In other words, I was projecting my own feelings onto my students' reality. Until the day I was told I would have to teach the class of "The Misfits".
Surprisingly, this wasn't a nickname teachers made up for this class - it was a nickname the students chose for themselves for 2 reasons: a) they saw no point in fitting in with the rest of the kids at school b) one of them actually liked the band "The Misfits". They were a group of 7 teens, 6 girls and 1 boy who had reached the B2 level by the time it was my turn to be their teacher.
When I first heard the news, I have to admit I was terrified - based on what I was told, this class was a mixture of everything teachers dread - behavior issues, lack of interest/motivation etc, performance issues. On top of that, they were a group of kids who also had their own personal challenges to tackle.
My role was "simply" to prepare them for the B2 level exams which hopefully they would decide to take at the end of the school year. The moment I stepped into the class I realized this wasn't going to happen . Not because their scores were low or they couldn't use the language - it was "simply" because they didn't want to be there at all. They were dragged into the English class by their parents who were convinced - like most Greek parents I must add- their children should take a certificate at all costs.
The first two months were a disaster - I was trying to teach a syllabus they didn't care about, I was trying to manage class interaction and create teams, I was trying to make them succeed. Or so I thought. It felt as if I was desperately trying to convince them and myself that what we were doing had a meaningful purpose. But there was no purpose at all - not for them at least.
Then in one of those memorable lessons, one of the girls said "Why should we care?". I was taken aback at her nerve, but it also made me realize that she had a point. It had never occurred to me to ask them what THEY wanted, what THEIR needs were and what THEY hoped to achieve. That night when I got back home was the first time I let go of my crutch - the syllabus and the material I thought was suitable for them. Instead, I half-prepared questionnaires, goal-setting activities and polls. The other half of these activities were completed by my kids in class. It was like giving them my half of the picture and then asking them "Now, show me what's missing".
We also started 5'-10' "Life breaks" where we talked about their news, problems or anything they thought was important. There was only one rule: to use English. Luckily, I discovered that we had something in common. They loved music and games like I did. So, instead of writing essays, I asked them to write walkthroughs to games. Instead of exam prep listening tasks, we listened to songs they chose and then worked on their lyrics. Grammar was the most challenging part - it was the first time I used "mini teachers" and started playing tons and tons of grammar games.
Things started to get better - not miraculously better, but still some of them saw that I cared for them and wanted to help them. The most obvious change was in their attitude - we came closer, built stronger bonds and they stopped seeing me as the enemy. By the end of the year, I was happy to see that they spoke more effortlessly and confidently, they discovered things about the English language they liked and saw themselves as part of the big picture - the learning journey.