Friday, October 19, 1990

One Yell Is Not Enough

My "teaching" job was pretty much a joke this week. One of the physics teachers was taking the students on a mini field trip to the Marina, for a morning of games and activities, and he invited me along as one of the supervising teachers. This means that instead of sitting in a classroom desperately trying to speak slowly enough for the students to understand, I sat on a bench by the Java Sea and desperately tried to speak slowly enough for the students to understand.

The activity was that each group had to invent a group cheer of some kind--coordinated cheer routines, or "yel-yel," being a popular pastime among the students and teachers both, for some strange reason--and then I had to give them a task to complete, in English.

The physics teacher wanted me to force the students to be creative and funny, so I simply told them to make me laugh. There was only one rule, I said: they had to speak English. (Upon hearing this, one of the boys' eyes lit up. "So we can tickle you?" he asked. I quickly added another rule.)

I have a healthy sense of humor, so the students were mostly successful at their task. I heard some Indonesian jokes, translated into broken English with my help, I saw some funny dances, and I even watched a silent skit. (This, in my mind, violated the "must speak English" rule, but since these poor girls took about 30 minutes to invent the skit, I decided not to mention it. The fact that it wasn't at all funny was another problem I overlooked on that basis.)

In any case, the best part of the morning was definitely watching the students perform their cheer routine. I don't know about you, but, in the past, when I've been assigned to create any sort of creative cheer expressing esprit-de-corps, it has always ended badly. Either the best minds of my team could only invent something lame--"Go yellow group, go! Yay."--or, at best, one girl sang something cute and well thought-out, while the rest of us stood in the background and tried to clap rhythmically. (And, in my case, mostly failed.)

Not so with these students. Each group, including a group made up entirely of 17 year old boys, had long, involved routines—songs with different verses sucking up to each of the supervising teachers, including a verse in English for me, to the tune of James Brown's "I Feel Good"; long chants about how "physics is hard but we know we can do it"; and complicated dance steps perfectly memorized by each member of the group. I was amazed at each of these routines and the ease, and cheer, with which the students performed them. I mean, not only can I not imagine a group of American high school seniors doing this with such creativity, I definitely cannot imagine any American high school senior boy shimmying--in broad daylight, completely sober, and in front of a teacher!--with a smile on his face.

Lucky me, I guess, getting to see it. Too bad I couldn't get a picture.