"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." – Albert Einstein.
What Einstein said may have inspired Erlina Mariana Rosada Sari Siregar. Erlina is a Math teacher in SMA Negeri 1 Ingin Jaya, Aceh Besar. As a teacher, she doesn't only teach, but she also motivates her students to achieve their goals and dreams through fun educational activities.
She always wants to improve her teaching quality. She therefore seeks out information on scholarships to support her career. During that time, she received information about USAID-PRESTASI scholarship program from her institution; she immediately tried her luck in applying to the scholarship.
With hard work and determination, she finally was awarded the scholarship from PRESTASI to pursue her Master's Degree in the U.S. She chose to study at Western Michigan University (WMU) for Master of Art in Mathematics Education, at the faculty of Mathematics Education.
During her study, Erlina, whose hobby is badminton and photography, gained lots of new knowledge and experiences. She learned how to encourage her students to think critically, make them love math, and make learning math easier. She also learned how to encourage reading habits, use technology in the learning process, design learning activities, and look for solutions for those who are facing difficulties in learning math.
"Everything about math education that I learned in WMU is in line with the Indonesian National Curriculum 2013 which is now implemented in the school where I am teaching", Erlina said.
During her study in WMU, Erlina have memorable experiences. She was chosen as one of the top 5 in a creative poster making competition titled The Ninth Annual WMU Research and Creative Activities Poster Day. She also had the opportunity to visit schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan. "In the schools, I saw and learned about their teaching and learning process, how a classroom was set, and how the interaction between students, teachers to teachers, and students to teachers happened," added Erlina.
When Erlina returned to her school in Aceh Besar, she always tries to implement what she has learned during her studies at WMU as much as she can. First thing first, she tries to change the mindset of others that teachers and students work based on their own capacities. Erlina also adopted the way of studying Mathematics in the US. Studying math is not done by memorizing but by understanding and designing learning activities that focus on students. Teachers are the facilitators to encourage students to express their ideas without fear of being wrong.
"Currently, students are already getting used to the new learning style which I have applied. I also hold after school programs to help them if they do not understand the topics." said Erlina.
Erlina receive positive responses from the school. Her students admitted that the Math class is now fun and they can easily understand the lessons. "Ms. Erlina is firm but compassionate. We are very pleased to be taught by her," said Fajar, one of Erlina's students.
Nurhayati, Principal of SMAN 1 Ingin Jaya, also gave a positive response. She said that Erlina has helped the school to improve in many ways. According to Nurhayati, Erlina really cared about the school. She always gets involved in almost all school activities. After finishing her studies in the US, Erlina also motivates her students to learn English well.
What she has been doing in her school has made her one of the favorite teachers in the school. Nevertheless, she also constantly shares her knowledge to her fellow teachers. It is important to share a common vision and mission with other teachers to improve the quality of education.
Erlina, who was born in Banda Aceh and likes reading, also brings her new knowledge in the social organization that focuses on education, called 1000Guru Regional Aceh Community. Through this community, Erlina helps inspire elementary school students in the remote areas in Aceh to keep on learning and never give up to achieve their goals.
Erlina admitted that she is very grateful for the opportunity to continue her study through USAID-PRESTASI scholarship. She hopes that the scholarship program will continue on to provide opportunities for other friends and people to study abroad in order to promote better education in Indonesia.
Erlina also advised the younger generation, "If you have a dream, keep your dream and make it happen through hard work, struggle, patience and prayers as well as your parents prayers as they are the most powerful weapons to achieve your dreams. Believe that anyone who is serious will be successful."