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Are Teachers Responsible for Students’ Willingness to Learn English?

Are Teachers Responsible for Students’ Willingness to Learn English? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teachers of Foreign Language classes, in which students are not very successful at learning the language, usually find themselves in situations, in which their teaching abilities are placed under scrutiny and they are required to provide viable explanations for their student's failure. As no one likes to be placed under a microscope, the teachers often find a culprit and it is usually the students’ level of motivation. The students themselves, however, are almost always said to be bursting with talent and ability (Chambers, G.N, 1999).

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Olivia L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

What is Motivation?

If this is an acknowledged explanation, are students therefore responsible for motivating themselves to learn a new language. Before this could be answered, we need to comprehend what is to be understood here by the word ‘Motivation’. Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain the initiation, direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of behavior, especially goal-oriented behavior (Maehr & Meyer, 1997). In the classroom, however, it explains the degree to which students invest attention and effort in various pursuits (Brophy, J. 2010). The latter definition will be used here for the purpose of this essay.

The reasons why students learn English or any other foreign language are sometimes as different as the students in one single classroom. It can, therefore, be expected that some students will show up with the motivation necessary to learn the language, while others, would literally have to be dragged out of bed in order to make it to class. Ruling out learning difficulties or disabilities, many students invest many years in learning a foreign language without ever really grasping it. Whether the students are covering the cost themselves or whether they’re being subsidized, becomes irrelevant, because it seems that the financial side of things has very little effect on motivation.

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Though Motivation is a very complex concept, dependent on so many different factors, a teacher may indeed be held accountable for the degree to which her students invest attention and effort to learning the language in the classroom. Consider the following examples: In a class of 20 students, there’s a young learner (Philip), who is being forced by his parents, who are academics, to take English classes, so that he could better his grades at school. The Young Learner has absolutely no desire to learn the language and never had. Then there is the Business English learner (Julia), age 45, who hated foreign languages at school, but now, due to the company’s expansion into the British market, finds herself in a situation, where she is required to learn English to keep her position at the company. Is the teacher able here to increase the degree to which those two students invest attention and effort to learning English?

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What are Teachers’ Responsibilities?

The simple answer to this question is “yes”. It is, however, by no means an easy feat and teachers may not always be successful, because they usually have to work with classes of 20 or more students and cannot always meet the individual needs of each student (Ferlazzo, L. (2011). This sometimes leads to some students necessarily being bored, confused or frustrated. Despite all of the above, teachers can plan their lessons and or adjust them in a manner that would promote motivation or rather increase the students’ intrinsic motivation.

For instance, the students’ efforts, should be appropriately praised. After correctly constructing a sentence, it would be best to say, “You constructed this sentence very well, Alice!” instead of saying, “You’re very smart, Alice!”, as the latter is general praise and will leave the student striving to maintain her image. Teachers should show that they care by building relationships with their students, learning about their lives, hopes, and challenges as they can later use this information to help the students motivate themselves. “So Julia, what are you going to give yourself after successfully completing this course and receiving a new contract?” Julia may respond, “I’ll treat myself to a trip to the Caribbean!”

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Finally, the teacher should minimize the amount of time spent as a manager and controller and encourage students to part-take in pair and group activities. This will effectively prevent boredom and promote motivation in a manner that does not necessitate the teacher to become the class entertainer.

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