No matter how strong and experienced we are, sometimes, teaching ESL in the last class can be disheartening and daunting especially when we have to endure all the trials and tribulations on our own. We would be blessed if we get continuous support and motivational words from our superiors and colleagues. However, how many of us are lucky enough to get special attention from them simply because we teach the last class? It is sad to state here that most of the time, we are left alone; we have to be on our own to figure out how to go about teaching the pupils in the last class.
Some ESL teachers are deeply frustrated because they have to teach the last class which normally have pupils who are not only weak in English but also demonstrate defiant behaviours. Most ESL teachers claim learning can hardly take place in the last class and in term of English language subject (UPSR, PT3 or SPM), even getting one or two pupils to pass the subject is a monumental and sometimes, an impossible task. ESL teachers who teach pupils in the last class have to struggle to attract, get and maintain their attention and later create meaningful learning among the weak and defiant pupils. In short, the ESL teachers who are assigned to teach them do need a high dosage of optimism throughout the academic year. HOW CAN WE, THE ESL TEACHERS NURTURE OUR OWN OPTIMISM AND CREATE MOMENTS OF SATISFACTION AND HAPPINESS TEACHING THIS LAST CLASS?
Before I share some tips on how to nurture optimism within ourselves, I must highlight two things. First and foremost, we have to admit that the obligation to motivate ourselves to be as optimistic as possible when we teach the last class lies primarily on us. We cannot be dependent on others to lift our optimism. Secondly, we are the ones who have to explore and know how we can develop and enrich our own optimism. It is my ultimate hope that the tips offered below are helpful to you and can provide some insights on this crucial matter among ESL teachers who have to teach the last class.
First of all, ACCEPT OUR REALITY. We as the ESL teachers, have to accept the fact that they are destined to be with us and it is our fate to experience a thrilling and an enriching journey with them. We ought to accept the fact that we must teach the pupils that we have, not the pupils that we would love to have or the pupils who we used to have. We need to remind ourselves that we are given the last class simply because we are strong enough to endure it. The point is, we have to accept them no matter who they are. OUR RESISTANCE AND RELUCTANCE DO NOT HELP US AT ALL.
Secondly, MAKE PLANS TO ACHIEVE LITTLE SUCCESS for us to develop and sustain our optimism. Apply developmental approach in our teaching. For instance, writing lessons should begin with simple sentence construction practices (like “I have a friend”, “I want to eat pizza”) before they move to the next phase that is writing a simple 20-word paragraph. However, as time passes by, the number of words in the paragraph should be gradually increased. Then, when they are ready, do a 100-word or 200-word essay with them. This developmental approach can indeed nurture not only our optimism but also our weak pupils’ motivation to improve their English. Their success in completing writing tasks at each phase is indeed a booster for our optimism. Moreover, this developmental approach will allow us to show to them that we care about them. This is crucial as our pupils do not really care how much we know about PT3 or SPM English until they can see and feel how much we care about them. In short, we need to create our own teaching and learning environment which is simple and manageable for our weak pupils.
Thirdly, WE MUST BELIEVE THAT EACH PUPIL IN THE LAST CLASS HAS SOMETHING THAT WE CAN BUILD UPON. No doubt, taking a journey with the weak as well as oppositional pupils for one academic year can be challenging. However, we have to be more alert to know what is their talent or specialty. Perhaps, they can sing “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran well or can produce a powerful PowerPoint presentation on a topic of their choice. They could fail English badly but they could also know much about motorbikes or the latest smartphones in the market. It is our duty to tap their potential and allow them to shine in their forte. When this happens, we can create moments of happiness and satisfaction for both, us and the weak learners.
Next, WE MUST KNOW THAT WE ARE IMPORTANT TO OUR WEAK AND DEFIANT PUPILS. No doubt, it is a known fact of life that the pupils who challenge their teachers the most, they actually need their teachers the most. Perhaps, due to certain circumstances, our weak and oppositional learners do not know how to tell us that they actually need us. If we maintain our composure; if we do not lose our temper easily due to their antics, one day, their defiant behaviours will subside. All their oppositional behaviours will be reduced. We have to believe in ourselves that one day, we can be the reason our weak and rebellious pupils smile. For this, our optimism will be enhanced. One easy way to carve a smile on their face is to ensure they learn a few new English words as frequent as possible. Praise them in front of the class for their ability to use the newly learnt words.
In addition, we have to bear in mind that THE WEAK PUPILS' MARKS IN AN EXAMINATION IS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO MEASURE THEIR AND OUR PROGRESS OR ACHIEVEMENT. It is absolutely fine if we fail to make them pass the examination as our failure is the evidence that we have tried to do something to help our weak pupils. Perhaps you are right when you confidently say that most pupils in your last class cannot pass the English Language subject. Then, please do not aim for passes but aim for meaningful learning. It is quite ridiculous to aim for the production of a long essay when they do not even know the meaning of simple words like rich, friendly and hope. To me, when our weak pupils can use words like “handsome”, “beautiful” or “smart” to describe their classmates, it is a success. The point is, if we cannot do and achieve great things in our last class, let us try to do small things but in a great way. When we are able to do small things successfully, that will surely boost our optimism.
Finally, please GIVE YOURSELF THE CREDIT THAT YOU DESERVE FOR EVERY LITTLE SUCCESS YOU ACHIEVE WITH YOUR WEAK PUPILS. It is a fact that in most schools, sometimes, little success in the last class is not highlighted and appreciated. Yes, we do not have to blow our own trumpet for the deed we do. It is also true we should work for a cause, not for an applause. However, as a human being, we also need to be motivated from time to time. Our little success achieved with the pupils will give us satisfaction. For instance, we gain happiness and optimism when our pupils can spell “cleanliness” correctly or when they are able to construct a simple sentence such as this, “I love to play football”. The point is, we should admit and acknowledge that their little success is achieved partly due to our commitment. This self-acknowledgement will indeed nurture optimism in us.
As you know, SO MUCH IN OUR LIFE DEPENDS ON OUR ATTITUDE. The way we choose to see things and respond to our pupils in the last class makes all the difference. Please do not think that we have nothing to offer to the pupils in the last class. Never think that simple and very basic English exercises that we do with our weak pupils are insignificant.
Undoubtedly, we cannot control our school administrators who assign the last class to us. However, please bear in mind, we can challenge ourselves to control the way we respond to our responsibility; teaching the last class. WE HAVE TO BELIEVE IN OURSELVES BECAUSE OUR BELIEF WILL GIVE US WINGS. That is where our power is! Do not forget that teaching the weak and oppositional pupils in the last class is a true act of optimism.