The after-FCE syndrome is something that has been bothering me recently. In case you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it’s a label for a type of mental state and/or negative behavior which is typical of a person who has recently obtained an FCE certificate but still studies with other students who haven’t (yet) been lucky/motivated enough to go for it (#newcoinage).
It’s a bit like the phenomenon called the intermediate plateau:
Learners often reach the plateau at the intermediate or advanced level. It is a time when the rapid, satisfying progress one experienced as a beginner levels off, and progress begins to feel slower and harder to come by. Learners’ communication skills are decent, but fluency still seems like a distant goal.
The after-FCE syndrome is different in that fluency is no longer a distant goal. Also, the students’ reading, listening and writing skills are pretty decent because they practiced a lot to master them at the desired level. Obviously, the victory felt sweet at first. But the rush of adrenaline they experienced before, during and shortly after the exam has gradually worn off. Now they are back amid the crowd again. Oftentimes, they end up sitting next to the ‘average’ student who trudges towards a much smaller goal – the final state exam. As the final exam in English is a level lower, motivation and enthusiasm slowly fade too. Questions like “Why do we have to take the state exam when we’ve proved already that our level of English is high enough” pop up. “Why should we bother? We have other things to do.” Boredom and tiredness start to creep in and their best friend, frustration, is knocking on the door.
Well, exams have always sucked. For many reasons. First of all, they are stressful. Sometimes they are totally unfair or useless. But most importantly, they take away one’s joy of learning. Students are either too busy studying for an exam and, after they have passed it, they suddenly feel idle. And some of them get this crazy idea that somebody should make them overcome their laziness. As a result, and quite ironically, they either blame the teacher that they are too demanding or they accuse them of being too lenient. More specifically, they either complain that they get too many tests or they want more tests. Either way, most of them have this mindset: if you don’t threaten me with tests, you won’t make me learn stuff. Mind you, they often do this indirectly and inconspicuously, by comparing you with other teachers, for example.
Not that I don’t get it. It’s all quite understandable. The pressure they once felt is long gone. Now they can take a well-deserved rest. But here comes the dilemma: I know I should celebrate their success. And I do. Still, it feels a bit frustrating for me as a teacher. I feel guilty for failing to engage them the way I used to. I rack my brains to make the lessons interesting but I know it will never be enough for them because I need to keep the others’ goals in mind too.
Apart from making the teaching more demanding, the FCE exam, or the moment when a certain number of students succeed in it, marks a divisive line in the class. It creates a certain type of dichotomy – the FCE holders versus the non-FCE holders. In other words, there are the ones who still have to work hard to achieve an external goal and those who think they needn’t or rather can’t force themselves to work hard anymore. The division is invisible yet you can sense it on many occasions.
On a more positive note, there are still those gems whose intrinsic motivation and love for languages prevent them from stagnation. These are the ones who help me keep the show on the road and who push the level and the quality of the lessons up. 🙂