Terrific Teachers – Bu Jess Cormick

Terrific teachers title pic

My journey with Indonesian language education over the last twenty-plus years has been touched by some amazing people whose passion for Indonesian language, culture and travel have really inspired me. Some are current practising teachers, some are not, their life paths are all different but they all have one thing in common and that is; a special love for Indonesia. I’m very grateful that they are willing to share their stories and connections to Indonesia right here on the blog.

Selamat berkenal dengan Bu Jess Cormick.

When connections last over the test of time you know you have found a good friend. That’s how it has been for Jess {aka Bu Ika} and I. I met Jess way back in 1996! Yeah, I know, that’s a loooong time ago! I had just come back to Melbourne from living and working in Semarang, Central Java and I landed myself a job at the Department of Education and I had the pleasure of working with Jess! It was definitely crazy work times back in those days but we got through it with good friendships, lots of hard work and a whole lot of laughter and fun. We were working on the PALS {Primary Access to Languages via Satellite TV} and SALS {Secondary Access to Languages via Satellite TV} Programs. Remember those days? Such a great program! Jess and I lost contact for many years after we both left the Department of Education, both going on our different paths of teaching. {Same-same but different, ya!} but we found each other again, as most Indonesianists do and we’ve stayed in contact since.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

In a few words, I’m varied (that’s not a noun, is it??). Ok, I’m various things to various other people (wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend and teacher) and I’ve worked and travelled in various countries at various times in my life!

In more detail, I lived, studied and worked in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in my early 20’s. I completed the 3rd year of my BA at Gadjah Mada University, did fieldwork research for my Honours thesis and also worked for a Muslim women’s cooperative through the Volunteers International Program (I also tried learning Spanish while in Yogya but I didn’t get that far as my brain had to work in 3 languages – one day I will go and live in Spain and learn Spanish properly). In my mid 20’s I taught Indonesian on satellite television through the Department of Education’s Primary Access to Languages (PALS) program. My late 20’s and early 30’s saw me completing my Dip Ed and teaching Indonesian at an inner city private school before taking a break to raise my family. Now in my early (well actually mid-) 40’s I’m teaching Indonesian in a small Catholic school in bayside Melbourne.

Why Indonesian? When and what got you started to learn bahasa Indonesia?

I blame luck and a series of positive experiences for leading me on my path to Indonesia and bahasa Indonesia. I studied Indonesian for a few years in high school and then kind of fell into Indonesian studies when I started my Bachelor of Arts at Monash. I loved the personal nature of the Indonesian department as opposed to the rather overwhelming Economics Faculty where I initially thought my future lay. At the end of 1st year uni I found myself with an important choice to make – buy a car or visit Indonesia on a 6 week intensive language program…. The rest, as they say, is history but I do sometimes wonder where I might have ended up if I had bought the car instead???


Why do you think Indonesian is so important for Australian students to learn?

My experience last year as a Multilingual Language Learning Community Leader has changed my perspective on this one. Once I would have declared that all students should learn Indonesian. Now I think I have a more balanced view – I am still passionate about Indonesian but I think, especially at a primary school level, it’s more about learning how to learn a language. If we can get kids passionate about languages and languages learning, and they experience success in doing so, they are far more likely to continue their Languages education in the future. As for which language I want them to learn … whichever one (or more) they feel passionate about! That being said, I do find Indonesian a great language for beginners – it has grammar and pronunciation rules that are not riddled with exceptions and a Roman alphabet. Combined with the fact that many of my students have already or will visit Bali in their lifetime = win-win!

If we sat in your Indonesian Language classroom, what are 3 things we would see or do?

– Well hopefully you wouldn’t be sitting for long as I like to try and get the kids up and moving as much as possible – this could be a game, a song, miming or even just some choral work using gesture.

– You would hear the students increasingly using Indonesian to communicate with me and each other. This is an area I am undertaking some professional learning in – I’m going to be looking at functional language ie the language items that students need in order to communicate with their language learning community (= their class).

– You would see students taking risks in their learning and being supported by their peers. It is the number one rule in my classroom – our classroom is a safe learning environment where students feel confident to have a go, knowing they will be respected and rewarded for their effort rather than the outcome.


What has been your toughest obstacle in Languages education? How did you get past it?

I think I am currently facing my toughest obstacle in Languages education. I teach one day a week – that’s 7 x 40 minute lessons in one day, about 150 students all up. There’s so much I want to do with each class (and so much admin etc) that I often end the day feeling like not a single child got the best possible experience. I’m still trying to figure out how to personalise learning for 28 students in a 40 minute time frame – I wish I could clone myself about 20 times over!

What is your biggest achievement in life so far?

My family without a doubt – it hasn’t been an easy road and we’ve experienced more heartache than I would wish on anyone, but we’re doing our best to make the most of every moment and to appreciate the opportunities that come our way. This year my husband and I took our sons on a 7-week backpack (well rolling suitcase actually) tour of Europe – it was amazing to see my kids embrace every culture they came across, try new cuisines and attempt to communicate in 7 different languages (oh and interpret multiple subway maps). I love that they have experienced being the ‘other’ and that they already know that Melbourne (and the English language) is not the centre of the world … I am cautiously optimistic that they will become broad-minded, curious lifelong learners in their adulthood.

What’s your favourite place in Indonesia? Why?

I would have to say Yogya because it is the place I spent the most time and therefore the place in which I made the most connections. I am still friends with some of those people, more than 20 years later. Social media sure has been useful in finding and reconnecting with my Indonesian friends (and also instrumental in improving my mastery of ‘bahasa gaul’).


What’s your favourite Indonesian dish? And restaurant? {in Indonesia or in Australia}

Oh my, satu saja? I would have to say rendang sapi – i just love the richness of the dry curry sauce. When I was a uni student in Indonesia, I was living off my savings so I didn’t have much money to spend. I used to go to the Padang restaurant near UGM and eat rice with tempe and vegetables plus some of the rendang sauce on the side – I couldn’t afford the meat!

My favourite Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne is my local – Indosari in Glen Huntly. It’s not a flash place but it tastes authentic (dan tentu saja enak) and reminds me of my warung visits in Yogya.

If you were an Indonesian animal, what would you be? Why?

Kancil (mouse deer) of course – cute, dainty and smart!


If you could wag school {or work} for a day, what would be on your list to do?

A walk in nature and a good book – pretty much my panacea for good physical and mental health.

Thanks so much for sharing Bu Ika!

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