Guru Galak?

Tugas saya sebagai Koordinator Pendidikan (“Bu Kordik”) membawa saya berinteraksi dengan lebih banyak lagi mahasiswa Departemen Biologi.

Sebetulnya kalau membaca job description yang original, tugas saya adalah meng-koordinir kegiatan pendidikan di Departemen. Tidak sulit.

Akan tetapi, kenyataannya, di lapangan sedikit banyak berbeda . Saya sering multi-tasking, mulai dari tukang ketik, tempat curhat, ‘bemper’ fakultas, ‘algojo’….Basically, kordik itu dianggap sebagai hotline untuk segala urusan pendidikan Biologi.

Departemen Biologi itu tidak besar. Student body 350-400, dosen tetap sekitar 34. Harusnya, sekali lagi tidak sulit. Apalagi kan, mahasiswa Bio itu sebetulnya pinter-pinter, apalagi dosennya.

But aduh ampun, sometimes, ok a lot of the time, I am overwhelmed. Banyak yang berharap (atau expect) kordik akan menyelesaikan masalahnya. Well, here’s the deal–tidak semua masalah bisa diselesaikan kordik, dan semua masalah perlu kerjasama untuk solusinya. Kerjasama dari siapa? Ya semua, dari dosen, mahasiswa, sampai bagian admin.

And that is what we lack… the willingness and ability to work in a team. Sering saya pikir, kita harus outbound training niih. Karena seringkali saya harus pontang-panting sendiri (atau bertiga dengan kadep dan sekdep) padahal sebetulnya kalau saja ada yang mengorganisir, ya bisa lebih ringan kerja.

Tapi, tunggu. Apa hubungannya dengan guru galak?

Begini. Karena beban kerja saya lagi super banyak, jadi suara saya yang sudah keras menjadi semakin keras. Saya tahu, kesan mahasiswa pada saya adalah saya guru yang galak (padahal rasanya ada yang lebih galak lagi dari saya, hehehe). Saya akui, saya adalah orang yang keras. Kalau kakak saya bilang, saya sering mengeluarkan “aura judes”. Hehehe. Mungkin ya. But as I am in my 40s now, I hope I can be more patient with people. Pengennya saya bukan galak, tapi tegas.

Memang, yang (paling) sering terkena “semprotan” adalah mahasiswa. Pasalnya, saya memegang prinsip “toleransi berbanding terbalik dengan jumlah semester.” Artinya kalau dengan mahasiswa semester 1-2 saya masih coba toleran, mahasiswa tingkat skripsi jangan terlalu banyak berharap bahwa saya mengikuti “maunya kalian”. Karena apa yang dilontarkan terkadang tidak logis atau mahasiswa sering ‘ngeyel’. Contoh paling terakhir mungkin adalah saat berunding urusan waktu penyelenggaraan Anemon kemarin. Atau dealing dengan mahasiswa peserta Kerja Praktek.

Beda ya dengan ibu kordik yang dulu? ya iyalah, orangnya beda :-). Beban kerja saya dengan kordik yang dulu juga beda. Cara saya handle masalah, apa lagi. Hal ini yang sering menyebabkan saya dicap ‘guru galak’, dosen killer, muka jutek dll.

Hehehe, ikhlas deh, terima itu. Saya coba berusaha untuk mengurangi “ke-jutek-an” saya. Terutama semester ini, rasanya kesabaran saya diuji sampai ke suatu titik yang tidak pernah saya bayangkan sebelumnya ada di dalam diri saya. Saya juga merasa kok, pengajaran saya tidak optimal. Seperti stuck di suatu tempat. Tidak bisa memotivasi mahasiswa dengan baik. Banyak nyap-nyapnya. Akibatnya muka judes sering dipasang.

Cuma, kalau boleh saya kritik mahasiswa, tampaknya mahasiswa juga tidak se-curious yang saya harapkan. Dipancing tanya, banyak diam. Pengamatan praktikum, banyak tidak ikutnya. Terus terang saya kaget tapi ya itulah mahasiswa. Saya tidak menginginkan anak-anak manis yang hanya duduk terima perintah saja, tapi berhadapan dengan mahasiswa-mahasiswa yang kurang motivated juga not fun.

Belum informasi tentang proses pendidikan, lebih senang mendengarkan “Kata senior”, “kata teman-teman”. Informasi cepat berkembang dan penuh bumbu-bumbu kecap. Akibatnya, informasi yang sampai ke saya, sudah sedemikian terdistorsaya sering ‘meledak’ dulu, baru kemudian saya berusaha menenangkan diri. At the very least, mahasiswa diharapkan tanya ke Penasihat Akademik. Tapi, seringkali PA juga dibypass.

Life is a journey. This part of my journey was full of unexpected twists and turns, peaks and valleys. Akhir semester, kebetulan akhir tahun 2007 juga, jadi merupakan momen yang tepat untuk look back and reflect. Kalau cerminnya berdebu, ya dibersihkan dulu 🙂

Selamat Tahun Baru 2008!

Dosen, ya?

“Sori ganggu, lagi ngajar ya?”

“Kok tidak libur, kan mahasiswa libur?”

Dua pertanyaan di atas adalah pertanyaan yang sering saya peroleh kalau sedang ngobrol dengan teman-teman yang tidak seprofesi. Tetangga-tetangga saya tuh, hobi banget bertanya seperti itu. Biasanya saya cuma senyum-senyum saja, malas menjelaskan scope kerjaan saya yang sebenarnya. Bisa pusing. Ibu saya sendiri sempat bengong juga kalau lagi lihat saya beres-beres mau berangkat ke daerah A, visit ke universitas X. Padahal ibu saya sudah “terlatih” hidup dengan bapak saya (yang juga dosen-turned-something-else) selama puluhan tahun.

Mungkin masyarakat kita memang terbiasa membentuk stereotype tentang profesi tertentu. Kalau guru/dosen, pasti cuma ngajar mahasiswa, kalau mahasiswa libur, ikut libur.

Ada sih, guru/dosen seperti itu. Tapi kami di Departemen Biologi yang tercinta, umumnya tidak.

So, jadi dosen, ngapain aja sih?

Wah, macem-macem. Ada yang jadi direktur LSM, jadi dekan :-), buka usaha budidaya anggrek, busana muslim… yes, we are a multi talented group! Saya sendiri? Sekarang sibuk ngurusin orang pinter 🙂

Tapi memang, tugas utama seorang dosen sih, tetap di pengajaran dan penelitian. Kalau mau ngaku dosen, ya harus ada ngajar nya. Penelitian pun, melibatkan mahasiswa. (and yes, I realize I haven’t been in the lab for a long time now). The transfer of knowledge is key.

So being a teacher is who we are, not just what we do.

So, the next time you call me, jangan langsung nanya “Lagi ngajar ya?” karena belum tentu sedang mengajar. Bisa saja saya lagi nongkrong di mall minum kopi, atau lagi…asyik blogging!

I wish I had more time to blog!

Re-taking the TOEFL test, or, is this really the way to spend your long vacation?

I just spent a morning taking the Next Generation TOEFL, aka the Internet-Based TOEFL.

Why take the TOEFL test again? Why on the last weekend of the Idul Fitri vacation?

I’ll answer the 2nd question first. It was an easy choice, because I didn’t want to take the test when I was stressed out from work issues. Plus, since registration is now online, it was very easy to register and arrange a test date. No more navigating the awful parking garage at Menara Imperium, yay! We could choose test centers according to location. Drawbacks of this new registration system? Well, you gotta have a credit card for registration purposes because otherwise you’ll have to wait for banks to open.

As for the first question… well, there is more than one reason. You can say it’s for both professional and personal reasons. It never hurts to have a valid TOEFL score in your pocket (you never who’s gonna offer you an all inclusive scholarship for grad school). Does it have to be the International TOEFL? No it doesn’t have to be the International TOEFL, but I doubt I can find the time to register for an institutional TOEFL on campus.

So what was the test like?

All information about the test can be found here. You can register, buy practice tests, and you have one time access to a sampler test. No need to look at other websites offering information.

The test itself is radically changed. All four skills of the English language Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing are included in test. The last time I took the TOEFL (a decade ago!!!) spoken English was tested separately and written English was not on every test. My guess is that 1) wants a more efficient way of testing and 2) TOEFL wants to challenge the ‘other’ English Proficiency Test, namely the IELTS. If someone from ETS reads this they’ll probably correct my statements. Because of this, the length of test is also longer, about 4 hours.  You also need to be very familiar with computers because otherwise you’ll have difficulty in taking the test.

So, so, how was the test?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. To have a high TOEFL score ( >550, a requirement for post graduate study in the US), you need to expose yourself to as much English as possible. This is the only way. Taking a TOEFL preparation course will not help much if outside the course you do not practice your English skills. Use the prep course as just one way of disciplining yourself for practicing but actually, you can save a lot of money by practicing yourself. Those of you at the Dept of Biology, UI, you can use me as a living practice object  🙂

The TOEFL test is difficult. I can say that much, and I used to teach English :-). However, if you are an undergraduate student and have read some university text books, you have an advantage, because the test material is basically university level texts. There is no structure section anymore so grammar is not specially tested.

The first session of test is Reading and Listening. Again, if you are a university student, you’re in luck, because the reading passages are taken from university textbooks. Also, if you have passed an Academic English course at your university with a good grade, chances are you can get a decent score in the reading section. You really need to concentrate on the Listening part, because they now use simulation of university classes as listening material. Thankfully, you can take notes.

After a ten minute break, you continue with Speaking and Writing section. Don’t worry,  if you take the International TOEFL, all the test centers have a good quality language lab with good quality audio visual equipment.  (I certainly hope it’s a requirement!). You can hear the people speaking quite clearly. The key word here is concentrate. Listen to all the directions, and think carefully before you answer.

A special note about writing. One of the main weaknesses of Indonesian education is that we don’t get enough writing practice, even in Bahasa Indonesia. I hope this is being corrected in the new curriculum but anyway, writing, in any language is about organizing thoughts and synthesizing sentences. You need a lot of practice for this. The best approach in my opinion is to make an outline of what you want to write before you start. Some people have the gift and talent of being able to create paragraphs that interconnect beautifully while others need more practice. If you fall in the latter category, start practicing.

The TOEFL is an indicator of your English competence. One would say it’s ‘just an indicator’. My brother told me, “well if you can laugh at the jokes on ‘Friends’, you can get a high score”. That’s true, because that means you can process the jokes in your mind and respond accordingly. One of my American friends told me that “TOEFL is indicator of how well you can function in English.”

Yes, you need to be prepared when you take the TOEFL. But practice doesn’t mean spending money on expensive courses.  Before shelling out millions of rupiahs for a TOEFL prep course, consider just practicing regularly to all kinds of English skills. Listening to music, watching TV, movies (without subtitles), reading books (no translations!). Try to practice with a partner (for this you can hire a teacher if you wish, I think it’s cheaper :-)). Make it fun.

So, hope you all had a good vacation and ready for the workweek on Monday :::aaargh:::

A Hollow Victory

Today I did something I’ve always wanted to do since becoming an academic coordinator at my department.

I told a student that he/she could no longer continue as a student at the Department because of unacceptable behaviour. I’ve been imagining this moment for a long time, and I thought I would feel satisfied after I did it.

That feeling didn’t come.

Instead, there was a sick feeling in my stomach. How would you feel after you killed someone’s dream of becoming a university graduate? How would you feel after you say, ‘you’re fired’? (How does Donald Trump do it?)

Was it justified?

The kid has never showed goodwill for attending school, just barely passing his/her courses, chronically late for class, added and dropped courses with several hundred excuses, practically forced his/her supervisors to supervise his project and then did not put in enough effort to work on the project. Oh yeah, definitely justified.

Then why don’t I feel good? Where’s that feeling of satisfaction that should be running through me right now?

I know I’ve done the right thing. I just know it. What he/she did was inexcusable. It’s not fair to all the other students who have worked their butts off for 1,2 semesters doing their final projects.

So why don’t I feel I did something good?

Note: Gender is ambiguous to protect parties involved.

“You want me to work with WHO?”, part 2

New Year! New Semester!

After neglecting this blog for quite some time, I have a little down time today to write.

So after a semester on the job as academic coordinator, I have yet to “find my groove”. The growing pains of a new, web based, online academic administration system, called theSIAK NG , have made me a reluctant workaholic during the semester.

“Reluctant workaholic”? Yeah, well, I often work till late evening, going way beyond the 8 hour workday, no thanks to a workaholic boss who often insist that ‘we have to finish this today. No matter how long it takes.” The day he said that I went at 8.00pm. Boo,hiss. And the annoying thing is, we couldn’t finish entering data that evening.

SO the month of January became a long painful month that had me battle a nasty flu without the chance of proper recovery period that I awfully needed.

January became February, and that started with the worst flood in history of Jakarta. About 70% of the city was under water for at least 3 days. Water level reached 3 m, drowning houses and schools. There was increased demand for rubber rafts, blankets and household stuff.

All in Depok was safe, although we were without clean water for a few days. In the middle of that the new semester began. All things considered, the beginning of semester was relatively smooth, save for room changes that had teachers bewildered.

It was during this period I became baffled at the behavior of some colleagues. University teachers are only human after all, but Seriously! (to quote a favorite phrase from Grey’s Anatomy) .

SO now it’s March, and midterms are just around the corner. More work!

Speaking of which… I should go and try to do some work.

“You want me to work with WHO?”

or “When Life Throws You a Curveball and you can’t duck”

 OK, not two weeks on the job and I find out that a certain person who is universally despised has somehow managed to pass the selection process and is now a member of the staff at my department. And lucky me, because I am the academic coordinator (though still no official letter, boo!) there will be times that require me to talk with said person.

Oh, crap.

Seriously, this person has put everybody at the department on the edge for the past several months. We even had a special meeting to see if there was a way to, ummm… ok, no sugar coating, stop his application process. And actually, we do have some proof that he has questionable academic integrity. Yet the powers that be insisted that we have to put faith in the selection process.

Lot of good that did us.

Now what? I honestly don’t know what to do about him. Since he has been accepted :-(, for the time being we can only hope that either he a) cleans up his act and changes his behavior or b) screw up and get kicked out.

I close this post with a quote “When man makes plans, God Laughs.”

Why I do what I do… A reaffirmation, sort of

I teach for a living.

To be more exact, I teach university students, or as they call it in Bahasa Indonesia, my native language: Mahasiswa.

Why teach?

Why indeed. Maybe it’s in the genes. My Dad just recently retired as a University Professor at the age 70 so there you go.
Oh, growing up, I had the requisite childhood dreams: Be a doctor, be a psychologist, be a … But as far as dreams go, “be a teacher” was never one of them.

Until I was accepted at the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Math & Nat Sciences, University of Indonesia. I won’t go into the “Why Biology?” here, but the moment I knew where I was accepted I immediately thought, “OK, study here, then apply to teach so that I could go to grad school.”

How selfish can a person get? There was no indication of a commitment to better education, no love of imparting knowledge & wisdom, no intention of “mencerdaskan kehidupan bangsa” (rough translation: build a better nation in the future), nothing. I didn’t know what teaching entailed, what kind of commitment it was (still is).

First, let me tell you straight away, to be a teacher actually requires a love (for lack of a better word) for teaching, because you certainly can’t be in it for the money. Oh we teachers can survive on our salary as a teacher…if you can call having an empty savings account by the end of the month and can’t wait for the 1st of the month, surviving. It is no secret that University teachers/professors supplement their teaching income with other projects (that sometimes don’t involve facing students).

Did I have that love? I still can’t fully answer the question. However, two recent events gave me an “A-ha! moment!” (to borrow a phrase from Oprah Winfrey).

The first event was a visit from two former engineering students. I didn’t officially supervise their work, but mainly taught them some basic microbiology techniques. After a few weeks, they left the micro lab to start their final projects. I only heard from them a few times more and then nothing until a few weeks ago they asked to meet me. Thinking that they might still need some help I said “Sure” while thinking “What now???”. Well, guess what… they came to tell me that they had graduated and came to give me a present as a token of appreciation for helping them! It was ballpoint pen with my name engraved on it. This will sound so corny, but there was a lump in my throat caused by their thoughtfulness.
The other moment came yesterday when I got an email from another former student. It was a long rambling email, talking about his recent activities (quitting from a job, running a family business…). Near the end, he wrote “I’m very excited at what I’m doing right now, and I want to thank the microbiology lab for one of my finest moments that helped me to be who I am.” Again I was moved to near tears…

So I think I have found the reason, why I do what I do… helping other people find their way to become what they want to be, is, ladies and gentlemen, why I am a teacher.