While working at Chih-yung high school, I have always had at least one class that stands out for all the wrong reasons. Currently, that class is class number 206. They regularly test my patience. Aside from three or four students, the entire class of thirty is filled with individuals who have a complete lack of desire to learn English. This is ironic, given the fact that they’re English major students.

That’s a joke really, “English major students.” In the Taiwanese education system, the students who score lowest on their high school entrance exams are obliged to select a major, based on the subject they scored the best in (read: least worst in) on the exam. Consequently, the English major students that I teach are by no means adept at English. The general academic students I teach are far more proficient in the language.

I teach 206 for three periods weekly. By leaps and bounds, those three periods are my worst. The students in that class demonstrate a complete lack of desire to learn English. Consequently, my desire to teach them is almost nonexistent. I literally force myself to go through the motions. If, by some miracle, the students in that class want to learn English, at least a minimum of effort on my part was put forth that would enable them to do so.

In the past, I tried everything. I spent hours upon end trying to uplift them. I exhausted a great deal of energy trying to encourage them to become everything that they could be, to rise to meet their potential. I conducted numerous activities and games with rewards that I paid for out of pocket, to try and help them ignite a spark of interest. It was all a waste of time. I came out entirely disillusioned by the whole process.

At first, I blamed myself for their lack of desire. That is why I tried everything under the sun to persuade them that learning English can be fun and is worth it. Initially, instead of going through the teaching motions with them, I dedicated a lot of my time promoting the notion that learning English would help them in their future. Now I feel deflated like my words fell on deaf ears.

Periodically, I test the waters, to see if anything I am saying is having an impact upon the 206 students. To date, I haven’t seen any indication of it doing so. Just today, I spent five minutes introducing one word to them. The word itself doesn’t matter. Suffice it to say that it was a word that is very common, so I thought it would be good for them to learn it. After writing the word on the whiteboard, I noticed that none of the students had written it down. I went into a diatribe about the importance of copying a word down that I write on the whiteboard, or that any teacher writes for that matter. I explained in “Tarzan English” that the process of doing that would help them in retaining a memory of that word and its meaning.

I didn’t even explain the importance of using the word when practicing English conversation, though I’ve done it with other words many times before. I just told them that when I write a word on the whiteboard, they should write it down in their books. This isn’t the first time I have talked about this. I would venture to say that I have probably spoken about this subject half a dozen times already with class 206. But, this time I wanted to drive the point home. So, I spent twenty minutes on it. Those twenty minutes, with the five I had spent defining the word I had written, took up half of the class period.

Then, I made a bold prediction. Actually, it wasn’t that “bold” because I know these kids. I said, “I predict that maybe, just maybe, two of you in this class actually wrote the word down.” After that, I asked everyone to raise their hand, if they had written the word down. Only one student raised her hand. I walked around to verify that this was indeed the case. Sadly, my point was confirmed. It is much easier to teach when students are motivated to learn. The Taiwanese system of academic segregation places those students who lack motivation in schools such as the one where I work. This situation necessitates that I alter my role with them of being more of a motivational speaker than an English teacher.

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