A Journey in TEFL

 

I always supported the idea that if a teacher is willing, eager and motivated, sooner or later the most demotivated students will respond but unfortunately this year I realised that a teacher, no matter how idealistic, eager, motivated she is needs some leader students who will help her to make others want to learn. Ironic, isn’t it?

This year I’m the same teacher, yet I have two groups of very unmotivated teenagers and nothing moved them to go a bit further.

I feel exhausted.

I feel I’m losing my creativity.

I feel I’m losing my hopes, my optimism.

Nothing worked well with them. Technology, traditional ways, challenges, games, movies…

Is it the same everywhere? Hope it isn’t.

I just want my students back!



11 Comments so far

  1.    Naomi Epstein on April 5, 2012 4:26 pm      Reply

    As an “old old” teacher I really feel for you!
    Two suggestions:
    soemtimes creativity is not what what will push their first button. First they may want to see discipline, rules and consequences. Later the creativity button will work and you can relax the rules.
    Try progress charts! Nothing like marking off with a colored highlight in a column how the number of vocab. items you know is growing or the number of tasks you completed is growing. post certificates on the wall. There are always a few competitive kids and they begin to effect the rest. Give them concrete measure of success they can see.
    Hang in there and I hope I have helped!
    Naomi

  2.    Christos Pasialis (@ChristosPas) on April 5, 2012 4:37 pm      Reply

    Hi there. Oh don’t worry! I know exactly how that feels! I have a same group of teenagers who are taking B2 exam in May. I’ve tried everything as well. I have felt useless. Nothing seemed to work.

    At this point I will have to agree with Naomi. Marking their success and their progress step by step, day by day, lesson after lesson, really gave them a boost. They could see themselves what they we were able to achieve. This motivated them to some extent.

    Don’t be disappointed. Deep down inside, I’m sure that they have learned something that they are going to use at some point in their life!

  3.    Ashley on April 5, 2012 4:41 pm      Reply

    I’ve been there before, and I feel your pain. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’ve found that these classes happen from time to time, and even the best teacher can’t seem to make a difference. My word of encouragement: you are sometimes getting through to those students more than you realize. I actually ran into a student once the semester after I taught him in one of those awful classes,and he told me how much he appreciated my hard work. He knew it wasn’t a good class, but he knew I had really cared about the students.

    Courage for the rest of the school year!

  4.    Karenne Sylvester on April 5, 2012 4:45 pm      Reply

    Ah, sweetie. Remember that motivation when it comes to learning a language is not down to you but down to them.

    Something is probably going on with them – perhaps they really don’t want to learn English, perhaps they have pressures outside the classroom – perhaps they don’t feel like they are being listened to (not in your class)… don’t get why they should learn English etc., etc.,

    I think the only thing I might suggest to you would be to take a breath, abandon all lesson plans – tech – books one day and have a good sit-down chat with them to ask what’s going on and what they want out of their classes. Then ask for a volunteer / student rep to regularly feedback on their “mental health” and desires for their language learning.

    Good luck,
    K

  5.    Eva Buyuksimkesyan on April 5, 2012 5:19 pm      Reply

    Dear Naomi,Christos, Ashley and Karenne,

    Thank you for all the encouraging words and very precious suggestions.
    Yes, Karenne they are in my class because they can’t do mathematics or science and they want to graduate from high school. They don’t want to learn English actually. They are just trying to save the day. I do hope as Christos said they learned at least something from these lessons.
    Eva

  6.    Eric Roth on April 5, 2012 9:31 pm      Reply

    Just as we have to be friendly, but can’t be friends with our students, sometimes we have to detach ourselves from student success in our classrooms. We can cajole, discuss, conference, and try to inspire, but it’s their choice. From my perspective, learning to speak English and embrace genuine education is an opportunity and not an obligation… even if passing English class and graduating from school remains a minimum obligation to themselves and their families. As the proverb goes, “you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink.”

    Or so it seems to me – especially when dealing with unmotivated, disengaged, and often exhausted students.

  7.    baiba on April 6, 2012 5:11 am      Reply

    Dear Eva, the situation is sooooooo familiar to me! There are days when I seriously doubt my choice of the profession, and we usually tend to blame ourselves. Don’t!
    Try to surprise them! Do something totally different which they have never seen you do (I don’t mean standing on your desk ha ha) – some new approach, new activity, new method, new type of task.
    Record your video speech to them and show it in class, make them SEE you as a personality.
    Ask THEM to record their reply giving all their reasons for not wanting to study or cooperate, it will make them think and look at themselves from a new angle.
    I am not 100% sure it will work but it’s worth a try! Cheers!

  8.    Marina on April 6, 2012 7:29 am      Reply

    Hi Eva! I can relate to your situation! I discovered that all you have to do is to find out what makes them tick. I usually manage that by forgetting about the lesson plan, as Karenne suggested. Surprisingly enough, the questions which brought me closer to my teenage groups weren’t about celebrities, but about “Ancient Aliens”, parenting problems and how to make money on the internet :) Hope this helps!

  9.    Richard Gresswell on April 6, 2012 8:00 am      Reply

    Hi Eva

    There can’t be a teacher out there who doesn’t relate to what you are saying here. Also the more you try to please them and the increasing energy that takes up leaves you feeling pretty worn out. As a teacher you need a break too, and one thing you could do is to think about how you can give yourself breathers in your teaching.

    I remember my tefl teacher-trainer telling me many years ago that I had to learn to sit down more – but I’m still jumping around, so I’m not really one to give advice, given that I probably should take it more often. In many ways though it’s often easier to help others than help yourself, if you know what I mean?

    One thing about teenagers is that they have lives like everyone else and all the distractions, anxieties and insecurities that come with being a teenager. Probably their last concern is their English lessons right now and more likely the worry of their parents!

    One thing I do with my teenagers are activities that allowed them to ‘take their mind off other things’ for a while. I mean activities that actually give them a little space and autonomy rather than worrying about participation all the time. A favourite activity was ‘wordsearch’. While they were busy trying to be the first to finish, I would be setting up the lesson and pulling my thoughts together and building up that energy reserve. Such activities are calming (you don’t need warmers all the time with teenagers, I call these types of activities ‘coolers’.

    Ok give thim space and they’ll give you some too. I hope this helps, let me know.

    By the way a great resource if you don’t know already is ‘Puzzlemaker’ on the discovery schools website were you can make print off or online puzzles like wordsearches etc – Google it for the link.

    Best wishes
    Richard

  10.    Eva Buyuksimkesyan on April 6, 2012 2:52 pm      Reply

    Dear Eric, Baiba, Richard and Marina,
    Thank you for dropping by and leaving a message here. All suggestions and advice are very valuble. Sometimes it is easy to find a way to reach them and sometimes it takes a lot of time.
    I do agree with Eric that ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink’ but accepting it is not always easy so I’ll continue to try to motivate them.
    And once again you were all great help and support.
    Thanks
    Eva

  11.    dai on April 6, 2012 3:29 pm      Reply

    Is it wrong to say just give up? why break your back for a group that doesn’t care. If you’ve tried and nothng has worked then give up, go through the motions, make your life easy.
    I sometimes think we care too much. You can’t flog a dead horse.
    maybe you’ll find that this will actually make them come back to you.

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