Thursday, December 20, 2012

Difficult students.

Last Friday my dojo had its quarterly belt testing.  I wasn’t able to be there, but I asked sensei about the results.  Everyone but one person passed, and that person that didn’t was one of our blue belts.

This student had only been training with us for three months and came to one of the classes where I would frequently be handed the intermediates (anyone not a beginner).  He had trained somewhere else before and it wasn’t too difficult to get him up to speed on our requirements.

When sensei told me it was this particular student that failed (let’s call him “Zippy”), I immediately knew why before even hearing the details.  Zippy always had an excuse when I would tell him to fix something.  Sometimes it was “well when I learned it…” or “yeah, but…”  Very rarely did he just take a comment and fix it without making a face that read “I disagree.”  There were even times when I would say “stop doing X” and he would make a very annoying face as if he was really in disagreement…to which I would respond, “just stop doing X.”  But he would do it again, as if it were up for debate.  “Really, STOP doing X.”  Zippy had many ideas and was more interested in letting me know those ideaa than he was in learning how to get better.

Some of the black belts in the dojo would have just made him or the whole class do pushups.  I’m not quite that harsh, but I was getting tired of his need to state his opinion on most of my comments.  I didn’t get the feeling that he was so much lazy as he was full of himself.  Not a bad kid, just young and feeling like he knew a lot of things…but at a blue belt level, he’s had maybe a year’s worth of training.

Why all of this context?  So, after I heard he failed, my first instinct admittedly was “ha, he deserved it.”   But then I wondered, did I fail him as a teacher?  Could I have done more to prevent him failing his test?  Ultimately, I realized that no, HE failed his test.  He resisted being taught enough that it hampered his progress.  I heard he took the failure hard – who knows if he’ll return?  If he does, will he try harder, knowing his performance wasn’t cutting it?  We’ll find out in a month.

So the question for this post is, where do the responsibilities of the teacher end and the student’s begin?  This will depend a lot on the two people involved.  Some teachers will take a student’s failure as a failure of their own.  Some students will blame a teacher for their own failure – or give the teacher the credit when they succeed. 
I don't talk about the role of the teacher in this post because I've addressed that multiple times on my blog.  Of course it should be a mutual exchange, but isolating one side often yields insights.  

I’d like all of you to think about how you are as a student.  Do you make it easy to be taught?  Do you come with preconceived ideas about how things should be and ignore what’s contradictory, even if only in your head?  Do you actually listen when taught or are you just looking in the direction of who’s teaching?  Do you try to implement new information even when it’s not sinking in right away?  Are you there to learn or to show off?

If you make if difficult for someone to teach, it may eventually come back to bite you in the ass.  It can come in the form of karma as you get a difficult student down the line yourself, or more negatively as you fail a test or get passed over for a part you wanted to play.

Don't be like Zippy!

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