Monday, May 5, 2014

When teaching is hard

I don't teach for a living and I don't get paid to teach unless I'm doing a workshop at a conference, but I tend to teach a lot.  There's a lot of challenges as a teacher that make me a better student, but sometimes there are challenges that are just plain tough.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out how much to discipline a group when they're not focused.  That depends on the environment.  At karate, maybe it's pushups.  At taiko, maybe it's telling people to please focus.  But even that's not a hard and fast rule, because something like pushups might just make people frustrated rather than focus more.  So I have to gauge things.

There's also the issue of teaching when people are already tired and/or grumpy - hey, I still have to teach you stuff, but now I have to figure out how to make it effective.  Do I let you know I sympathize?  Do I try to rally the group with positive words?  Do I promise a water break if you do the next thing well?

But for me, the hardest thing to teach are beginners.

I define beginners as those coming to classes over a span of time, maybe a couple of months, or even up to a year.  When I lead a Public Workshop that lasts for 3 hours or assist a Master workshop on the road, those one-shots are a totally different deal.  Those aren't meant for people to practice and come back; it's just a cramming of general information.

At the dojo, we have a new batch of beginners every 3 months.  We're constantly teaching the same basics and fundamentals over and over.  And where there's a large group of beginners, there's always a few that have issues.  Sometimes it's having no sense of right vs. left, or no sense of direction when turning around.  Sometimes it's being so tense that it pains me to watch. ("It's karate, so I must be fierce yarrrr!")   Sometimes it's not getting a basic fundamental no matter how I approach it. ("bend the back leg.  No, the other back leg.  No, bend it, not move it...")

When it's really bad, sometimes I feel like I just want to give up and ignore the few people that seem impossible to teach - and they're people who do care, but just can't do, at least not yet.  It's my job to make those who can't do, do...but damn is that hard sometimes!  It's really frustrating to not be able to get someone to get the "simple" things no matter how hard you try, but whose fault is it?  Ultimately, this is my responsibility...right?  Still, if I'm going to practice what I preach, then I have to keep trying and tackle the hard things because they will make me a better teacher, AND it will help those difficult students, now and in the future.

Why am I posting this?  Just writing up my thoughts.  A rant without being a rant, as it were.  Will I be able to better handle the next difficult student?  We'll see, won't we?

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