On hearing the word “challenging” what first comes to mind is a situation with discipline problems caused by rude and unruly students. However, in the following case the most serious impediment was their apathy, no matter what efforts were made.
When I first met those eight demoralized students in B2 class seven years ago, they were somehow convinced that even during the English lesson they had better give priority to whatever occupies a teenager’s mind rather than the English language itself. English had become an albatross around their neck after having been facing tight schedules for years. As a result they seemed unwilling to “waste time” on “unimportant” tasks in class. Their indifference kept growing, but surprisingly enough they never became noisy or disruptive.
In the beginning, I tried to make other seating arrangements so as to stir up some action. We also had numberless class discussions on how important it is to set goals in life especially for more tangible benefits and rewards. In addition, I made use of whatever technology existed at the time so as to challenge them, although I did not really relish the idea that their initiation into the modern digitized world could make a difference. On a more personal level, I talked to them individually about how they could manage their time effectively at home.
Two months later nothing seemed to really work and they just kept showing no interest whatsoever, still having their heads in the clouds. Only when we started discussing over matters they really care about such as their family problems and concerns in life did they respond seriously. Speaking tasks became an outlet for their repressed thoughts. At first it struck them as odd that their teacher was sincerely interested in their convictions beside their test scores.
Regarding their performance, after being laboriously convinced that they did not have to be prodigiously talented to pursue their dreams, they started realizing their untapped potential. Six months later, they were absolutely elated as they had passed the exams with flying colours. Five of them were registered in C2 class the following year.
What won out, in my opinion, was the fact that they eventually made the greatest possible effort of their own free will, carrying over the spirit of teamwork in their everyday lives too. The greatest challenge was to teach them that there are no hard and fast rules. Only working hard is part and parcel of pride and confidence.