Monday, April 24, 2017

Teacher obligations

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I feel obligated to my students.  Maybe I'm teaching a song to the group, maybe I'm teaching basic skills to the public, maybe I'm teaching a new form to people at the dojo, whatever.

Their development is in my hands.  Doesn't mean I'm responsible for their success or failure single-handedly, but it does mean I have the power to affect it greatly.  If I focus on the wrong thing for too long or use the time inefficiently, I'm making it harder for them down the line.

The hardest part for me for teaching is sometimes remembering it's not about me.  It's not about how good I think I am as a teacher, or how skilled I am at the skill I'm teaching, it's about understanding what my student(s) need to get better in the time I have with them.

A good example of this would be if I was a teacher who taught best by talking, teaching students who don't learn best by listening.  Ideally, they would adapt and it would make them better students to learn in different ways, but that makes it about my style of teaching, makes it about ME.  If I'm going to say I'm a good teacher, then I need to figure out how my students will learn the fastest.  Maybe some learn best with humor.  Maybe some need to see me doing it alongside them.  Maybe some need to write things down.  Maybe some need to understand context.  Not all teachers can figure out this information quickly, but the good teachers try.

I can tell at the dojo when I'm explaining a concept that's not sinking in.  So I get someone who's just blinking at me and have them do a thing.  Maybe I make them attack, maybe defend, maybe lose their balance, whatever.  They may not know HOW I did that thing, but now they know that that thing has purpose.  I also have had many occasions in taiko when I'm trying to explain a complicated sequence or pattern, and there's smoke coming from people's heads.  It's not that they're not smart enough to understand my super-awesome ideas, it's that I'm not doing a good job of teaching it.  I need to regroup and come at it in a different way.

Remember (or imagine) yourself back in high school, having a teacher would would read from the textbook along with you.  And you spent hours - days - of your life looking down at the book or up on the overhead reading the material you could have (or already did) read on your own.  Maybe for some people, that was effective, but it drove me out of my freaking mind!  I speed-read and going that slowly was agony.  I learned LESS that way.  And there was no dialogue, just passive listening, so unless questions were encouraged, there was rarely any sense of understanding of more than a surface level.

But a teacher that wanted our class to be passionate about a subject?  They would ask US questions, they would challenge our assumptions.  They expected us to prepare and were disappointed when we did not.  They would go on tangents to relate a lesson to something in real-life.  Nothing was ever *just* talking, just listening, just being shown, just comedy, just multimedia, etc.

If it helps, put yourself in the student's shoes.  Maybe the teacher is doing a technique that you just can't understand.  If only they would explain how it fits in to the greater whole?  Or maybe the teacher is telling you every detail you need to know to do it right, while you're just hoping to try it for the first time so what they're saying makes sense.

When I teach a workshop to the public, after warm-ups, basic body position, and general striking notes, I then give them a drum to play on.  I learned that as soon as the drums are in front of a group of people, half of them aren't listening to the notes I'm about to give.  It's "shiny object" syndrome.  And so I give 30-40 seconds of "whee" time to let them play/hit/feel what it's like, THEN go about the rest of the lesson.  Getting upset over and over again that people weren't listening wasn't helping anyone get better; it was just making me frustrated.  So since my goal is to teach people, not to get frustrated, I figured out a solution!

The teachers that really want their students to improve are the ones that attack it from different angles.  It's more work, it's more risk of "being wrong" in front of the students, but ultimately everyone wins out in the end!

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