Know your world
As any learner of any new skill can tell you, whether it's an instrument, a sport, dancing, or just about anything. You have to start from the beginning, and you have to have intrinsic motivation to learn that new skill. You have to have the desire to learn it from inside you. Learning a language is certainly no different. This is something that I've learned from learning Spanish from necessity; namely, from living in Spain. This has helped me immensely in the classroom.
I've used this lesson in learning the guitar for myself, and in the classroom for my students. One student, Marta, is a typical teenager who is trying to find out who she is. She is a lovely girl that is fun and outgoing, but lacks confidence in learning English. Somewhere along the way, someone or something made her believe that she can't learn English very well, so she doesn't make it a habit to try very hard in class.
Over the course of the months that I've been her teacher, I've seen sparks of improvement followed up by regression back into her old ways of being more concerned about giggling in class rather than doing the exercises and activities. One day, she flat out had her back to me at the table and had her ear buds in listening to music while I was explaining about the next activity. I stopped talking and looked at her until it got awkward. (In a class of 10, the class dynamic can become fairly personal at times.) The classroom became silent as her friend started signaling to her that I've stopped and I was looking at her. She slowly turned around and took out the ear bud and asked sheepishly, "What?".
"What do you think? Give me the phone."
"It's not a phone." (It was a small mp3 player)
Boy did that burn me up at the time. Anybody with kids, or who works with kids knows that feeling. I raised my voice and said, "Give it to me!" I took it and put it in my drawer until later. And then we went on to the next activity. After class, I kept her after, obviously to talk to her and give her back her mp3 player. I took it and paused and asked her how she thought that made me feel. This caught her off guard a bit. She shrugged her shoulders a bit and said, "Bad?" With a smile, I said, "Yeah... bad. Disrespected."
"Oh." She said like it was a reality check.
I said to her, "I'm so upset because I've seen you improve this year. You've been improving and improving and improving," raising my hand up like a plane, "and then, something like this happens... and then crash." I stood up, I was going on autopilot at this point. "Marta, I'm proud of you. You can do very well. But YOU'VE gotta believe it, here (pointing to her head)... and here (pointing to her heart)." I handed her back her music and wished her a good weekend with a smile.
Since then, she's shown considerable improvement and effort in classes. Don't get me wrong, she's far from a model student, but I would never expect that, nor want it. I want her to be her, but believe in herself. She and her friend often come to class early to spend the time before class there instead of outside on the sidewalk, and they tell me stories and things about their day. It's a great thing to see. These are the moments that make all of the bullshit we have to deal with as teachers worth it. I don't know if she'll remember this event, but I will.