ‘important people’ in the foreign country. Especially the blond Justin Dafron SJ, he was indeed special. His friendliness and unpretentious attitude made us felt that he was “more Javanese” than us.
Mosaic of the two-month experience seems to be an inspiring start for me to see deeper on what we have learned, certainly in the context of Indonesia.

After I went home…
Two months looked too long at first, but it ended as well. After final presentation, as if all those things were finished. We flew back to the homeland. Our miss to our family was exchanged. What would I make? In optimism, in fact, I still felt uncertain, that was an honest feeling I got. Would the other teachers be easy to be invited on changes? Would the students have higher order understanding with this new-approach model? Would all be enough to give “something” for our colleauge or other teachers?

With Mark, Karen, and Stacy. They are students of Sacred Heart School. The school is located realy close with Michigan Lake, Chicago

In optimism and spirit that were continuously flaring, I felt that I needed to start “come to the earth” on the routine activities at school. I attempted to practice my experiences at class. I wanted to teach through context. When I taught a new topic at class, I tried to apply a method that used “KWL” as one of the methods that conducted pre assessment at the beginning of the learning. When I asked the students about the first “K”, surprisingly they had known a lot of things from my previous assumptions. This absolutely made me had to revise a few things on the materials I previously prepared. Meanwhile, the next “L”, I found that the students’ expectation in learning was good because the materials I was going to teach were very practiced, not too theoretic, and challenging, just like what I had thought before. What the students said are really helpful for me to prepare the more effective materials and to answer their needs.
On the other side, I felt there were changes on the group of children who were “less” in their academic performances. They became more courageous and confident. This was shown from that they were more often to ask some questions and to “come forward” to do problem solving I proposed at class. Would it be because of my “new” behavior to not saying “wrong”, “mistake”, or “fool” to them, even though I sometimes felt fed up and could not “bear” to see the students who were not “fast” in catching what I had taught. I didn’t know. But the evaluation I made showed that the result of the students’ formative examination had much better finishing level than what I had before. The fact is the students are more enthusiastic in learning.
I feel “lucky” to be assigned managing the school’s curriculum. Structurally, I have chances to be actively involved in thinking and giving advice to the school. Therefore, the idea that I am going to propose is to design the classrooms to be more inspiring and optimal in supporting the teachers, as the facilitators of the students in learning at class. For example, by providing an audio-visual instrument in each class so that the teachers may design the more interesting and inspiring learning. It is one of the school’s cultures that should be considered for schools in big cities such as Jakarta.
From a limited sharing with some young teachers, it seems that they are interested on some instructional strategies and intended to implement them at class as the more complete strategies than those they have conducted at class. I am happy to hear it. But I don’t really know whether or not they have enough energy to try something new and “uncertain.” May they are still optimistic because of the abstinence of support from the people around.

This is Nichole, one of the favorite student in art's class. She is studying tenses with other students in her class

A thankful personality
Personally, I feel that I haven’t done much. Routine tasks and preparations for the school’s accreditation have earned much time. Nevertheless, I cannot hide my deep thank to God. Thankful, because I have experienced such inspiring learning and have lived in a very different culture. Thankful, because I receive wonderful knowledge and new experiences in a quite short time, two months. Even though I realize that I am not able to implement all of them at school yet. Thankful, because “brightening” of good behaviors has been experienced by me.
From Chicago, I gain new energy under “the spirit of changing”. The “changing” is the thing that is easier to talk than to do. My experience in Chicago firms that statement, and makes me believe that the “changing” is easier to talk and interesting to do. From which side should the changing be started? Today, I become more certain that the most important duty of a teacher is to create some way which makes the assistance and the teaching conducted can make students to have more meaningful knowledge and not dogmatic. There, the constructivist works.
But, from the bottom of my heart, I realize that to be a constructivist teacher is a long journey. 000

by: thomas gunawan wibowo, canisius senior high school teacher – jakarta, young teacher.


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