Early grade teachers have a great responsibility in building foundational skills such as writing, reading and arithmetic. These three skills will determine how students experience learning in subsequent classes. If the foundation is solid, they can follow the lessons easily. On the other hand, if the foundation is not strong, then the next lesson will be more difficult. Ibu Dian Sumarni, S.Ag, a teacher at NW Selong Private Madrasa Ibtidaiyah (Madrasah Ibtidaiyah Swasta/MIS) in East Lombok District, is well aware of this. Another responsibility she is also aware of is how to provide a comfortable starting foot in the school environment for children who were previously learning from home. According to her, children will pay attention to what is being taught if they feel comfortable, including if they are taught according to their needs and conditions.
For the past six years, Ibu Dian has been trusted to teach the first grade at her school. The biggest challenge she faces in teaching reading is that many of these children do not come from early childhood education centre (PAUD) or kindergarten. They had never known letters before so they had to start from scratch. Besides that, they usually seem awkward in the classroom atmosphere because they are not used to interact with many new friends. Unlike those who have previously been through childhood education centre (PAUD) or kindergarten.
“It’s children like these that I always try to identify from the start and become the focus of my mentoring,” she said.
Another challenge she sees is the lack of parental support for children’s education when they are at home. Moreover, many of the children she teaches in her class were not living with their parents, but with their grandparents or other relatives. Children in this condition generally receive less attention at home. Parents fully rely on schools for their children’s education. This makes what has been going on at school cannot continue at home. Learning is interrupted and this hinders the students’ development.
The pandemic adds to the learning challenges. Ibu Dian admits that the learning process could not run optimally. Teachers are not familiar with the distance learning model. Not to mention the problems with unequal access to technology. Many of her students do not have gadgets. In addition, parents who are expected to be the substitute for teachers at home have their own obstacles. Some do not have the time, and some cannot understand the subject matter.
Understanding Children’s Diversity
Ibu Dian has long understood that there was a diversity of reading abilities among her students. However, she had not paid much attention to the condition and continued to teach as usual. Her views began to shift since she attended literacy improvement training for madrasa teachers through the Madrasah Unggul Anak Hebat (Maulana) program in August. This program is part of a partnership between the Governments of Indonesia and Australia in the field of basic education, in which for East Lombok District it is implemented by IAI Hamzanwadi.
During the training, Ibu Dian along with some of her colleagues, other madrasa teachers, received a strengthening of teaching capacity, including on teaching literacy to students based on their level of ability. The training opened up Ibu Dian’s views that every child in her class has the right to receive learning in accordance with their respective conditions and abilities.
After the training, Ibu Dian and her colleagues immediately went to meet the principal of the madrasa where they taught to tell him about their training. They shared about the learning model that is based on the students’ ability and asked the madrasa principal for support so that it could be implemented. The principal’s response was very supportive. Ibu Dian and her colleagues got the green light to apply the learning model they had just been trained on. The students from the first three grades were grouped according to their level of literacy.
This grouping model turns out bringing better development for students. Their ability to read improves faster compared to when Ibu Dian used other approach in the past. Moreover, not limited to only technical skills, joining the Maulana program also gave her new enthusiasm and inspiration in teaching. This training also gave her something different from other capacity building trainings she had attended.
“This is very touching because it directly relates to my students. How to treat them according to their circumstances and needs in the classroom. If their ability is still low, we will teach them according to their conditions. Therefore, the approach and materials we provide are not misdirected,” Ibu Dian explained.
The use of supporting materials and media such as letter and picture cards which are part of the training at Maulana program also became valuable knowledge for Ibu Dian. This method of using tools and media turns out encouraging the students to improve faster.
“They pay more attention if we use tools and media. Therefore, they can master what is taught faster. First, they like the picture, then they find out about the letters. There’s that,” she continued.
Comfortable, Needs-Based Learning
Distance learning poses challenges in learning. Apart from the aspect of the child’s foundational abilities, according to Ibu Dian, the children are also not emotionally, socially and personally developed. They are used to being at home with their families and parents during the pandemic. They look awkward when they start going to school and meet their friends and teachers.
One thing that has become a lesson for Ibu Dian, is how important it is to build a fun atmosphere for students when they are going to study. Especially for first graders who are still transitioning to the school environment. Besides providing learning media that the students like, another crucial thing is how teachers can be fun and nurturing figures when they are in school environment.
“Oftentimes, the children arrive at school crying. I don’t know whether it’s because they feel they don’t want to be separated from their parents and left alone at school or some other reason. Well, that’s when we as teachers must be present to give them a sense of comfort. If they feel comfortable and happy to see us, they will also be happy to learn. So first, we must build these kinds of attraction and bond with these children.“
Ibu Dian has always thought of friendly and nurturing as the defining image of a teacher. When she was young and still studied at school, she always had teachers who showed that attitude. Those teachers became examples for her and ignited her desire to become a teacher. It was this dream that she embraced since school, therefore she always pursued education that leads to this profession.